Culture is one of those things in life that we have a basic idea of yet struggle to define.
There had been a few thinkers throughout history that have somewhat defined culture albeit in very different ways: F.R. Leaves, Matthew Arnold, and Richard Hoggart, just to name a few. However, for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll be talking about F.R. Leavis’ (born in 1895) and Raymond Williams’ (born in 1921) perspectives, as their ideas are contrasting.
F.R. Leavis supports the notion that the standard of living – the benchmark- is set by an elite minority. They are the ones to best judge what is good and what is less than good. He differentiated high culture and low culture; high culture being fine paintings, theatre plays, etc. and low-culture being the activities adopted by the working class. The question that arises is who exactly dictates what is low and high culture? It enhances the already gaping divide between the working class and the bourgeoisie.
I feel that low culture is still culture. In fact, there isn’t a low or high culture, there is just culture. The only reason we associate some things as more superior than others is through years and years of conditioning by the media and our general environment. In more ways than one, we are still affected by the systems established by elite institutions centuries ago.
On the extreme end, Raymond’s ideas, which he wrote in “Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism”, is that culture is not restricted to an elite minority. And that it is not just material, but also abstract. It is for you and I, regardless of social class. He writes, “culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purpose, its own meaning.” He also criticized the idea that the working people have no culture, as his predecessors had once said. In his book, he wrote “…to say that most working people are excluded from English culture is nonsense; they have their own growing institutions, and much of the strictly bourgeoisie culture they would in any case not want.” We can interpret that his idea of culture is a lot more inclusive.
He praised the distinct, working-class way of life. According to him, the working class way of life is more wholesome and humble. To him, this is the best example for future English societies.
In today’s world, generally there is close to no divide; everyone indulges in everyone else’s culture. In this sense, Raymond’s ideas are more applicable. However, Leavis’ ideas are still popular among many people in today’s society. There will always be people who want to be superior. The social strata still exists with some people sitting at the top of the pyramid, usually at the expense of others. According to a research conducted by the charity Oxfam, 62 people now own the same wealth as half the world’s population. This illustrates the inequality which prevails, and although this isn’t exactly culture, it is certainly relevant.
Stone, J. (2016). Just 62 people now own the same wealth as half the world’s population. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/just-62-people-now-own-the-same-wealth-as-half-the-worlds-population-research-finds-a6818081.html [Accessed 30 Oct. 2016].
Williams, R. (1958). Culture and society, 1780-1950. New York: Columbia University Press.
Williams, R. (1989). Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism. London: Verso, pp.3-14.