Raymond Williams, cultural materialism and the break-up of Britain

  • Hywel Dix

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis re-examines the writing of Raymond Williams. It has two goals. Firstly, it explores Williams's concept of cultural materialism, which theorises the role played by cultural forms in the creation and contestation of a national political order. Secondly, it extrapolates Williams's implicit critique of the unitary British state, and his theory of how cultural forms relate to that state.

    In Chapter One, I argue that Williams developed his theory of culture by combining a theoretical critique of national literary traditions with an interest in the emergent drama of nineteenth-century Scandinavia and twentieth-century Ireland and Wales. This theme is developed in Chapter Two, where I suggest that certain cultural and political experiences in Wales helped Williams to develop a cultural theory that was more generally applicable.

    Central to Williams's political aspirations was an attempt to expand and democratise the education system. In Chapter Three, I argue that Williams's novels can be understood as university fiction, providing examples of the kind of university he wished to develop. Since universities arose as institutions generating a sense of unified national culture during the imperial period, to re-think the work of the university is also to re-think the political make-up of the nation.

    This theme is expanded in Chapter Four, where I argue that Williams related the break-up of the British empire to the break-up of the British state, via devolution in Scotland and Wales. Williams theorised the part played by fiction and other cultural forms in enabling those nations to develop their own voices. He also showed that fiction could provide an imaginative critique of the unitary British state from a series of other perspectives, notably feminism and ethnic subcultures. Finally, in Chapter Five I argue that Raymond Williams can be understood as a film theorist, and demonstrate that a similar renegotiation of British identities occurs in contemporary film.

    An interest in the political make-up of the British state, and an attempt to develop alternative political and cultural formations, spanned Williams's career. This aspect of his work has hitherto received little critical attention. By discussing Williams in relation to the political break-up of Britain, this thesis makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Williams oeuvre.
    Date of AwardSept 2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJane Aaron (Supervisor)


    • Raymond WIlliams
    • Political and social views
    • Cultural Materialism
    • Social evolution
    • Culture
    • Materialism in literature

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