95. Raymond Williams
Thinkers (55 votes)
1921 – 1988
Academic and political activist who pioneered the study of popular culture.
Raymond Williams spent his life breaking down barriers between the everyday experience of ordinary people and the world of academia.
In his influential 1958 book Culture and Society, he redefined culture as a much wider phenomenon than it had previously been perceived. Popular culture, he argued, was every bit as valid as the highbrow.
His ideas significantly foreshadowed the acceptance of mass entertainment forms like pop music, television and film as fit subject matter for serious critical appraisal. A whole new discipline was born: Cultural Studies.
Williams was a very un-British sort of thinker. His willingness to intellectualise- Pseuds Corner stuff to many an Anglo-Saxon mind- belongs firmly in the European tradition of Gramsci, Sartre and Foucault.
A lifelong socialist, he was won over by the Communist Manifesto at the age of 16, though he resigned from the party as the extent of Soviet repression became clear.
A railwayman’s son, Raymond Williams was born near Abergavenny where he attended grammar school before winning a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. He commanded an anti- tank unit during the invasion of Normandy before returning to academic life at the end of the Second World War.
Like many a left-wing intellectual, he lectured for the Workers Educational Association, remaining in adult education for a decade and a half. It was his contribution to the socialist transformation of society, although he did not turn down an invitation to join the English faculty at Cambridge University.
He became Professor of Drama at Cambridge in 1968, was a founder of the New Left Review and wrote several novels. In later life he was much in demand as a television pundit.
Raymond Williams’s ideas and outlook continue to influence academics, cultural administrators and media executives. Of a list of Welsh Heroes where rock guitarists rub shoulders with Nobel Prize winners, he would surely have approved.