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Monday, 22 November 2010

Raymond Williams: Individuals and Societies


[Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter]

Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter (to right, reflected in mirror): photo by Gordon Parks, August 1942 (Gordon Parks Archives, Library of Congress)

To the member, society is his own community; the members of other communities may be beyond his recognition or sympathy.

To the servant, society is an establishment, in which he finds his place.

To the rebel, a particular society is a tyranny; the alternative for which he fights is a new and better society.

To the exile, society is beyond him, but may change.

To the vagrant, society is a name for other people, who are in his way or can be used.

Preview image, see text for description

Beginning of the ball season, Berlin: photo by Carl Weinrother, 1934 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Raymond Williams: Individuals and Societies (excerpt), from The Long Revolution, 1961


Anonymous said...

Williams' well-drawn definitions provide a useful starting place. The photographs, to my relief, blur Williams' distinctions and add the "question marks" I was feeling.

TC said...


Of course the schematic simplicity of this stripped-down characterization misrepresents the complexity of Williams' discussion. But I have been advised lately that connection to the internet reduces people's powers of attention to prose of any complication by a factor of approx. 100 x. (I think this may be inaccurate, based on the supposition that such powers of attention do exist elsewhere.)

At any rate, Williams goes on in the body of his text to further parse out the categories of member and and servant by inserting between them the category of "subject". And this part of his discussion is germane. But I couldn't fit it into the comment box, so I've posted it here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I just saw the "extra" Williams (and the other new posts), which I can't wait to read later when I've returned from the "wars" on Manhattan Island. For some reason, my own powers of concentration, even reading things online, seem to be increasing, something I'll cherish for as long as it lasts. I liked the schematic structure of this post, though: something is clearly set out in prose and then the photos add subtlety and texture. Where do I fit in? What is my role? Who says so?

TC said...

Curtis, I've been rolling these categories around in my mind like pinballs in a crazy arcade game, for many, many years.

I am glad you have picked up on them. I was hoping somebody might.

About where you might fit into RW's schema, I could not venture to hazard an estimate. To each his own sociological pigeonhole[s], I always ought to say before draping the screen with these categoricals.

At various times I have self-defined my way into Williams' categories of rebel, exile, internal exile (a subcategory of exile), and vagrant.

I have never yet had the temerity to imagine myself to be so elevated as either a subject or a servant.

Though when I dare open my ears or eyes I do hear and see quite a few of both of those categories rushing about all day in and out of their cars, never ceasing the business of being subjects and servants of the society.

As for being an actual member of the society, that is a position so lofty and rarefied, in my mind, that I have never really dared aspire to it.