I've become very interested in critical theory recently, especially in the areas of Marxist Criticism and Cultural Studies. I've been reading some ofI've become very interested in critical theory recently, especially in the areas of Marxist Criticism and Cultural Studies. I've been reading some of the primary texts of these movements in an effort to understand where they are coming from and how they can be used in literary criticism and beyond. So far I have finished a number of short excerpts and essays as well as two books, including The Long Revolution by Raymond Williams. While all of this reading has been truly enlightening, The Long Revolution has stood out to me as one of the most interesting and mindblowing pieces of nonfiction I have ever read.
In this book, Williams sets out to describe the state of literature, democracy, education, and culture in England, how it got there, and where it's going. He does so by tracing the history of various institutions, including public education, the popular press, and standard English, and showing how they have become what they are. Using many (somewhat exhausting) pages of facts and statistics as evidence, Williams comes to stunning and revolutionary conclusions. I was absolutely blown away by his ideas because they seemed so right and felt so honest.
First, Williams sets down definitions for important terms that he will be using for the rest of the books. These terms have so many uses in casual speech that he defines the way he wants the reader to understand them in the context of his book. He defines what it means to be creative, and shows how all people create to some degree in their everyday lives. He also defines culture, not just as art and clothes and the lie, but as structures of feeling, the way people thought and felt about things, the general sense of what it was like to live in a time. Once those definitions are complete, he shows the various ways that an individual can relate to society as a whole, and the different ideas of what it means to be individualistic verses social. His great gift is subtlety, and he can show all the important social reasons why individualism became the dominant idea of how people relate to society while also showing how pure individualism has failed society and is now being reevaluated by a new generation of people. The chapters Individuals and Societies and Images of Society and the end of Part 1 left me literally speechless. It's Williams's balance and fairness, his reliance on research, his refusal to be pedantic or dogmatic, that makes this book so refreshing and so effective.
So often, when we talk about culture we blame low quality arts, be they books, movies, or music, on the masses, as if the working class were inherently less intelligent than the rich or entitled. Williams doesn't just argue against that, he shows with real evidence that much of that classist thinking goes against the actual history of these institutions. He shows, for instance, that the relatively low state of the popular press (magazines and newspapers) today is not, as many people think, the fault of the poor taste of the masses, but instead that the popular press has been affected by changes in printing, distribution, taxation, advertising, and consolidation of ownership more than anything else. The glut of sensational tabloids is sold just as much to the rich as to the poor, and the changes in newspaper styles and distributions are independent of education reforms that taught more of the working class to read. The proliferation of low quality books, movies, music, and newspapers, he argues, is not the fault of the inherent bad taste of the masses, but a side-effect of the ownership of these cultural institutions by speculators who are only interested in making money. Quality artists, interested in furthering the art form, cannot compete with the scale of distribution that the large companies produce. The problem, it seems, is not that people are inherently stupid or that the lower classes have inherently bad taste, but that our current system of capitalism makes our cultural institutions into a matter of speculation and profit. Anyone who is interested in independent publishing should absolutely read Part 3, Britain in the 1960s, which looks at the publishing industry in a way I've never seen before.
Williams writes in a style that is easy to read and understand. Although there are some slow sections where he is setting down definitions or charting history using facts and figures, his conclusions are always strong and flow naturally from his research. The book is older, published in 1961, so I'm sure it has mistakes and is outdated in some places, but most of it still reads as being contemporary and relevant. His structure is perfect, his writing is incredibly readable, and his ideas are engaging. I don't know that I have ever enjoyed academic writing so much, and I thoroughly intend to read more of his books very soon.
Rating: 5 stars. Recommendations: The statistics and definitions can get very boring, but the conclusions they support are worth all the waiting. Note: Many people see this book as a sequel or companion to his earlier book Culture and Society, which I have not read. I found it perfectly readable without having read the other book. That said, I imagine that Culture and Society is also very good....more
As a future teacher with an interest in social justice, I got this book in the hopes of finding methods and exercises that I could use in my classroomAs a future teacher with an interest in social justice, I got this book in the hopes of finding methods and exercises that I could use in my classroom to encourage social justice and youth activism among my students. This book had a lot of classroom exercises, but they were almost all variations on the same activity, focusing on making students aware of various kinds of privilege. While this is a very important goal (most adults I know still don't understand the concept I would have liked to see other things as well. I was really looking for advice on how to work social justice into the existing subject areas, while this focused on activities that would be better suited to an after-school program or dedicated class. I would have also liked practical advice on how to get kids active in social change, rather than just making them aware of prejudices. In short, this book is a great too for explaining privilege to both students and adults, but it is only a starting point when it comes to social justice activism.
Rating: I would recommend this book, but only as one part of a larger social-justice library.
Amazon Description: Helping Teens Stop Violence, Build Community, and Stand for Justice is a guide for adults who work with young people ages ten and up on issues related to youth leadership and social justice. It is also a training manual for adults who want to become effective allies to young people and develop the skills needed so that they can facilitate community building among youth. Adults are encouraged to see young people not as a problem but the key to the solution. The authors have decades of experience in youth education and social justice activism and provide a clear theoretical framework for their approach to social justice education. On the practical level, workshop guidelines and outlines are included for facilitating discussion and sharing around sensitive topics of oppression, the "isms" — racism, sexism, adultism — as well as gender issues, immigration, religion, ability and access. This program presents a positive framework that draws out the experience, strength, and idealism of young people while speaking to the issues they care about today.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review....more
If you read my recent review of Alice Walker's famous novel The Color Purple, then you'll know that I think she is an excellent novelist. Well, dear rIf you read my recent review of Alice Walker's famous novel The Color Purple, then you'll know that I think she is an excellent novelist. Well, dear readers, the good news is that she is also an incredible essayist. I would encourage teachers everywhere to use her essays in their classrooms as an example of the perfect personal essay (especially Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self). If you know me or if you've read my blog, you know that I don't usually read non-fiction. It usually bores me, and takes me forever to read. I read this book in less than two days, and I actually stayed up late to read it because I could not put it down. It's that good. The writing is excellent, and I learned so much about the experiences of black women, especially in the South. It was eye-opening, engaging, and just generally awesome. I cannot recommend it enough....more