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The Long Revolution

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Raymond Williams, whose other works include Keywords , The Country and the City , Culture and Society , and Modern Tragedy , was one of the world’s foremost cultural critics. Almost uniquely, his work bridged the divides between aesthetic and socio-economic inquiry, between Marxist thought and mainstream liberal thought, and between the modern and post-modern world. When The Long Revolution first appeared in 1961, much of the acclaim it received was based on its prescriptions for Britain in the ’60s, which form a relatively brief final section of the whole. The body of the book has since come to be recognized as one of the foundation documents in the cultural analysis of English-speaking culture. The “long revolution” of the title is a cultural revolution, which Williams sees as having unfolded alongside the democratic revolution and the industrial revolution. With this book, Williams led the way in recognizing the importance of the growth of the popular press, the growth of standard English, and the growth the reading public in English-speaking culture and in Western culture as a whole. In addition, Williams’s discussion of how culture is to be defined and analyzed has been of considerable importance in the development of cultural studies as an independent discipline. Originally published by Chatto & Windus, The Long Revolution is now available only in this Broadview Encore Edition.

399 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

Raymond Williams

186 books226 followers
Raymond Henry Williams was a Welsh academic, novelist, and critic. He taught for many years and the Professor of Drama at the University of Cambridge. He was an influential figure within the New Left and in wider culture. His writings on politics, culture, the mass media and literature are a significant contribution to the Marxist critique of culture and the arts. His work laid the foundations for the field of cultural studies and the cultural materialist approach. Among his many books are Culture and Society, Culture and Materialism, Politics and Letters, Problems in Materialism and Culture, and several novels.

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5 stars
45 (35%)
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51 (39%)
3 stars
28 (21%)
2 stars
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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Emily  O.
99 reviews111 followers
May 6, 2012
I'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.
Profile Image for Malcolm.
1,767 reviews433 followers
April 16, 2021
I'm never sure whether this is better understood as a sequel to Williams's 1958 Culture and Society, or a companion – but between them they amount to an exceptional contribution to literary and cultural theory, as will as to British cultural history, in that they are archetypes of cultural materialism. Whereas Culture and Society builds its analysis of understandings of British cultures and socio-cultural outlooks through examinations of specific writers and texts, The Long Revolution centres on institutions and discourses. It explores the ways that we might understand 'culture', the relationships of individuals in and with 'society', and meanings of creativity, as well as laying out (from the perspective of 1961) a political programme for cultural democracy.

Williams sees British history from the 17th century as characterised by three revolutions: a democratic revolution, an industrial revolution, and a cultural revolution (but note that he was writing before China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution – so the term carries very different meanings in 1961 than it did in, say, 1975). For Williams, the cultural revolution is about building a common democratic culture, and I can only read his programme for change with a sense of glumness, in the wake of neo-liberal, individualising, uncommon, and anti-democratic culture that is the result of political developments that gained strength after Barry Goldwater's 1964 US presidential campaign to become Reaganism, Thatcherism and the world acording to Blair in Britain and the USA.

Although it is nearly 50 years since this was written (and 25 or so years since I last read it), it retains power and insight, and provides a model for cultural analysis grounded in the material conditions of our socio-economic existence. Stop reading Williams through the plethora of guides to cultural studies and cultural analysis – and read Williams.
Profile Image for Raya Al-Raddadi.
101 reviews34 followers
April 11, 2018
Raymond Williams' discussion of culture has a crucial impact on the development of cultural studies as an independent discipline. In this book, Williams attempts to bridge the gaps between aesthetic (found in art and literature) and socio-economic inquiry. The basic idea of the the book (and the title) is that since the industrial revolution there has been a 'long' gradual growth and struggle for freedom against the dominant market-driven society. Hence, he examines such a gradual change, which took over British political, economic, and cultural domain. He questions how education expresses (consciously and unconsciously) certain elements in the culture and what are the fundamental relation between meanings embodied by creative writings and meanings embodied by institutions. Some other issues that Williams seeks to examine and document are the growth of the popular press and the reading public, the relationship between individuals and societies, and the impact of social history on both literary writers and literary forms.
The new edition with Anthony Barnett's foreword to the 50th anniversary emphasizes the relevance of Williams' book to unlock what's going on such as the material reality of experience, significance of communication and issues of representation and democracy.
16 reviews2 followers
August 14, 2018
The Long Revolution is a book of parts of variable value. Its first part is largely theoretical, but the theory is largely Williams's own, with little discussion of other theories of the concepts it addresses - the creative mind, culture, the individual and society. The conceptual vocabulary is quite impoverished and there is too much reliance on the concept of 'experience', which after a while becomes inadequate to his purposes. Overall the first part is a bit of a slog, with the exception of a brief but interesting excursion on the English novel in the 1840s.

The second part is altogether more interesting, as a detailed account of the history of different cultural forms - the novel, the drama, the newspaper and periodical. However, these quantitative and empirical accounts can tend towards the overly descriptive. I, at any rate, found myself wanting more analysis of the meaning and morphology of the themes and subject matter these forms were used to address. That said, there are still interesting points made throughout this part - for instance, Williams's explanation for the extraordinary achievements of Elizabethan drama.

Both the first and second parts clearly represent the beginning of a new form of cultural analysis, combining both sociology and literary criticism of an impressively broad scope. The narrowness of its theoretical horizons is more a testimony to the intellectual environment of Britain in the 1950s than to Williams himself, who later went on to do work of greater theoretical depth informed by engagement with Marxism, and especially the work of Gramsci, in the 1970s.

The final section, 'Britain in the 1960s' is dated now, but still quite interesting in some respects. It is striking to see how early Williams was calling for constitutional reform, cultural and industrial democracy, and more internal party democracy - a demand that has still gone largely unmet today. If I disagree with the detail of some of his proposals, it seems clear that he was one of the first British left intellectuals to articulate, in outline at least, what must still remain the substance of any socialist movement's political programme, if it aspires not just to temporarily improve people's lives, but achieve a durable new working class hegemony.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,320 reviews978 followers
January 18, 2022
This book is really only necessary if you're studying the history of critical political thought, particularly in relation to the concept of a global culture, but otherwise it's just incredibly stupid. It was originally written in the early 1960s, keep in mind, which is a fact that I think perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with this pipe dream.
Profile Image for Frank Keizer.
Author 5 books30 followers
December 22, 2022
Raymond Williams blijft voor mij een van de meest inspirerende literaire en culturele critici, vooral door de breedte van zijn visie, de warmbloedigheid van zijn stijl en de reikwijdte van zijn denken, alle gevoed door zijn ervaringen als zoon van een Welshe spoorarbeider. Er is veel in dit boek dat moet worden herzien of verdiept, vooral op theoretisch gebied en in de analyse van gender, de imperiale natiestaat en ras. Maar het boek is dan ook in 1961 uitgekomen - en het blijft een prestatie, deze analyse van de Britse maatschappij door de eeuwen heen die de basis leverde voor bevlogen, populaire cultuuranalyse waarop velen, van Stuart Hall tot Terry Eagleton, hebben voortgebouwd. Dit programma - de analyse van de geschiedenis van de actuele vormen van ons sociale leven met het oogmerk die te democratiseren - kun je anno 2022 alleen maar met een gevoel van somberheid tot je nemen, want de neoliberale aanslag op het collectieve en publieke heeft precies het tegenovergestelde bewerkstelligd van wat Williams hier voorstelde.
Profile Image for Melanie.
51 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2022
Raymond Williams's The Long Revolution is a must read. It is incredibly relevant cultural theory for our time. I read the whole book and really enjoyed it. However, if you find history boring, you could simply read Part One and Part Three and learn the general idea that Williams is putting forward. As an artist, I wish I had been introduced to this book in art school.
Profile Image for Brian Kelly.
Author 5 books
June 1, 2023
Not as interesting as culture and society but possibly with more practice views on the direction he saw things going.
Profile Image for Matt.
6 reviews
May 16, 2013
Raymond Williams is one of the biggest influences on how I try to think about culture and politics. I'm reading the chapter on "The Creative Mind" now, which is helping me think through some questions about creativity and work.
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