By S. Aronowitz
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For if fiction is a form of social knowledge, one may treat literary texts ethnographically, and this is the culmination of Williams’s methodological legacy. To understand the subtlety of Williams’s approach—one that reveals the degree to which his democratic passion is upheld, even as he insists on the importance of retaining elements of the Great Tradition—we may consult his comments on the pedagogical significance of addressing the high/low controversy. Williams reminds us that many of the works included in the canon were themselves considered “low” in terms of the “high” standards of the day.
As the human sciences became increasingly concerned with expanding the scope of their influence, thinking of a world “beyond the given” became relegated to non-Anglo-American philosophy. In the past century, especially as a scientistically organized research science secured its relations with industry and the state, methodologically produced knowledge became conflated with all knowledge itself. As the rift between the social sciences and philosophy continues to grow, social scientists are no longer offered the time and space for thinking.
Instead, his was a broad political notion of education that led him to what might be termed cultural “policy,” the most important aspect of which in the postwar era was the study of communications media, in virtually all of its critical manifestations. An example of the degree to which these experiences informed early ventures into cultural study may be found in the 1968 preface to his textbook Communications, first published in 1962. Williams’s study of communications media—not only television and films but also books, advertising, and theater—is framed in terms of the idea of permanent education: What I have said about growth can be related to the idea of permanent education, which is now so important in French cultural thought, and with which I have had valuable recent contact.