Williams’ analysis became the enormously influential book Culture and Society (1958). Work for that book also involved a series of studies of cultural production, with the aim of understanding the history of industrial capitalism in relation to the forms of communication that were an integral part of it: the press, advertising, education, the new media. The Long Revolution (1961) brought these studies together and marked Williams’ insistence on the importance of struggles for the public ownership and control of ‘communications’. The book also expressed Williams’ commitment to recognising cultural activity as a primary and productive activity within the whole social process, not to be seen simply as the reflection of economic and political determinations. Williams went on to explore these concerns further in books such as Communications (1962; revised edition 1976), Television: Technology and Cultural Form written during a period at Stanford (1974), and Towards 2000 (1983). The underlying theoretical framework for such works was set out in, for example, his critical revision of Marxist thinking about culture and society in Marxism and Literature (1977).
Raymond Williams returned to Cambridge in 1961, following appointment as a University Lecturer in English and as a Fellow of Jesus College. He published substantially on literature, always with an attention to literary works as social forms. Books included Modern Tragedy (1966), The English Novel: Dickens to Lawrence (1970), The Country and the City (1973), Problems in Materialism and Culture (1980), Writing in Society (1984) - these last two being collections of some of his most important essays. Drama and its social reality in different historical contexts had always been a central interest. Indeed, Williams’ first books were Drama from Ibsen to Eliot (1952; revised as Drama from Ibsen to Brecht, 1968); Drama in Performance (1954); and Preface to Film (with Michael Orrom, 1954). In 1974 he became Cambridge’s Judith E. Wilson Professor of Drama.
In (1976), pioneering cultural materialist Raymond Williams devised a method for revealing how language not only described but also helped to produce the world. By focusing on historical shifts in word usage and meaning and tracing the constellated vocabularies that gave each moment an appearance of stability, Williams revealed how our most intimate utterances could serve as guides to the contradictions at work within the social totality.
Raymond Williams is a towering presence in cultural studies, most importantly as the founder of the approach that has come to be known as "cultural materialism." Yet Williams' method was always open-ended and fluid, and this volume collects together his most significant work from over a twenty-year period in which he wrestled with the concepts of materialism and culture and their interrelationship.
Keywords, published in 1976, stemmed from work done during the writing of Culture and Society some twenty years earlier. Looking at the idea of culture and its development had shown Williams that it was only by returning to modulations of the word through history that one could understand even the term itself. Realisation of the value of, and need for, such a historical semantics of culture and of other related words led Williams to prepare a number of entries for these words which were to have formed an appendix to Culture and Society. Owing to the publisher’s worries about length, however, the appendix was finally omitted. It was to this material, which Williams had been expanding and revising over the years, that Williams returned for Keywords.
Raymond Williams was one of the most significant thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century, and a major figure in a socialist tradition that he continued, questioned, and renewed. His many books and articles transformed understanding of culture and society, and made a decisive contribution to the development of cultural studies in Britain, Europe, and the United States.