“The Sociology of Culture” by Reynolds Williams


Williams explores the concept of cultural analysis based on three definitions of culture. The ideal definition considers culture as “…a state or a process of human perfection in terms of certain absolute or universal values” (Williams 60). It can also be looked up in terms of social aspects. From this perspective, culture is “a description of a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values” (Williams 60). According to William, documentary definition sees culture as “a body of intellectual and work in which human thought and experiences are variously recorded” (Williams 60). However, the three definitions suffer incompleteness while used separately to address the subject of culture analysis.

The main argument

William’s major argument oscillates around rejection of one-dimensional definition of culture and a hence cultural analysis based on such a single inclination perspective point of view. He laments that “however difficult it may be in practice; we have to try to see the process as a whole and to relate one particular studies, in not explicitly at least by ultimate reference, to the actual and complex organization” (Williams 60). A crucial point to take into account is that, Williams doesn’t dismiss various cultural analysis based on the three fundamental definitions of culture, rather he advocates for their combination in exploring the topic since individual definitions are found to have profound particular weaknesses. The subject of Cultural analysis, according to him, is not perfectly addressed by separate consideration of culture from ideal, social or documentary perspectives: the three have to be considered in composite mode.

Williams supports his postulated claim by considering an example of an analytic approach to an artistic work: Antigone of Sophocles (Williams 61) to help him build on ideas that substantially and explicitly depict mono-dimensional cultural definition consideration as incomplete. To this end, Williams believes that cultural analysis with reference to a particular artistic work “is not a question of relating the art to the society, but of studying all activities and interrelations, without any succession of priority to any one of them we may choose to abstract” (62). Even though radical change of the organization is as a consequence of a certain activity, it is fallacious to consider all others as being interrelated to the organizational restructuring activity. All that can be done is to scrutinize the different manners in which certain activities and also their interrelations were in one way or another affected within the dynamic organization.

Secondary arguments

The secondary arguments attempt to portray why one-sided view of culture does not contribute to subtle as well as a solid analysis of culture. For instance considering the ideal, social or and documental aspects of culture each separately. Williams prostrates an argument depicting the impossibility of anyone to convince that he/she have read all the writings for instance novels that record the cultural indulgences of the past. “One can say with confidence, for example, that nobody has read or could have read, all its examples, over the whole range from printed volumes to penny serials” (Williams 68). This way, Williams criticizes the capacity of the documentary cultural accounts to provide a thorough analysis of culture. The only person who can confidently claim to be well acquainted with cultures recorded on writing is that fellow who existed in the documented historical era. Such a person has “that sense of life within which the novels were written and which we can now approach through our cultural selection” (Williams 66). The sense of life cannot wholly be recovered by a person reading a novel today about cultures of an extinct generation. In this subsidiary argument the relationship between the distinctions of various levels of culture, spring to link the incapacity of documented cultural basement as a framework of analyzing cultures. Through citing cultures restricted to particular areas and time dependent thus accessible to persons living in those places and at those specific times, cultures of selective tradition and culture of every kind, which seems well recorded bring out conspicuously the concept of impracticability of the documented culture to analyze cultures both completely and critically.

A second subsidiary argument regard the analysis of culture “as an attempt to discover the nature of the organization which is complex” (Williams 63). Analysis of an organization or a given work is basically analysis of vital kind of organization. The analysis seeks to establish the relationship between the organization and its works as a whole. Williams argue that discovery of cultural patterns are essential if at all any substantial and meaningful cultural analysis is to initiate. “ the patterns sometime reveal unexpected identities and correspondence in hitherto separately considered activities, some time again reveal discontinuities of un expected kind, that cultural analysis is concerned” ( Williams 64). He argues that even if an enormous deal of life of other times and places can be learnt, some elements of cultural characteristics under study are not recoverable. “Even those recovered are recovered in obstruction” (65). The cultural elements cannot be treated separately since each element explains a certain phenomenon of cultural experience. It is therefore wrong to treat cultural analysis attempt as complete by considering a solely idealistic approach. According to the approach, culture “is a state or process of human perfection in terms of certain absolute values” (Williams 61). The definition imply elemental completeness in that it regards culture as being composed of segregated values which are absolute; meaning that all the cultural elements are recoverable since they can be identified and treated distinctively. However, according to historic case study of England culture in 1840s, Williams profoundly convinces that these elements of culture are irrecoverable and hence looking at endeavors to perform cultural analysis based on the definition establishes voids in coherency of logic in the argumentations.

My own critical thinking

The work of William is strikingly reflective of modern cultural transformation and changes. Take for instance the 1950s culture and modern world state. The world has experienced dynamic changes in terms of the way people relate to one another especially due to contribution by advents of globalization. From the social perspective point of view, culture is a description of particular ways of life. Given the randomness in the process of change from one cultural values to the next evident in nowadays people’s organizational forms, it poses queries on whether time and space can allow us to ardently make descriptive analysis of culture especially since the late 1980s. I argue that substantial documentation of cultures within this period is even difficult. People interact with forces of change in secluded and segregated manner making a group based analysis of cultural changes not only hard to document but also non feasible. For instance, the role played by improved and sophistication of communication systems. Social interactivity of people face to face has slowly faded making it a nightmare to register cultural changes. Looking at the analysis of culture from an ideal perspective and in line with Williams’ point of view: from an ideal dimension, culture “is a state or a process of human perfection in terms of certain absolute or universal values” (Williams 61). The forces of cultural changes are amicably nowadays selective in that they afflict people differently say for instance based on class among other social membership groups differentiation criteria. Consequently, cultural analysis based on ideal criterion is a challenge and more or less likely provide no cultural analysis reflection of the modern society. The concept of ‘universal values’ thus fail to hold due to the fact that, people are no longer distinguished and classified in particular groups based on geographical boundaries but on technological acquisition capabilities. Again, cultural shifts are hard or even impossible to analyze since people with similar or equal capacity to deploy technologies in their lives hence varying their cultural inclinations are randomly distributed across the globe.


Cultural analysis entangles away from attempting to unveil the organizational nature. Cultural analysis, consequently seeks to establish the relationships existing amongst all elements of life. Due to limitation of cultural analysis to changing of events within society with time, the culture of time is a significant criterion for analysis of cultures while not negating other levels of culture: ‘the recorded culture’ and ‘culture of selective tradition’. Importantly, cultural analysis should be based on social, ideal and documentary definitional contexts of culture.

Works Cited

Williams, Reynolds. The Sociology of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1995.