Raymond Williams on “structures of feeling” – Hilary Wainwright explains

Hilary Wainwright writing in Red Pepper (Aug/Sept 2011) in an article called “Feeling our way forward”

One of [Raymond] Williams‘ concerns was to overcome the way that ‘relationships, institutions and formations in which we are still actively involved are converted into formed wholes rather than [understood as] formative and forming processes’. Linked to this, he argued, was a separation of the social from the personal that tended to equate the social with fixed and explicit wholes, while all that is moving an unformed – and to some degree unknown – is described as ‘subjective’ and ‘personal’. Williams was trying to capture the process of change in the physical present, to understand the social and material character of the process of emergence, implied y the idea of ‘forming and formative processes’. He arrived at the idea of ‘structures of feeling.”
It is a deliberately contradictory phrase to convey that there is a pattern recurring across social spheres and cultural forms – hence a structure….

But the structure is not of finished, articulated thoughts. Rather it lies in the processes of creating ‘meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt’ – summed up in the concept ‘feeling’, which combines emotion, intuition and thought….

Williams uses ‘feeling to emphasise a distinction from the more formal concepts of ‘world view’ or ‘ideology.

Williams differentiates between dominant and residual social formations that are already formed and manifest and the emergent, which is where structures of feeling come in. Here he distinguishes between ‘oppositional’ and ‘alternative’ , the former posing an unassimable challenge to the dominant order, the latter restyling or otherwise inflecting it. He adds that the latter can very often look like the former at first.


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