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Evaluate The Contribution Of Richard Hoggart

1464 words - 6 pages

Evaluate the contribution of Richard Hoggart to the analysis of popular culture through an analysis of The Uses of Literacy in Society.

Richard Hoggart has been one of the leading cultural commentators of the last sixty years. He was the first literary critic to take the working class seriously and to extend the parameters of literary criticism to include popular culture. Hoggart put the working class on the cultural map. He differentiated between what was offered by the “popular providers” (media, popular fiction, advertisements) and the resilient culture of working-class people themselves. Richard Hoggart’s ‘The Uses of Literacy’ was published in 1957 and was an intellectual ...view middle of the document...

It is hoped that the media can bridge the huge gap between the elites and the public domain. Students of the British tradition of cultural studies generally seem to credit Richard Hoggart with 'founding' the movement. His book The Uses of Literacy (1958) broadens the application of literary studies to take in newspapers, magazines, popular music and so on. Moreover, he examines the interconnections between these and the structures of individuals' everyday lives. In this respect he shows popular culture to be worthy of more serious attention than, say, other literary critics such as the Leavises were prepared to allow. To an extent, this no doubt reflects his own working class background, which is indeed very much to the fore in his book. Nevertheless, while favourably disposed to pre-war popular culture, which he sees as forming an organic whole, he - not unlike the Leavises - ultimately condemns the post-war 'mass' culture, which he considers trivial and subversive of the authenticity of working class culture.

Together with the other keys works of the time such as Raymond Williams’ ‘Culture and Society’, ‘The Uses of Literacy’ laid a solid base of British cultural studies, changing ideas of what constitutes a valuable focus for cultural analysis. His work differs from F. R. and Q. D. Leavis because he sought to advocate ‘a little more humanity about what audiences actually take from unpromising material’ (Hoggart, 1963, 242). His working-class background helps Hoggart to stick to his central theme of ‘knowing’ the reader, understanding the fact that they may not be as easily influenced as the media had first thought. He departed from the Leavisite way of thinking, and believed that “perhaps no one should engage in the work who is not, in a certain sense, himself in love with popular culture” (Hoggart 1963, 242).

A crucial aspect of Hoggart’s argument in his book is that the ‘popular persuaders’ exploit themselves onto old, positive values. He does not fear the challenge to anyone who abandons critical value judgments in favour of populism. Hoggart also challenges the idea that ‘anything goes’, that one should never be a snob or killjoy, and that high-mindedness must be avoided. One must tackle this error in order to arm people against the manipulations of the popular persuaders (media) and to challenge the tyranny of relativism that they exploit.

His book offers a reappraisal of Hoggart’s contributions to cultural studies and was definitely a book of his time. The text intervenes in a wide-ranging debate about the social and political changes in Britain that followed the end of World War II, a debate that reached beyond anything that had surpassed and looked at new movements. “The Use of Literacy’ also parallels with the work of John Braine, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney and John Osbourne. These authors all look at the experience of the provincial working class in a country that was being...

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