Ideas of nature as ideas about society: Raymond Williams extended

The history of ideas about nature can be read in terms of the social order being defended or promoted, as described well by Raymond Williams (1980) (and explored in the “trialogue” of previous posts). This schema (which evolved through my teaching of Williams’s theme during the 90s) extends this theme. (Reference: Williams, R. 1980. “Ideas of Nature,” in Problems of Materialism and Culture. London: Verso, 67-85.)

nature = actual physical, material (incl. living) world “nature” = idea about nature
read literally 

(right way for us to behave or for society to be ordered; or we can expect problems if we deviate; or we better be careful if we choose to deviate)


(invoking external authority is a way to avoid debating social issues head on)

•tells us about favored social order & actions


untouched by human activity •provides/d potential “natural resources” 

•decreasing -> very little left now

•natural resources determine social/ econ. possibilities 

•”tells us about how things work without human influence impinging”

•suppresses history of human laboring and differentiation*
including human activity humans buffeted by non-human forces, e.g., in past or prehistoric times, or w/ extreme events •much human-made transformation through history and even in prehistory 

•very little unambiguous evidence about pre-historic human social arrangements

“where society’s influence has not mitigated such forces we can learn about what’s natural, incl. human nature” •discounts history of human laboring and differentiation* 

* & the role of States

humans dominating, e.g., in industrial- ized societies •ever intensifying transformations of non-human realm and of human biology 

•very little unambiguous evidence about behavioral or social universals

“biology/ human nature constrains/ predisposes behavior in the full range of social/ economic activities” •the emphasis on behavioral universals & humans as a species discounts differences and on-going differentiation among social groups & societies*

4 thoughts on “Ideas of nature as ideas about society: Raymond Williams extended

  1. Pingback: Ideas of nature as ideas about society: Raymond Williams mapped « Intersecting Processes

  2. Mohammed Al-Obaidi (@Mohafattah78)

    Sorry, but I did not get what he exactly mean by (i) the essential quality and
    character of something; (ii) the inherent force which directs either the
    world or human beings or both; (iii) the material world itself, taken as
    including or not including human beings.
    I need an accurate answer, please, as there are many contradicted views regarding this.


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