Exploring the Personal and Political with Raymond Williams' Key Words.

Ref: C3529056

This course is inspired by cultural theorist and ex-WEA tutor Raymond Williams’ book ‘Key Words’ (1976) in which he explores the changed meaning of 131 words which reflect changes in society over the last few hundred years. For example, once ‘society’ described a few people who were part of an elite upper class; society ladies and cultured gentlemen. Now everyone is part of society, and anyone can claim a culture of their own. Each session will examine one or more of these key-words and then we shall add our own. Examples could include: democracy; power; class; charismatic; development; discipline; aspirational; academic; vocation; citizen; western, etc.. To participate, you need not be widely read, nor possess specialist knowledge. All you need is a willingness to examine your own experience and use of language in the company of others, the wider the range of experiences and backgrounds within the group the more meanings we can discover and examine.

Course aim

To apply the methods of analysing language introduced by Raymond Williams in his 1976 book ‘Key Words’ so revealing their hidden power over lives and thinking.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • No previous knowledge of language or the work of Raymond Williams is required. This course is not about spelling or grammar (both areas in which the tutor is no expert). It is not about learning a ‘correct’ definition of unfamiliar words.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • outline what is meant by a key-word and give examples.
  • examine the ways in which key-words are used to limit thought and action.
  • feel confident enough to take part in discussions about meanings and contribute to a group project to develop a key words web-site.
  • grasp a sense of the role of language in thinking and in constructing experience, including their own.
  • recognise the political power of language and feel more prepared to challenge when key-words are used oppressively.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning
  • Those student who wish to can contribute to a web-site which summaries the groups ideas regarding the words discussed. Visit https://sites.google.com/a/edapps.wea.org.uk/keywords/

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning
  • You will be encouraged to consider other students work and give your opinions and suggestions
  • The web-site mentioned above will provide a record of our collective learning.

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required
  • There is no essential reading however the following will be referred to • Keywords: a vocabulary of culture & society. Raymond Williams (1976)

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information http://pearl.open.ac.uk/
  • Access the WEA What Next? booklet here http://www.wea.org.uk/learn-wea/what-can-i-do-next
  • Students could use participation in the course as evidence of recent learning for various FE and HE programmes. Particularly useful for media studies, psychology, sociology etc

Download full Course information sheet

Exploring the Personal and Political with Raymond Williams' Key Words.


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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