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The Meaning and Limitations of the Keyword Approach—Reevaluating Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.10, 2019

 

The Meaning and Limitations of the Keyword Approach—Reevaluating Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

(Abstract)

 

Fang Weigui

 

Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society falls into the category of historical semantics. Williams seeks to find a distinctive means of effectively researching society and culture by reviewing and providing textual analysis and description of the historical development of some words and their significance. Keywords’ academic contribution is beyond doubt, and it is also an important indicator of the rise of a research methodology. It had considerable influence at the time, but also received a lot of criticism; Quentin Skinner, a leading figure of the Cambridge school, is particularly harsh about the Keywords, but not a few Chinese scholars are quite unaware of its methodological flaws and deficiencies. German Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history) is one of the landmark paradigms of historical semantics. A comparison of the German-style Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (Basic Concepts in History) with the Keywords, despite their many common areas, will readily reveal their differences and relative merits, and will be conducive to a deeper understanding of related issues.