Raymond Williams (1921–1988) is often cited as one of the founders of the interdisciplinary field of education and research known as cultural studies (CS). To be more specific, he formulated an influential methodology that he named “cultural materialism,” which has an affinity with CS but is a distinctive perspective in its own right. Williams’s most celebrated book, Culture and Society 1780–1950 (1958), traced British Romanticism’s critical response to the Industrial Revolution and successive debates on social and cultural change. At the time of publication, Williams declared “culture” to be “ordinary,” thereby challenging the cultural elitism of literary study and opening up questions concerning mass-popular culture. However, Williams distanced himself from the populist study of communications and culture that became fashionable in the 1980s. His transition from literary criticism and history to sociological commentary and speculation on future prospects was signaled further by his 1961 sequel to Culture and Society, The Long Revolution. Williams challenged the behaviorism of American-originated communication studies and drew upon European critical theories in his own work. His academic specialism was dramatic form, which he studied historically and related to theatrical and audiovisual trends in modern drama. His perspective of cultural materialism broke entirely with idealist approaches to the arts and communications media. However, he was firmly opposed to technologically determinist explanations of the emergence of new media and the dynamics of social change, On technical innovation, he emphasized the role of intentionality, the materiality of discourse, and the social conditions of cultural production and circulation. His key concepts include selective tradition, structure of feeling, and mobile privatization. Williams later coined the term “Plan X” to refer to the rise of military recklessness and unregulated “free-market” political economy and communications during the late 20th century. His final non-fiction book (he also wrote novels), Towards 2000 (1985), has been updated to take account of developments in culture, society, and the environment over the past 30 years.
The digital is now an integral part of everyday cultural practices globally. This ubiquity makes studying digital culture both more complex and divergent. Much of the literature on digital culture argues that it is increasingly informed by playful and ludified characteristics. In this phenomenon, there has been a rise of innovative and playful methods to explore identity politics and place-making in an age of datafication. At the core of the interdisciplinary debates underpinning the understanding of digital culture is the ways in which STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and HASS (Humanities, Arts and Social Science) approaches have played out in, and through, algorithms and datafication (e.g., the rise of small data [ethnography] to counteract big data). As digital culture becomes all-encompassing, data and its politics become central. To understand digital culture requires us to acknowledge that datafication and algorithmic cultures are now commonplace—that is, where data penetrate, invade, and analyze our daily lives, causing anxiety and seen as potentially inaccurate statistical captures. Alongside the use of big data, the quantified self (QS) movement is amplifying the need to think more about how our data stories are being told and who is doing the telling. Tensions and paradoxes ensure—power and powerless; tactic and strategic; identity and anonymity; statistics and practices; and big data and little data. The ubiquity of digital culture is explored through the lens of play and playful resistance. In the face of algorithms and datafication, the contestation around playing with data takes on important features. In sum, play becomes a series of methods or modes of critique for agency and autonomy. Playfully acting against data as a form of resistance is a key method used by artists, designers, and creative practitioners working in the digital realm, and they are not easily defined.