FAH-DENG Guest Lecture: “Linguistic and cultural challenges presented by social ‘keywords’” by Prof. Alan Durant, School of Law at Middlesex University, Britain


18 Mar 2016





The work of the British cultural critic Raymond Williams has enjoyed mixed fortunes since his death in 1988. The Marxism which was central to much of it declined dramatically in interest and popularity for a period following global political changes in the 1990s. More recently, however, there has been renewed interest in the historical and philological depth of his analysis of core terminology and concepts in changing social formations. This presentation explores two interwoven topics related to Williams’s work. The first is whether it is possible to identify socially important ‘key words’ and if so how to analyse them: words which may not be especially frequent in occurrence but which play a disproportionately prominent or pivotal role in what is commonly called ‘the social conversation’. On this topic, I describe the background to, and content and analytic method of, Williams’s influential Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976/1983). The second topic concerns the continuing relevance of Williams’s approach: whether the value of his discussion and arguments is confined to their historical period, or whether his overall approach can continue to be valuable if updated in response to changing social circumstances and developed in the light of new academic techniques (especially in the field of corpus linguistics). Building on my account of Keywords itself, I will outline ongoing research in the ‘Keywords Project’ (http://keywords.pitt.edu/), in which I and an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars have been involved for a number of years.



Alan Durant is Professor of Communication in the School of Law at Middlesex University, London, and currently Visiting Professor in the School of English at the University of Hong Kong (Jan-June 2016).  He studied at University of Cambridge, UK, where he gained a double first in English and a PhD on the poetry of Ezra Pound, before taking up a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wales, Bangor, then lecturing in the Programme in Literary Linguistics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. In the 1990s he was Professor and Head of the Department of English at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, then Head of English, Cultural and Communication Studies at Middlesex University. Recent books include Meaning in the Media: Discourse, Controversy and Debate (CUP, 2010) and the RELI textbook Language and Media, co-written with Marina Lambrou (Routledge, 2009). Alongside earlier monographs and textbooks, a further Routledge textbook, Language and Law, as well as an edited collection of essays Language, Law and Power (CUP) are forthcoming, both co-authored with Janny HC Leung. Alan’s research interests include language and the law; the analysis of keywords in civil society (he is convenor of the ‘Keywords Project’, co-funded by Jesus College, University of Cambridge, and the University of Pittsburgh); and other areas of public communication including PR, advertising, and how interpretive disputes may be understood through academic theories of interpretation.


All are welcome




FAH - Department of English
Email: fah.english@um.edu.mo
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