A term coined by Raymond Williams and popularised by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (in their collection of essays Political Shakespeare), Cultural Materialism refers to a Marxist orientation of New Historicism, characterised by the analysis of any historical material within a politicized framework, in a radical and subversive manner. Cultural Materialism emphasises studying the historical context, looking at those historical aspects that have been discarded or silenced in other narratives of history, through an eclectic theoretical approach, backed by the political commitment arising from the influence of Marxist and Feminist perspective and thus executing a textual analysis—close reading that critiques traditional approaches, especially on canonical texts.
Like the New Historicists, Cultural Materialists also believe in the textuality of history and the historicity of texts; they are aware of the political agendas of the text and hence are alert to the ways in which power exerts itself through implicit workings of ideology within the text. While they believe that New Historicists generate apolitical readings, in which there is no question of agency on the part of the marginalised, Cultural Materialists are consciously political, and aim at transforming the social order; as they seek readings that focus on the marginalised and the exploited, and also book at the possibilities of subversion and resistance in both the text and the interpretive act. They are conscious of the subversive potential of literature for subcultural resistance and hence propose ‘dissident reading’, which interrogates the hidden political agenda and power struggles within a text.