structures of feeling
Raymond Williams coined this phrase in Preface to Film (1954) to discuss the relationship between dramatic conventions and written texts. What concerned Williams was the social acceptability of particular conventions—think of the theme of mistaken identity which is rife in Shakespeare's plays which without the benefit of special effects relies on convention for its plausibility. In later works, particularly The Long Revolution (1961), Williams would develop this concept further, using it to problematize (though not refute) Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony. Hegemony, which can be thought of as either ‘common sense’ or the dominant way of thinking in a particular time and place, can never be total, Williams argued, there must always be an inner dynamic by means of which new formations of thought emerge. Structure of feeling refers to the different ways of thinking vying to emerge at any one time in history. It appears in the gap between the official discourse of policy and regulations, the popular response to official discourse and its appropriation in literary and other cultural texts. Williams uses the term feeling rather than thought to signal that what is at stake may not yet be articulated in a fully worked-out form, but has rather to be inferred by reading between the lines. If the term is vague it is because it is used to name something that can really only be regarded as a trajectory. It is this later formulation that is most widely known.
A. O'Connor Raymond Williams: Writing, Culture, Politics (1989).