Critique of Everyday Life  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Critique de la vie quotidienne (1947) is the first volume of three books on everyday life written by Henri Lefebvre. It was translated as The Critique of Everyday Life.

The three volumes consist of

  • Critique de la vie quotidienne, 1947, Grasset.
  • Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d'une sociologie de la quotidienneté, 1961, L'Arche
  • Critique de la vie quotidienne, III. De la modernité au modernisme (Pour une métaphilosophie du quotidien), 1981, L'Arche

Overview

The book is a criticism of everyday life and consumerism,and it was among the major intellectual motives behind the founding of COBRA and, eventually, of the Situationist International.

The critique of everyday life is one of Henri Lefebvre's most important contributions to social thought. He pioneered the idea in the 1930s. Lefebvre defined everyday life dialectically as the intersection of "illusion and truth, power and helplessness; the intersection of the sector man controls and the sector he does not control", and is where the perpetually transformative conflict occurs between diverse, specific rhythms: the body’s polyrhythmic bundles of natural rhythms, physiological (natural) rhythms, and social rhythms (Lefebvre and Régulier, 1985: 73). The everyday was in short, the space in which all life occurred, and between which all fragmented activities took place. It was the residual. While the theme presented itself in many works, it was most notably outlined in his eponymous three-volume study, which came out in individual installments, decades apart, in 1947, 1961, and 1981.

Lefebvre argued that everyday life was an underdeveloped sector compared to technology and production, and moreover that in the mid 20th century, capitalism changed such that everyday life was to be colonized—turned into a zone of sheer consumption. In this zone of everydayness (boredom) shared by everyone in society regardless of class or specialty, autocritique of everyday realities of boredom vs. societal promises of free time and leisure, could lead to people understanding and then revolutionizing their everyday lives. This was essential to Lefebvre because everyday life was where he saw capitalism surviving and reproducing itself. Without revolutionizing everyday life, capitalism would continue to diminish the quality of everyday life, and inhibit real self-expression. The critique of everyday life was crucial because it was for him only through the development of the conditions of human life—rather than abstract control of productive forces—that humans could reach a concrete utopian existence.

Lefebvre's work on everyday life was heavily influential in French theory, particularly for the Situationists, as well as in politics (e.g. for the May 1968 student revolts). The third volume has also recently influenced scholars writing about digital technology and information in the present day, since it has a section dealing with this topic at length, including analysis of the Nora-Minc Report (1977); key aspects of information theory; and other general discussion of the "colonisation" of everyday life through information communication technologies as "devices" or "services".




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