An urban conservation architect’s review of “The Everyday and Everydayness” by Henri Lefebvre

This review a small portion of the book “The Everyday and Everydayness” by Henri Lefebvre, translated by Christine Levich, was done as part of my Masters study in Urban Conservation. It is an outcome of reading the translation of “The Everyday and Everydayness” by Henri Lefebvre as well as blogs on the same topic by others. The topic/ the portion that is reviewed here is the aspect of “Forms, Structures and Functions” and its effect on the “everyday” of the  society.

This paper talks about the concept of everyday, which is a double edged sword being both simple as well as complex to our understanding. The basic argument that the paper poses is how the construct of a person’s living environment and the related factors contribute in defining the concept of everyday. The rational and irrational ways sought to convey one’s prestige in today’s context (The Modern era), has broken the diversity that existed before the revolutions of Modernity.

This paper looks at not just the conscious notion of the everyday and the issues that it creates, but also at the changes that have taken place in the everyday life since the beginning of the modern age. The two systems that comprise the “Everyday”, the cyclic system and the linear system, overshadow each other. For example, night and day, life and death, hunger and satisfaction, etc. are overshadowed by the need to work and the need for consumption and vice versa. Changes in this concept of Everyday can happen only when everything within it changes. The author also points that festivities and demonstrations are merely temporary pauses from the Everyday. He also points that people’s choices are passive within the “Everyday” and is highly influenced by external sources such as advertising, canvasing, market surveys, etc. This passivity however, is directed towards certain sections of the society such as women, working classes, the youth and the old, who form the larger section of the society.

The Structure

  • The prodigious diversity of the Pre- Modern Age versus the tendency of uniformity in the Modern Age – The overall scenario of Everyday and Everydayness is explained in the past and the present contexts.
  • The overall concept is then broken up into subtopics that explain Everyday and Everydayness based on different factors that influence it.
    • Forms, functions and structures
    • A Common Denominator
    • Repetition and change
    • General and diversified passivity
    • Modernity

Sub- Topic: – Forms, Structures and Functions

Today we see a worldwide tendency to uniformity”-Henri Lefebvre

There have always been forms, functions and structures. They were accessible to the senses and were recognizable. They were inter-connected even though distinct as individual entities and they were a part of an undifferentiated whole.

Post-modern age thought, however has challenged this concrete wholeness. Thereby analyzing the objective and social realities. However any amount of analysis has left a residual fact resisting this analysis itself. Such realities which could not be reducible by human thought became a matter of infinite analysis or divine thought.

Every complex “whole” thus possessed a symbolic value linking them to mean as the vast. They were linked to divinity, humanity, power, wisdom, good, evil, happiness, and misery, perennial, ephemeral. However these symbols were mutable according to the wishes of the ruling class and changed according to trend to form “styles”.

In this process, the functional element itself was disengaged, rationalized and changed. This was industrially produced and eventually thrusted on the society by persuasion, compulsion or constraint.

Even though the relationship of form to function to structure has not disappeared, it has on the contrary been changed to a declared relationship. Within these parameters multiple systems and sub-systems have been constructed. Each one establishing in its own way a more or less coherent set of objects.

Whatever the case maybe housing, fashion, food etc., tend to constitute an autonomous subsystem closed off from one another. These subsystems pose as though there is diversity as it had been in the pre-modern era. However sadly this is only apparent and not real.

Once the dominant forces that make it possible to combine these forces is understood, the artificial grouping of these mechanisms is recognized, and the fake diversity becomes intolerable, the system will break.

The “Everyday” can therefore be defined as a set of functions which connect together and still appear to be distinct. Thus defined, the “everyday” becomes a product which creates consumption and this consumption is manipulated by the producers.

The “everyday” therefore forms the platform on which bureaucratic society of controlled consumerism is erected.

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