Introduction


Henri Lefebvre Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) was a neo-Marxist and existentialist philosopher, a sociologist of urban and rural life and a theorist of the state, of international flows of capital and of social space. He was a witness to the modernization of everyda life, the industrialization of the economy and suburbanizaion of cities in France. In the process, the rural way of life of the traditional peasant was destroyed. One indicator of Lefebvre's influence is the appearance of some of his signature concepts in left-intellectual discourse. Although not exclusively 'his' of course, Lefebvre contributed so much to certain lines of inquiry that it is difficult to discuss notions such as 'everyday life', 'modernity', 'mystification', 'the social production of space', 'humanistic Marxism', or even 'alienation' without retracing some of his arguments. Lefebvre's relevance and impact on late twentieth-century Anglo-American human geography cannot be overstated, but he cannot be fitted into a geographical straightjacket. Indeed, he was a critic of disciplinary overspecialization such as that between economics, geography and sociology, which 'parcelled up' the study of space.

The core of Lefebre's humanism is his critique of the alienating conditions of everyday life which he developed together with Gutterman as a critique of the alienation and Guy Debord false consciousness of 1930's popular and consumer culture. In 1947 he published the first of what were to be three volumes of Critique of Everyday Life. In this, Lefebvre presentat a Marxist materialist critique of "everydayness' (quotidiennete, Altaglichkeit or 'banality') as a soul-destroying feature of modernity, social interaction and the material environment. Against 'mystification', against the banality of the 'metro-boulot-dodo' (subway-work-sleep) life of the suburban commuter, Lefebvre proposes that we seize and act on all 'Moments' of revelation, emotional clarity and self-presence as the basis for becoming more self-fulfilled (l'homme totale). This concept of 'Moments' reappears throughout his work as a theory of presence and the foundation of a practice of emancipation. Experiences of revelation, deja-vu sensations, but especially love and committed struggle are examples of 'Moments'. By definition, 'Moments' have no duration, but can be re-lived. Lefebvre argues that these cannot easily be reappropriated by consumer capitalism and commodified; they cannot be codified. David Harvey has taken up Lefebvre's thinking about urban social life in both its economic and symbolic dimensions. This work is imbued with a keen awareness of the temporality of urban life both in the sense of long-term accumulation in the cycles of finance, industry and infrastructure and in the shorter term of memory and meaning at the scale of individuals and communities. Lefebvre's collaboration with the Situationniste International (SI) group lead by Guy Debord was crucial in directing his attention to urban environments as the contexts of everyday life and the expression of social relations of production. Lefebvre extended his critique of domestic life of the household to neighbourhoods and urban life. What is 'the urban', Lefebvre asked. The urban is not a certain population, a geographic size, or a collection of buildings. Nor is it a node, a transhipment point or a centre of production. It is all of these together, and thus any definition must search for the essential quality of all of these aspects. Lefebvre understands the urban from the phonomenological basis as a Hegelian form. The urban is social centrality, where the many elements and aspects of capitalism intersect in space despire often merely being part of the place for a short time, as is the case with goods or people in transit.

The Production of Space The Production of Space forms the keystone of the all-important 'second phase' of Lefebvre's analysis of the urban that began around 1972. This later phase deals with social space itself as a national and 'planetary' expression of modes of production. As restated later in De l'Etat, Lefebvre moved his analysis of 'space' from the old synchronic order of discourse 'on' space (archetypically, that of 'social space' as found in sociological texts on 'territoriality' and social ecology) to the manner in which understandings of geographical space, landscape and property are cultural and thereby have a history of change. Rather than discussing a particular theory of social space, he examined strugggles over the meaning of space and considered how relations across territories were given cultural meaning. In the process, Lefebvre attempted to establish the importance of 'lived' grassroots experiences and understandings of geographical space as fundamentally social.

Historical notions of space are analysed on three axes. These three aspects are explained in different ways by Lefebvre. Simplified for the purpose of introducing them, we might say the 'perceived space' ('le percu') of everyday social life and commonsensical perception blends popular action and outlook but is often ignored in the professional, and theoretical 'conceived space' ('le concu') of cartographers, urban planners or property speculators. Nonetheless, the person who is fully human (l'homme totale) also dwells in a 'lived space' ('le vecu') of the imagination which has been kept alive and accessible by the arts and literature. This 'third' space not only transcends but has the power to refigure the balance of popular 'perceived space' and official 'conceived space'. Lefebvre cites Dada, the work of the surrealists, and particularly the works of Rene Magritte as examples challenging taken-for-granted understandings and practices of space.





Introduction to The Production of Space | Plan of the Present Work | Social Space | Spatial Architectonics | From Absolute Space to Abstract Space | Contradictory Space | From the Contradictions of Space to Differential Space | Openings and Conclusions | Afterword by David Harvey | Lefebvre Resources |