Henri Lefebvre: Philosopher of Everyday Life

Rob Shields, Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa Canada

An exapnded and revised version of this paper appears in A. Elliott and B. Turner eds 2001. Profiles in Contemporary Social Theory (London:Sage).  Do not cite from this draft without perfmission.  HTML version copyright Rob Shields 2002.

Biography and Theoretical Context

Who was Henri Lefebvre?  Surveys of French intellectual life in the 1950s and 60s remark that he is a permanent outsider, yet one of the most influential forces in French left-wing humanism.  Although an unorthodox writer who was officially excluded from the Parti Communiste Français long before the work of thinkers such as Lyotard, Althusser or Foucault on the French left caught the attention of most Anglophone theorists, Lefebvre figured as the most translated of French writers during the 1950s and 1960s.  Thanks to his 1939 paperback on Dialectical Materialism (Lefebvre 1967) translated into over two dozen languages and printed on a vast scale in over a dozen editions) he ranked as 'The Father of the Dialectic' for at least two generations of students worldwide.  By the 1980s he was idolized by American postmodernists and geographers as the pioneer of critiques of the city and the 'spatial turn' in theory.

Henri Lefebvre was a Marxist and Existentialist philosopher (see Lefebvre 1946) , a sociologist of urban and rural life and a theorist of the State, of international flows of capital and of social space.  Born in 1901 in the south  of France, he died in his beloved home region of Haut Pyrenees in the ancient town Navarrenx in 1991.  During that period, he witnessed the modernization of French everyday life, the industrialization of the economy and suburbanization of its cities.  In the process, the rural way of life of the traditional peasant was destroyed (Ross 1996).  Some of the most important elements in the context in which Lefebvre found himself can be listed in chronological order.  After his initial schooling on the  West coast of France at Brieuc and in Paris, he was profoundly affected by not only the lack of food and heat in occupied Paris but the widespread post World War I  malaise of the French populace who felt alienated from the new industrialized forms of work and bureaucratic institutions of civil society in the early 1920s.  This spurred him to focus on alienation and led him to the philosophies and social criticism of Marx and Hegel, which in turn paved the route to joining the Parti Communiste Français (PCF).  Lefebvre's career was disrupted by the Second World War. his books and manuscripts burnt by the Vichy Regime during the War and he was persecuted for his Communist writings by the post-War authorities.  Pushed out the centres of intellectual influence he completed his doctoral thesis on changes in rural France.  But when it was published as the La Vallée de Campan (1963) he was lauded as a founder of the study of rural society.

Still an outsider to the Paris establishment he finally obtained a formal university position in Strasbourg in the mid 1950s, identifying with the political avant garde and passing the critique of an earlier generation on to the student movements of the 1960s.  He finally moved back to Paris, winning a professorship at new suburban university in Nanterre where he was an influential figure in the 1968 student occupation of the Sorbonne and Left Bank.  Nanterre provided an environment in which he developed his critique of the alienation of modern city life which was obscured by the mystifications of the consumerism and the mythification of Paris by the heritage and tourism industries.  These critiques of the city were the basis for Lefebvre's investigation of the cultural construction of stereotypical notions of cities, of nature and of regions.  Accorded international fame he questioned the over-specialization of academic disciplines and their 'parcellization' of urban issues into many disciplines such as planning, geography, surveying, architecture, sociology and psychology (to name only a few), which dealt with space and other human geography issues.  During his international travels from the early 1970s he developed one of the first theories of what came to be referred to as 'globalization'.

The influence of Lefebvre is thus broad and often unrecognized.  One telltale sign of his 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' from either a left-wing or humanist position without retracing some of his arguments.  Of course these terms predate, Lefebvre but he was one of the original thinkers who established  their importance for understanding behaviour in the context of everyday modern life.

Social Theory and Contributions

We have already enumerated a range of disciplines in which Lefebvre is an important contributor.  The core of his humanism is his critique of the alienating conditions of everyday life which he developed together with Norbert Guterman in the late 1930s and finally published in 1947 as Critique of Everyday Life (1991a see also 1968b).  This was the first of what were to be three volumes (1991a; 161; 1981a respectively). Lefebvre argued a Marxist interpretation of 'Everydayness' (quotidienneté, Altäglichkeit ), or banality as a soul-destroying feature of modernity alongside Lukacs and against Heidegger, who saw it as a metaphysical, or spiritual, problem.  Lefebvre extends Marx's analysis by discovering new forms of alienation, and arguing that capitalism not only organizes relations of production in an exploitive manner (which produces several forms of alienation in workers) but that every aspect of life is emptied of meaning or significance, which is then purchased back in the form of spectacular commodities.  Rather than resolving alienation, consumption is part of the mis-recognition of their alienated state by modern consumers, in a cycle which Lefebvre and Guterman referred to as the 'mystification' of consciousness.  Their early collaboration in La Conscience mystifiée (1936) and in the first ever mass publication of the works of the young Karl Marx on alienation and his essays, The German Ideology and Theses on Feuerbach (see 1934) influenced Walter Benjamin's Marxist analysis of culture (1993).  The adopted concept of 'everydayness' originated with Lukàcs.  Ironically these works on alienation were not available to him, allowing Lukàcs' to develop a distinct concept, 'reification', without the cognitive stress of Lefebvre and Guterman's theory of mystification which is closer to Marx and Engel's positing of the existence of classes' 'false consciousness'.  A further irony is that Lefebvre's extension of alienation into the key concept in an entire critique of modern life turns on a over-simplified reading of Marx and Engel's many different types of estrangement and dispossession.  The range of ideas are replaced by the French 'alienation' as if they were all synonyms of a social-psychological type alienation.  By contrast with this cognitive state, Marx and Engel's often give the idea the sense of forceful expropriation of profit or value - an active  'taking away' which is lost in Guterman and Lefebvre's translation.

Against 'mystification', against the banality of the 'metro-bulot-dodo' 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 - see 1959).  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 are instances of dis-alienation.  They have no duration but can be relived (see Hess 1994).  Lefebvre argues that these cannot easily be reappropriated by consumer capitalism and commodified; they cannot be codified.  They are 'escape-hatches' from the alienated condition of everyday life which can be experienced unexpectedly, anywhere and at any time.  Perhaps ironically for someone lately stereotyped as a theorist of space, Lefebvre can be said to have a form of temporal theory of authenticity based in the 'timelessness' and instantaneity of Moments.  Moments become the measuring rod by which the quality of life in different societies is evaluated in his later work (see Harvey 1991).

Even before discovering the work of Hegel, and Marx, Lefebvre's was influenced by Schopenauer  to develop a romantic humanism which glorified 'adventure', spontaneity and self-expression.  He is called by one German biographer a 'Romantische Revolutionär' (Meyer 1973; Lefebvre et al 1958b).  In the mix of students and activists in mid-1920s Paris, Lefebvre was part of a group of 'Philosophes' (including also Nisan, Friedman, and Mandelbrot) who were loosely connected with Gide, and influenced by Surrealist's such as Breton (who was the one who introduced Lefebvre to Hegel and Marx) and Dada-ists such as Tzara.  In turn, the 'Philosophes' proto-existentialist rejection of metaphysical solutions in favour of action influenced Sartre and his circle (see Lefebvre 1925; Short 1966; 1979; Trebitsch 1987).

Apart from his work on the young Marx (with Guterman likely doing most of the translation), Lefebvre and Guterman produced a well-timed Introduction' to Hegel (1938) which coincided with  Kojève's influential lectures on his 'anthropological' interpretation of  Hegelianism.  The first inter-war attempt at an anti-fascist reading of Nietzsche (1939a) and a rigorous critique of National Socialism and nationalism followed.  But it was Lefebvre's Marxist primer on the theory of  Dialectical Materialism (1967) which made him internationally famous as a Marxist theorist, despite the disapproval and destruction of a more existentialist manuscript on everyday life by the PCF censor.  By the end of the Second World War despite  participating in the Resistance and nearly starving in 1944-45, he had a more sociological critique of everyday life ready for publication.

The spoils and fame from the international media interest in existential philosophy caused a long-running dispute between Lefebvre and Sartre through the 1940s up until a reconciliation in which they both recognized each other's influence on themselves.  Lefebvre's attacks on Sartre's Being and Nothingness (1958) had been goaded-on by the PCF who feared the latter's influence (Lefebvre 1950b).  When Lefebvre acknowledged Sartre's status, and Sartre acknowledged using Lefebvre's dialectical method, Lefebvre himself was attacked and decisively excluded from the PCF (Lefebvre 1958a; Poster 1975; Lefebvre 1975b).

Perhaps most interesting is the extension of this critique from the arena of everyday life and relations between the household and society at large into a full-blown analysis of urban life (Trebitsch 1991).  Lefebvre does this by drawing on his collaboration with the Situationniste International (SI) in the early 1960s.  This took the form of reading group discussions on the Paris Commune which Lefebvre published as La Proclamation de la Commune (1965b).  The Commune - an uprising and direct democracy of workers in inner Paris - involved the occupation of key symbolic sites in Paris (Lefebvre 1969).  It took the form of an extended festival, a Mardi gras that overflowed the bounds of social regulation to the extent that it became a 'revolutionary festival' (Ross 1988).  Lefebvre later examined the work of Bakhtin, but his approach is distinctive in that he focuses on the revolutionary potential of play, in parallel with the ideas of Lyotard (libidinal economy - see Kleinspehn 1975) and of Deleuze and Guattari (desire as a productive force) (Lefebvre and Regulier 1978a, see Lefebvre 1988).  Lefebvre coathored work and interviews with Kolakowski on 'Evolution or Revolution' (1974) which awaits comparison with the opposed work of Sorokin on the sociology of revolutions.   This unique idea was later put into practice by Lefebvre's seminar students at Nanterre, who led the occupation of the Sorbonne and much of Paris in May 1968.  Every person has a 'right to the city' (1968a) - that is, to the city understood as the pre-eminent site of social interaction and exchange, which Lefebvre refers to as 'social centrality'.  Lefebvre analysed the impact of changing social relations and economic factors under capitalism upon the quality of access and participation in the urban milieu.  This interaction should not degenerate into commodified spectacles or into simply 'shopping' but should be the social form of self-presence in which individuals enjoy the right of association into collectives and self-determination.

His important definition of the city was never properly absorbed by urban theorists.  What is 'the urban', he 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 this phenomenological basis as an Hegelian form but this is not to say that he is simply phenomenologist.  Like social space, the urban is a 'concrete abstraction' ('It is concrete in having a given substance, and still concrete when it becomes part of our activity, by resisting or obeying it... It is abstract by virtue of its definite, measurable contours, and also because it can enter into a social existence...and become the bearer of a whole series of new relations...' (Lefebvre 1968f:119 [1939b]))  The urban is social centrality, where the many elements and aspects of capitalism intersect in space despite often merely being part of the place for a short time, as is the case with goods or people in transit.  'City-ness' is the simultaneous gathering and dispersing of goods, information and people.  Some cities achieve this more fully than others - and hence our own perceptions of some as 'great cities' per se.

After the first set of works explicitly concerned with urban struggles and the experience of May '68, Production of Space (1991c, first published 1974) forms the keystone of the all-important 'second phase' of Lefebvre's analysis of the urban which began around 1972 (see Lefebvre 1996; Kofman and Lebas 1996).  This later phase deals with social space itself and the 'planetary' or global.   As argued in Production of Space and restated later in De l'Etat (Vol 4 1978b) Lefebvre moved his analysis of 'space' from the old synchronic order of discourses '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, place landscape, and property is cultural and thereby has a history of change.  Rather than discussing a particular theory of social space, he examined struggles over the meaning of space and considered how relations across territories were given cultural meaning.  In the process, Lefebvre attempted to establish the presence of a 'lived' experience and understanding of geographical space alongside the hegemonic theories of space promulgated by disciplines such as philosophy or geography or urban planning or the everyday attitude which ignored the spatial altogether.  Thus a large portion of Production of Space was devoted to developing a radical phenomenology of space as the humanistic basis from which to launch a critique of the denial of individuals' and communities' 'rights to space'.  In capitalist societies, for example, geographical space is 'spatialized' as lots.  Land is always owned by someone.  Hence a privatized notion of space anchors the understanding of property which is a central cultural feature of capitalist societies.

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 that the 'perceived space' ('le perçu') of everyday  social life and commonsensical perception blends popular action and outlook but is often ignored in the professional, and theoretical 'conceived space' ('le conçu') 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 and  Moments 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 the 'conceived space' of arrogant professionals and greedy capitalists.

This sphere offers complex re-coded and even de-coded versions of lived spatialisations, veiled criticism of dominant social orders and of the categories of social thought often expressed in aesthetic terms as symbolic resistance.  Lefebvre cites Dada, the work of the Surrealists, and particularly the works of René Magritte as examples of art, literary comment and fantasy regarding other, possible, spatialisations.  Also included in this aspect are clandestine and underground spatial practices which suggest and prompt alternative (revolutionary) restructurings of institutionalised discourses of space and new modes of spatial praxis, such as that of squatters, illegal aliens, and Third World slum dwellers, who fashion a spatial presence and practice outside of the norms of the prevailing (enforced) social spatialisation.  For example in many countries, inequitous property ownership often privileges absentee landlords over landless peasants.   Lefebvre calls this,

 space as directly lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of "inhabitants" and "users"...  This is the dominated...space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate.  It overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects.  Thus representational spaces may be said...to tend towards more of less coherent systems of non-verbal symbols and signs (1991c:39).

Signs?  Nicholson-Smith's English translation (1991c) chooses the odd phrase 'representational spaces' rather than the literal translation, 'spaces of representation'.  This translation of the text (and every translation is also an interpretation) brings out the importance of Lefebvre's thinking at this time about  the semiotics of metaphor and metonymy and the entire mechanics of representation through a sign system.  The text is strewn with the debris of near-forgotten theories of linguistic and semiotics.  It would seem more obvious to tie the problem of 'lived space' to spatial practice, rather than the social imaginary.  However, referring to his Nietzschean ideal of the 'total person', he is interested here in the 'fully lived', pre-conscious and authentic shards of spatiality which animate people, provide meaning to the entire assemblage of lives and spatialisations.

Lefebvre dictated his books, and avoided editing, leaving inconsistencies which are also clues to a troubling problem which continued to haunt Lefebvre - the paradox of an almost impassable gulf between the sign and any authentic reality.  This gulf left even the 'total person' either alienated from their nomothetic world or, in a state of inarticulate and incoherent union and bliss, which could not be represented, and thus could hardly be expected to serve as a libidinal, mobilizing force for social change, as he and others had hoped might happen during the Occupation of the Sorbonne in May 1968.  This paradox would drive Lefebvre back to reassess the work of Nietzsche after the completion of Production de l'espace (1991c; 1975a).

Lefebvre's  tripartitite division is Christian and originates in Catholic mysticism - a hint that Lefebvre preserved his own 'third' element in a dialectic alongside of Marxist theory and PCF praxis (see Shields 1999).  The division of the popular against the professional echos Lefebvre's contact with the Front Popular and grassroots Communist activism (often via his spouses, of which there were several) and the experience of 1960s and 1970s city planning battles as neighbourhood communities faced 'slum clearance' moves by planners and 'redevelopment' for others with the ability to pay, by speculators.  The privilege granted to art is consistent with his affiliations with artistic and political avant gardes such as the Surrealists and Situationists.  The three axes or aspects of space are the elements of a 'triple dialectic' (dialectique de triplicité - the details of which Lefebvre does not sketch).  The shifting balance between these forces defines what I have referred to as the historical 'spatialisation' of an era (Shields 1999; 1990).

A triple dialectic short-circuits any tendencies to reduce this along the lines of a base-superstructure dualism (or economy-culture; or production-consumption; or action-thought) , making it difficult to think in terms other than a dialectical juxtaposition.  The multidimensional thesis is in direct contrast to the more customary reduction of space to part of the trinity: production, consumption, and exchange (as in Castells 1977).  In addition to these three, common in political economic analyses of space, Lefebvre argues that space, or spatialisation as I have suggested it is best translated, is a fourth and determining realm of social relations in which the production and deployment of wealth and surplus value takes place.  The spatial, may be seen to be an abiding concept in cultural regimes of socio-economic hierarchies (implemented through physical spatial division), and an indicator of socio-economically consistency, compatibility or continuity of privilege, class, and practice.  Furthermore, Lefebvre's three-part dialectic is one in which there seems to be little temporal progression from contradiction to synthesis it appears to be more spatial, with elements that coexist in a tension which is only broken occasionally Lefebvre's 'third' element which transfigures, reinterprets or recodes an historical 'settlement' of forces.

This idea of historical spatialisations is the basis for a 'transcoding' of Marx's Grundrisse into spatial terms (Jameson 1991).  A history of 'modes of production of space' emerges which completes Marx's vision of successive historical of modes of production in urban, environmental and attitudinal terms.  A true Communist revolution must not only change the relationship of labourers to the means of production, but also create a new spatialisation - shifting the balance away from the 'conceived space' of which private property, city lots and the surveyor's grid are artifacts.  Embracing the 'lived space' of avant gardes is a device for harnessing its reinvigorating potential and redirecting the 'perceived space' of everyday practice in a new manner.  This theory provides an early bridge from Marxist thought to environmentalism.  Lefebvre was particularly influential on the formative positions of the German Green Party.

The work on the city and on other scales of space is the reason Lefebvre's work has remained important in the English-speaking world - not his once prominent role as the Father of the Dialectic, nor the lost history of his contributions to passing the idea of a personal, revolution of everyday life from the Dadaist of the 1920s to the student countercultures of the 60s and the 1980s British punks and anarchists (Home 1988; Plant 1992).  'Rediscovered' by geographers such as Ed Soja (1989, 1996), Neil Smith (1984), sociologists such as Mark Gottdiener (1985), and cultural theorists such as Frederic Jameson, Lefebvre spent part of 1983 in California.  During this trip, an enduring connection to contemporary social critics of all stripes was made and a final relay was closed in the extensive circuit of intellectual transfers which Lefebvre effected.

Appraisal of Key Advances and Controversies

Why is this work important?  Lefebvre goes beyond previous philosophical debates on the nature of space, and beyond human geography, planning and architecture, which considered people and things merely 'in' space, to present a coherent theory of the development of different systems of spatiality in different historical periods, or 'historical spatialisations' as we have referred to them above.  These 'spatialisations' are not just physical arrangements of things, but spatial patterns of social action and routine as well as historical conceptions of space and the world (such as a fear of falling off the edge of a flat world).  They add up to an socio-spatial imaginary and outlook which manifests itself in our every action.

This system of space operates at all scales.  At the most personal, we think of ourselves in spatialised terms, imagining ourselves as an ego contained within an objectified body.  People extend themselves - mentally and physically - out into space much as a spider extends its limbs in the form of a web.  We become as much a part of these extensions, as they are of us.  Arrangements of objects, work teams, landscapes and architecture are the concrete instances of this spatialisation.  Equally, ideas about regions, media images of cities and perceptions of 'good neighbourhoods' are other aspects of this space which is necessarily produced by each society as it makes its mark on the Earth.

What is the use of such an 'unpacking' of the production of the spatial?  Lefebvre uses the changing types of historical space to explain why capitalistic accumulation did not occur earlier, even in those ancient economies which were commodity and money-based, which were committed to reason and science, and which were based in cities (see Merrifield 1993).  One well-known explanation is that slavery stunted the development of wage-labour.  He finds this unconvincing.  No: it was a secular space, itself commodified as lots and private property, quantified by surveyors and stripped of the old local gods and spirits of place, that was necessary.  'What exactly is the mode of existence of social relationships?' asks Lefebvre in his typically dialectical style.

The study of space offers an answer according to which the social relations of production have a social existence to the extent that they have a spatial existence; they project themselves into a space, becoming inscribed there, and in the process producing that space itself.  Failing this, these relations would remain in the realm of 'pure' abstraction  - that is to say, in the realm of representations and hence of ideology: the realm of verbalism, verbiage and empty words (1991c:129).

As well as being a product of cultures, space is a medium - and the changing way we understand, practice and live in terms of our space provides clues to how  our capitalist world of nation-states is giving way to a unanticipated geopolitics - a new sense of our relation to our bodies, world and planets as a changing space of distance and difference.

In this analysis, Lefebvre broadened the concept of production to 'social production' (unaware of social constructivist theories that had been developed by non-Francophone writers such as Berger and Luckman or by Garfinkel).  Contemporaneously with Poulanzas in the mid 1970s he later refined his analysis with an assessment of the role of the State.  This included his interest in the changing historical geography of capitalism and the globalization of socioeconomic relations.  It must not be forgotten, however, that this was also a turn to rhythm and to space-time (Lefebvre and Régulier-Lefebvre 1985).   Beyond The Production of Space stretched a decade and a half of further publishing, including his posthumous book Rhythmanalyse (Lefebvre and Régulier-Lefebvre 1985; 1992).   In addition he attempted a rapprochement of Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche (1975a) which would extend Marxism to what he called a 'metaphilosophy' (1965a).  However, Lefebvre's spatial dialectic is perhaps his most intriguing contribution.

A theoretical spatialisation of the dialectic is not, however,  pursued by Lefebvre himself.  He remains in the classical Hegelian mode.  Nor is it fully clarified in the secondary literature, for example, Soja's work, which draws on some theorists of alterity (1996).  Nonetheless, we can grasp through Lefebvre a legacy which lies beyond even his own accomplishments.  We might attribute this to the dialectical style of his texts - to their excess - to the way they continue to ask pertinent questions which rise above even Lefebvre's answers.

In Hegel's view, 'affirmation' is undifferentiated in itself and thus a homogeneous entity, unknowable because lacking in any difference.  In this sense it is a purely spatial concept, similar in all respects to an undifferentiated field of in which no single point or element stands out.  Dialectical negation introduces time - the negation of space, in the form of the punctum, the point or instant (the most elementary of temporal concepts).  Aufhebung, Negation of this negation, must subsume both the spatial field and the point which is pure difference in itself.  For Hegel, this takes place by means of the spatialisation of the point itself, drawing it into a line, trajectory, or  flow, movement and passage.  In the Hegelian scheme, we could say that the third term is analogous to historical 'progress'.  Even if this oversimplifies Hegel, it allows us to illustrate the distinctiveness of Lefebvre's proposal which is it introduce a third element - 'the lived', Moments, jokes - which allows the intrusion of a horizon or 'outside', a 'beyond' or otherness.  This element is always constitutively distinct from the original binary of  field and point, or affirmation and negation.  In effect the shift is from '(1) affirmation (2) negation (3) negation of the negation (synthesis)' to a new and little explored formula 'affirmation-negation-otherness-synthesis'.

Soja tentatively envisions this as not 'an additive combination of its binary antecedents but rather...a disordering, deconstruction, and tentative reconstitution of their presumed totalisation producing an open alternative that is both similar and strikingly different.'  What he derives from Lefebvre's 'differentialist'position (1971a; 1980; 1981b; Lefebvre with Latour and Combes 1991b) as  'Thirding', 'decomposes the dialectic through an intrusive disruption that explicitly spatializes dialectical reasoning.... [it]  produces what might best be called a cumulative trialectics that is radically open to additional othernesses, to a continued expansion of spatial knowledge (Soja 1996:61).

The dialectic thus emerges from time and actualizes itself, operating now, in an unforeseen manner, in space.  The contradictions of space, without abolishing the contradictions which arise from historical time, leave history behind and transport these old contradictions, in a worldwide simultaneity, onto a higher level (Lefebvre 1991c: 129).

Lefebvre seems to have produced a 'both-and' vision of the dialectic. 'Both-and' could be restated as more precisely 'both' (both affirmation and negation) plus 'and' (the third, otherness).  He reintegrates within the structure of the dialectic Nietzsche's concept of an irreducible tension,'Uberwinden', which is not simply superceded (an interest of Lefebvre's that dates back to the 1930s).  This presents the possibility of fixing the dialectic as a counterposed assemblage of three terms which are mutually supporting and mutually parasitical for their status within the dialectic.  Only the synopsis, delivered out of the dialectical analysis - and not a part of the dialectic proper - gives the possibility of an overarching synchronic synthesis.  By opening a position for alterity, otherness is brought into the dialectical schema without being reduced to the logic of the 'other' as merely a straightforward 'negation' of self, of thesis - of affirmation.


Lefebvre did not pursue the opportunity to apply this reconceptualisation to either the body  or to identities such as nationalism.  In the case of the body, he remained within the patriarchal tradition dividing bodies and spaces heterosexually into male and female.  These are conceived on the basis of a simple negation (A / not-A; that is, male / not-male) and Lefebvre, like most French theorists, was untouched by Commonwealth and American writers' theories of gay and lesbian 'third' alternative identities (A / not-A / neither) outside of a heterosexual dualism (Blum and Nast 1996).  Late twentieth-century postcolonial writers developed alternative theories of ethnic and race identity without reading Lefebvre  (With some exceptions see Gregory 1994; Soja suggests links between bell hooks and Lefebvre).  Except for perhaps the work of Homi Bhabha, the idea of alterity has not been rigorously compared and contrasted against theories of negation and contradiction such as the dialectic.

Avoiding a simple base-superstructure dualism was Lefebvre's prime concern.  After the failure of the student occupations of May 68, he was eclipsed by Louis Althusser's PCF-sponsored 'Scientific Marxism' in which the base-superstructure division was a privileged element of a structural analysis of the repressive forces and institutions of capitalist states (Zimmerman 1975) .  Ironically, Lefebvre first became well known to English-speaking theorists through the critiques of his work by Althusserians, such as Manuel Castells, whom, in The Urban Question, criticized Lefebvre's urban works for their vagueness and anti-structuralist bias (1977;. Martins 1983:166; Gottdiener 1985; see Lefebvre 1971b).

By contrast, Lefebvre's 'Humanistic Marxism' emphasized the humanistic understanding of alienation as Marx's motivating concept, explored in the economic sphere using the tools of historical materialism and dialectics.  By emphasizing the importance of dialectical materialism, he became the quintessential Marxist methodologist and logician (see 1947).  He argued that Marxism was incomplete as long as it remained applied primarily to the economic rather than to all aspects of social life, and the task of twentieth-century Marxism was to extend this application of dialectical materialism beyond the economic,  and also reflexively onto Marxist theory and politics.

It is therefore surprising that, given his interest in nationalism, in urbanism, in the closing ties of the global economy, and his activism in French debates concerning the independence of French Morocco and of Algeria, he did not foresee the emerging politics of multiculturalism and the problems of France's ethnic ghettos.  Lefebvre has little to say on the question of discrimination, or on 'insiders and outsiders' and the ethics of their relationships.  He tends to conceive of the state as a once-authentic instrument of a single people which has been seized by the capitalist class for itself.

There are important parallels between the work of Lefebvre and Lukacs, Adorno and Marcuse which have not been extensively explored in the scholarship on twentieth-century neo marxisms.  If Lefebvre moved beyond the economic, and broadened the notion of production and the dialectic, but Lefebvre remains on the modernist terrain of problems concerning state-society relations.  Ion Lefebvre's late work there is no horizon of ethnic, racial and sexual Others, relations of colonial domination, and no sustained engagement with the environmental movement.  In part this is a result of timing - his active authorship dwindled in the early 1980s.  His contribution was provide a series of open texts, studded with not only insights but unresolved and probing questions, and marked by a faith in peoples' intuition and willingness to act.  Lefebvre was a 'conducting wire' of ideas and accumulated experience from generation to generation of the European avant garde (Hess1988; Marcus 1989).  Those ideas electrified not one generation, but a century on the Left, and made their mark far an wide outside of France.  Even where he is not quoted directly, facing from memory, Henri Lefebvre left a legacy of  coherence and radicality to utopian humanism.

Author's Major Works and Works Available in English

(A complete index of Lefebvre's major works is available in Shields' Lefebvre Love and Struggle, (1999) with annotations regarding reprints and editions collecting separate parts of previous publications).

1925  'Positions d'attaque et de défense du nouveau mysticisme', Philosophies 5-6 (March).  pp. 471-506.  (Philosophy.  Pt. 2 of the 'Philosophy of Consciousness' project on being, consciousness and identity originally proposed as a thesis topic to Leon Brunschvicg)

1934  with Norbert Guterman, Morceaux choisis de Karl Marx, Paris: NRF.  (numerous reprintings).

1936  with Norbert Guterman, La Conscience mystifiée, Paris: Gallimard (new ed. Paris: Le Sycomore, 1979).

1937  Le nationalisme contre les nations, ('Preface' by Paul Nizan) Paris: Editions sociales internationales. (Reprinted, Paris: Méridiens-Klincksliek 1988, Collection 'Analyse institutionnelle', 'Présentation' M. Trebitsch, 'Postface' Henri Lefebvre).
1938  with Norbert Guterman, Morceaux choisis de Hegel, Paris: Gallimard (3 reprintings 1938-1939, reprinted Collection 'Idées', 2 Vols. 1969).

1939a  Nietzsche, Paris: Editions sociales internationales.

1946  L'Existentialisme, Paris: Editions du Sagittaire.

1947  Logique formelle, logique dialectique Vol. 1 of A la lumière du matérialisme dialectique Written in 1940-41 (2nd volume censored see 1940). Paris: Editions sociales

1950b  'Knowledge and Social  Criticism', Philosophic Thought in France and the USA Albany N.Y.: N.Y.; State University of New York Press.  pp. 281-300.  (2nd ed. 1968).

1958a  Problèmes actuels du marxisme, Paris: Presses universitaires de France; 4th edition, 1970, Collection 'Initiation philosophique'

1958b (with Lucien Goldmann, Claude Roy, Tristan Tzara) 'Le romantisme révolutionnaire', Le Romantisme révolutionnaire  Paris: La Nef.

1961  Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d'une sociologie de la quotidienneté, Paris: L'Arche

1963  La vallée de Campan - Etude de sociologie rurale, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France
1965a  Métaphilosophie, 'Envoi' by Jean Wahl, Paris: Editions de Minuit, Collection 'Arguments'
1965b  La Proclamation de la Commune,  Paris: Gallimard, Collection 'Trente Journées qui ont fait la France'

1968a  Le Droit à la ville, Paris: Anthropos (2nd ed. Paris: Ed. du Seuil, Collection 'Points'

1968b La vie quotidienne dans le monde moderne, Paris: Gallimard, Collection 'Idées'

1968d Sociology of Marx, N. Guterman trans. of 1966c, New York: Pantheon.

1968c Dialectical Materialism, J. Sturrock trans., London: Cape

1969  The Explosion: From Nanterre to the Summit, Paris: Monthly Review Press.  Originally published 1968.

1970  La révolution urbaine Paris: Gallimard, Collection 'Idées'

1971a  Le manifeste différentialiste, Paris: Gallimard, Collection 'Idées'

1971b  Au-delà du structuralisme, Paris: Anthropos.

1974  with Leszek Kolakowski  'Evolution or Revolution', F. Elders ed. Reflexive Water: The Basic Concerns of Mankind, London: Souvenir.  pp. 199-267.

1975a  Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, ou le royaume des ombres, Paris: Tournai, Casterman. Collection 'Synthèses contemporaines'

1975b  Le temps des méprises: Entretiens avec Claude Glayman, Paris: Stock

1978a  with Catherine Régulier La révolution n'est plus ce qu'elle était, Paris: Editions Libres-Hallier (German trans. Munich, 1979).

1978b  Les contradictions de l'Etat moderne, La dialectique de l'Etat, Vol. 4 of 4 De 1'Etat, Paris: UGE, Collection '10/18'

1980  La présence et l'absence, Paris: Casterman

1981a  Critique de la vie quotidienne, III.  De la modernité au modernisme (Pour une métaphilosophie du quotidien) Paris: L'Arche

1981b  De la modernité au modernisme: pour une métaphilosophie du quotidien, Paris: L'Arche Collection 'Le sens de la marché'.

1985 with Catherine Régulier-Lefebvre, 'Le projet rythmanalytique,' Communications 41.  pp. 191-199.

1988 'Toward a Leftist Cultural Politics: Remarks Occasioned by the Centenary of Marx's Death', D. Reifman trans., C.Grossberg and L.Nelson eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.; New York: Macmillan.  pp. 75-88.
1991a  The Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, John Moore trans., London: Verso.  Originally published 1947.

1991b  with Patricia Latour and Francis Combes, Conversation avec Henri Lefebvre, P. Latour and F. Combes eds., Paris: Messidor, Collection 'Libres propos'

1991c  The Production of Space, N. Donaldson-Smith trans., Oxford: Basil Blackwell.  Originally published 1974.

1992  with Catherine Regulier-Lefebvre Eléments de rythmanalyse: Introduction à la connaissance des rythmes, Preface by René Lorau, Paris: Ed. Syllepse, Collection 'Explorations et découvertes'

1995  Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes September 1959-May 1961, J. Moore, trans., London: Verso.  Originally published 1962.

1996  Writings on Cities, E. Kofman and E. Lebas trans. and eds., Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Secondary Sources

Benjamin, W.   1993.  Paris, capitale du XlXe siècle, le livre des passages, Paris: Editions du CERF.
Blum, V. and Nast, H. 1996.  'Where's the difference? The heterosexualization of alterity in Henri Lefebvre and Jacques Lacan', Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14:4.  pp.559-80.

Castells, M. 1977.  La question urbaine, Maspero, 1972, trans.  A. Sheridan, The Urban Question: a Marxist approach, London: Edward Arnold.

Gottdiener, M. 1985.  Social Production of Urban Space, Austin: University of Texas.

Gregory, D. 1994.  Geographical Imaginations, Blackwell, Oxford.

Harvey, David 1991.  'Afterword', H. Lefebvre The Production of Space D. Nicholson-Smith trans.  Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 425-432.

Hess, R. 1988.  Henri Lefebvre et l'aventure du siècle, Editions A. M. Métailié, Paris, 1988.

Hess, R. 1994.  'La théorie des moments, ce qu'elle pourrait apporter a un dépassement de l'interactionnisme', Traces de futurs.  Henri Lefebvre le possible et le quotidien, Paris: La Société Française.

Home, Stuart 1988.  The Assault on culture: Utopian currents from Lettrisme to Class War, (London: Aporia Press and Unpopular Books)

Jameson, F. 1991.  Postmodernism or, the cultural logic of late capitalism, London: Verso.

Kleinspehn, Thomas (1975), Der Verdrängte Alltag: Henri, Lefebvres marxistiscbe Kritik des Alltagslebens, Giessen: Focus Verlag.

Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. 1996.  'Lost in Transposition - Time, Space and the City', Introduction, H. Lefebvre Writings on  Cities, E. Kofman and E. Lebas trans., (Oxford: Basil Blackwell). pp.1-60.

Marcus, G. 1989.  Lipstick Traces, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard.

Martins, M. 1983.  'The theory of social space in the work of Henri Lefebvre',, R. Forrest, J. Henderson and P. Williams (eds), Urban Political Economy and Social Theory: critical essays in urban studies, Gower. pp.160-85.

Merrifield, A. 1993.  'Space and place: a Lefebvrian reconciliation', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 18:4. pp.516-31.

Meyer, Kurt 1973, Henri Lefebvre: ein romantischer Revolutionnär, Wien, Europa Verlag, 175 p.

Plant, S. 1992.  Most Radical Gesture: Situationist International in a Postmodern, Age, London: Routledge.

Poster, Mark 1975.  Existential Marxism in Postwar France: From Sartre to Althusser, Princeton, New Jersey:  Princeton University Press

Ross,  K.  1988.  The  Emergence  of  Social  Space:  Rimbaud  and  the   Paris   Commune,  New York: Macmillan.

Ross, K. 1996 [1995].  Fast Cars,  Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the reordering of French Culture, Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press/ October

Sartre, J.-P. 1958.  Being and Nothingness,  H.E. Barnes, trans. New York: Methuen/Philosophical  Library (Originally published as L'Etre et le Néant, Gallimard 1943)

Shields, Rob 1990.  Places on the Margin: Alternate Geographies of Modernity, London: Routledge.

Shields, Rob 1999.  Lkefebvre: Love nad Struggle: Spatial Dialectics, London: Routledge

Short, Robert S. 1966.  'The Politics of Surrealism 1920-1936', Journal of Contemporary History 1:2 (April). pp.3-26.

Short, Robert S. 1979.  'Paris Dada and Surrealism', Journal of European Studies, 9:1-2 (March/June).
Smith, N. 1984.  Uneven Development; Nature, Capital and the Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell.

Soja, E. 1989.  Postmodern Geographies, the reassertion of space in critical social theory, London: Verso.

Soja, E. 1996.  Third Space Oxford: Blackwell.

Trebitsch, Michel 1987.  'Le groupe Philosophie, de Max Jacob aux surréalistes', Les Cahiers de l'Institut de l'Histoire du temps présent, 6 (Nov). pp.29-38.

Trebitsch, Michel 1988.  'Présentation',, Henri Lefebvre Le Nationalisme contre les Nations, Paris: Meridiens Klincksieck.  pp.7-17.

Trebitsch, Michel 1991.  'Preface', Henri Lefebvre Critique of Everyday Life, John Moore trans., London: Verso. pp.ix-xxviii.

Zimmerman, Marc. 1975.  'Polarities and Contraditions: Theoretical Bases of the Marxist-Structuralist Encounter', New German Critique, 3:1 (Winter). pp.69-90.