Henri Lefebvre

Henri Lefebvre

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE
name = Henri Lefebvre
birth = birth date|1901|06|16 flagicon|FRA|size=15px Hagetmau, France
death = Death date and age|1991|06|29|1901|06|16 flagicon|FRA|size=15px Navarrenx, France
school_tradition = Neo-Marxism
main_interests = Everyday Life·Dialectics·Alienation·Mystification·Social space·Urbanity·Rurality·Modernity
notable_ideas = Critique of Everyday Life·Theory of Moments·Rhythmanalysis
influences = Marx· Hegel
influenced = Guy Debord· Jean Baudrillard· Michel de Certeau· David Harvey· Raoul Vaneigem· Edward Soja

Henri Lefebvre (16 June 1901 – 29 June 1991) was a French sociologist, intellectual and philosopher who was generally considered a Neo-Marxist [cite book | author=Friedmann, John | title=Planning in the public domain: from knowledge to action | publisher=Princeton | year=1987 ] .


Lefebvre was born in Hagetmau, Landes, France. He studied philosophy at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), graduating in 1920.

By 1924 he was working with Paul Nizan, Norbert Guterman and others in the "Philosophies" group seeking a "philosophical revolution" [ [http://www.ihtp.cnrs.fr/Trebitsch/pref_lefebvre1_MT.html Michel Trebitsch: Introduction to Critique of Everyday Life Vol 1] ] . This brought them into contact with the Surrealists and other groups, before they moved towards the French Communist Party (PCF). Lefebvre joined the PCF in 1928 and later published attacks on opponents of its line such as Nizan [ [http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2191&editorial_id=9838 Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991] ] .

From 1930 to 1940, Lefebvre was a professor of philosophy; in 1940 he joined the French resistance. From 1944 to 1949, he was the director of "Radiodiffusion Française", a French radio broadcaster in Toulouse.

His criticism of everyday life, first published in 1947, was among the major intellectual motives behind the founding of COBRA and, eventually, of the Situationist International. [ [http://www.notbored.org/lefebvre-interview.html "October" magazine interview with Lefebvre, 1983] ] He later commented that :"The book is an "allusive" one - allusive to culture, "leisure" and urban reality... Its ambiguity enabled conflicting interpretations to be made, both extremist ones (the revolution in and through everyday life, everything all at once) and reformist ones (improve the status of the everyday, the "quality of life")." [cite book | author=Lefebvre, Henri | title=The Survival of Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production | publisher=Allison & Busby | year=1973 | id=ISBN 0-85031-173X, p58]

In 1958 Lefebvre was expelled from the PCF. During the following years he was involved in the editorial group of "Arguments", a New Left magazine whose :"chief merit lay in having enabled the French public to become familiar with the experiments in revisionism carried out in Central Europe in the twenties and thirties" [cite book | author=Gombin, Richard | title=The Origins of Modern Leftism | publisher=Penguin | year=1971 | id=ISBN 0-1402-1846-7, p40]

In 1961, Lefebvre became professor of sociology at the University of Strasbourg, before joining the faculty at the new university at in 1965. [ [http://www.ihtp.cnrs.fr/Trebitsch/pref_lefebvre3_MT.html Michel Trebitsch: preface to Critique of Everyday Life Vol 3, 1981] ]

He wrote in French, English, and German.

Lefebvre died in 1991. In his obituary, "Radical Philosophy" magazine wrote::"the most prolific of French Marxist intellectuals, died during the night of 28-29 June 1991, less than a fortnight after his ninetieth birthday. During his long career, his work has gone in and out of fashion several times, and has influenced the development not only of philosophy but also of sociology, geography, political science and literary criticism." [ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991]

The (social) production of space

Lefebvre has dedicated a great deal of his philosophical writings to understanding the importance of (the production of) space in what he called the reproduction of social relations of production. This idea is the central argument in the book "The Survival of Capitalism", written as a sort of prelude to "La production de l’espace" (1974) ("The Production of Space"). These works have deeply influenced current urban theory, mainly within human geography, as seen in the current work of authors such as David Harvey and Edward Soja. Lefebvre is widely recognized as a Marxist thinker who was responsible for widening considerably the scope of Marxist theory, embracing everyday life and the contemporary meanings and implications of the ever expanding reach of the urban in the western world throughout the 20th century. The generalization of industry, and its relation to cities (which is treated in "La pensée marxiste et la ville"), "The Right to the City" and "The Urban Revolution" were all themes of Lefebvre's writings in the late 1960s, which was concerned, amongst other aspects, with the deep transformation of "the city" into "the urban" which culminated in its omni-presence (the "complete urbanization of society").

In his book "The Urban Question" (translated into English very early, in contrast with Lefebvre's works), Manuel Castells heavily criticizes Lefebvre's theoretical arguments contained in the books published in the 1960s about the contemporary city from a Marxist standpoint. Castells' criticisms of Lefebvre's subjective approach to Marxism echoed the Structuralist school of Louis Althusser, of which Lefebvre was an early critic. Many responses to Castells are provided in "The Survival of Capitalism", and some may argue that the acceptance of those critiques in the academic world would be a motive for Lefebvre's effort in writing the long and theoretically dense "The Production of Space".

In "The Production of Space", Lefebvre contends that there are different levels of space, from very crude, natural space ('absolute space') to more complex spatialities whose significance is socially produced ('social space'). ["Place, A Short Introduction", Tim Cresswell]

Lefebvre's argument in "The Production of Space" is that space is a social product, or a complex social construction (based on values, and the social production of meanings) which affects spatial practices and perceptions. As a Marxist philosopher (but highly critical of the economicist structuralism that dominated the academic discourse in his period), Lefebvre argues that this social production of urban space is fundamental to the reproduction of society, hence of capitalism itself. Therefore, the notion of hegemony as proposed by Antonio Gramsci is used as a reference to show how the social production of space is commanded by a hegemonic class as a tool to reproduce its dominance.

:"Social space is a social product - the space produced in a certain manner serves as a tool of thought and action. It is not only a means of production but also a means of control, and hence of domination/power."

Lefebvre argued that every society - and therefore every mode of production - produces a certain space, its own space. The city of the ancient world cannot be understood as a simple agglomeration of people and things in space - it had its own spatial practice, making its own space (which was suitable for itself - Lefebvre argues that the intellectual climate of the city in the ancient world was very much related to the social production of its spatiality). Then if every society produces its own space, any "social existence" aspiring to be or declaring itself to be real, but not producing its own space, would be a strange entity, a very peculiar abstraction incapable of escaping the ideological or even cultural spheres. Based on this argument, Lefebvre criticized Soviet urban planners, on the basis that they failed to produce a socialist space, having just reproduced the modernist model of urban design (interventions on physical space, which were insufficient to grasp social space) and applied it onto that context::"Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa."

Partial Bibliography

*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 "Hitler au pouvoir, bilan de cinq années de fascisme en Allemagne", Paris: Bureau d'Editions.
*1938 with Norbert Guterman, "Morceaux choisis de Hegel", Paris: Gallimard (3 reprintings 1938-*1939, reprinted Collection "Idées", 2 Vols. 1969).
*1938 with Norbert Guterman, "Cahiers de Lénine sur la dialectique de Hegel ", Paris: Gallimard.
*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). Paris: Editions sociales
*1947 "Descartes", Paris: Editions Hier et Aujourd'hui.
*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", 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", foreword 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"
*1968c "Dialectical Materialism", J. Sturrock trans., London: Cape. ISBN 0-224-61507-6
*1968d "Sociology of Marx", N. Guterman trans. of 1966c, New York: Pantheon.
*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. ISBN 0-285-64742-3
*1975a "Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, ou le royaume des ombres", Paris: Tournai, Casterman. Collection "Synthèses contemporaines". ISBN 2-203-23109-2
*1975b "Le temps des méprises: Entretiens avec Claude Glayman", Paris: Stock. ISBN 2-234-00174-9
*1978a with Catherine Régulier "La révolution n'est plus ce qu'elle était", Paris: Editions Libres-Hallier (German trans. Munich, 1979). ISBN 2-264-00849-0
*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. ISBN 2-203-23172-6
*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., L.Grossberg and C.Nelson eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.; New York: Macmillan. pp. 75-88. ISBN 0-252-01108-2
*1991a "The Critique of Everyday Life", Volume 1, John Moore trans., London: Verso. Originally published 1947. ISBN 0-86091-340-6
*1991b with Patricia Latour and Francis Combes, "Conversation avec Henri Lefebvre" P. Latour and F. Combes eds., Paris: Messidor, Collection 'Libres propos'. ISBN 2-209-06518-6
*1991c "The Production of Space", D. Nicholson-Smith trans., Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Originally published 1974. ISBN 0-631-14048-4
*1992 with Catherine Regulier-Lefebvre "", preface by René Lorau, Paris: Ed. Syllepse, Collection "Explorations et découvertes". ISBN 2-907993-11-9
*1995 "Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes September 1959-May 1961", J. Moore, trans., London: Verso. Originally published 1962. ISBN 1-85984-961-X
*1996 "Writings on Cities", E. Kofman and E. Lebas trans. and eds., Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19187-9


External links

* [http://ojs.gc.cuny.edu/index.php/situations/article/view/175 The Ignored Philosopher and Social Theorist: The Work of Henri Lefebvre] by Stanley Aronowitz, in: "Situations", vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 133–155 (PDF available).
* [http://www.henrilefebvre.org Conference about Lefebvre, urban research and architecture design]
* [http://www.notbored.org/space.html Review of "The Production of Space" in "Not Bored"]
* [http://www.notbored.org/symphony.html Review of "The First Situationist Symphony" in "Not Bored"]

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