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Henri Lefebvre is one of the core writers, along with Michel de Certeau, for examining, understanding and deploying social, spatial and environmental practices in a narrative environment. Lefebvre distinguished between three spatial spheres: the ‘perceived space’ of everyday social life; the ‘conceived space’ of planners and speculators; and the sphere of ‘lived space’, as part of lived experience.

Poster (2002) notes that Lefebvre borrowed the notion of “lived experience”, i.e. le vecu or erlebnis, from phenomenology and existentialism. The category of lived experience functioned as a critique of rationalist metaphysics deriving from Cartesian, Kantian, and Hegelian traditions, and can be found in Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology and the Crisis of the European Sciences, in Martin Heidegger’s early existentialism of Being and Time, and in French translations and adaptations of these works such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Elden (2004) further notes that Lefebvre’s reading of space is heavily indebted to Heidegger, although his understanding of production, in The Production of Space, is a development of Marx’s thinking.

Lefebvre associates his last term, lived space or lived experience, with a symbolic re-imagining of urban space that reconfigures the banality of the first term, perceived space. Art and literature, he believes, have helped keep such alternatives alive. Everyday life under capitalism, which is the focus of Lefebvre’s critical thinking, particularly modern life in the post-1945 period, can therefore be redeemed and given new social meanings through the creative re-appropriation of its given products and structures (Brooker, 2003: 97).

Lefebvre argues that insofar as a ‘science’ of the human is possible, its material resides in the ‘trivial’ and the ‘everyday’. This argument can perhaps be derived, ultimately, from the writings of Walter Benjamin and his attempt to redeem the detritus of modern experience from anonymity (Evans, 1997: 223).

Lefebvre writes in Critique of Everyday Life in 1947 that, “the critique of everyday life involves a critique of political life, in that everyday life already contains and constitutes such a critique: in that it is that critique.” The issue at stake in the concept of daily life, therefore, was, and is, the recognition of the failure of Big Politics to offer anything like an adequate domain for human life (Poster, 2002: 743).


Brooker, P. (2003). A Glossary of Cultural Theory, 2nd ed. London, UK: Arnold.

Evans, D. (1997). Michel Maffesoli’s sociology of modernity and postmodernity: an introduction and critical assessment. Sociological Review, 45 (2), 220–243. Available from http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/1467-954X.00062 [Accessed 7 May 2016].

Lefebvre, H. (1976). The Survival of capitalism: reproduction of the relations of production. New York, NY: St Martins Press.

Lefebvre, H. (1987). The Everyday and everydayness. Yale French Studies, 73, 7–11. Available from http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0044-0078%281987%290%3A73%3C7%3ATEAE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U [Accessed 7 April 2014].

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Lefebvre, H. (1996). Writings on cities, edited by E. Kofman and E. Lebas. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Lefebvre, H. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: space, time and everyday life. London, UK: Continuum.

Lefebvre, H. (2009). State, space, world: selected essays, edited by N. Brenner and S. Elden. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Lefebvre, H. (2014). Critique of everyday life. The one-volume edition. London, UK: Verso.

Poster, M. (2002). Everyday (virtual) life. New Literary History, 33 (4), 743–760. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20057754 [Accessed 7 May 2016].

edited 25 March, 2018 by Allan Parsons

Associated Practices

While the crude teleological determinism, historicism and reductive economism of official communist ideology, or orthodox Marxism-Leninism, has come to occupy the space of Marxist thinking, narrative environment design may still benefit from considering a particular understanding of historical materialism, as inflected by the western Marxist tradition, with its recovery of subjectivity, agency and culture. How might this be possible?

Jason Edwards (2010: 282-284) proposes that there are two ways of approaching an understanding of historical materialism.

The first is as a positivist science based on a humanist philosophical anthropology, human nature as the subject of history, and a teleological conception of history embodying a form of economic or technological determinism, as the successive development of modes of production.

The second is as the complex totality (as assemblage, a non-totalising totality?) of the material practices that are required to reproduce the relations of production over time. Thus, Edwards (2000: 284) contends, historical materialism, as a broad analysis of diverse social formations, recognises the diversity of the forms of practice that are necessary for sustaining the relations of production in very different kinds of societies.

Material practices, in this context, are taken to be regular forms of behaviour that are norm-governed and which involve a person’s relation to their body and to other bodies, as well as to experiential phenomena.

This complex whole (non-totalitarian totality) is instantiated in the everyday lives of people and, in turn, the material practices of everyday life are implicated in the political and economic power of the state and the international political economic system.

Edwards suggests that historical materialism, as conceived by Marx and Engels, needs to shed its humanism, historicism, economism and teleological determinism. This means that a more de-centred and relational conception of the subject is required, perhaps through such notions as the intercorporeal and the intersubjective conceived in materialist terms, as is a less teleological and deterministic conception of historical change and societal organisation, as is available, for example, through notions articulated by complexity theory.

Historical materialism, in this case, would focus on the character of everyday life and lived space, as discussed by Henri Lefebvre, for example, including its penetration by various media and technologies of communication, as discussed by Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer, and particularly now internet-based, potentially participative, multimedia technologies, as well as its relationships to the ordering of cities, regions, states and the international political economy.

In this context, as Edwards (2000: 290) points out, the work of Lefebvre is of particular importance. His analyses of the experience of everyday life and the production of space through the interconnecting manifold of material and representational practices are vital for developing a meaningful historical materialism which may prove useful for the design of narrative environments.

As such, historical materialism, as a way of understanding antagonistic struggles or dramatic conflicts, may be of value in thinking about the design of narrative environments, particularly how their material aspects might be said to act with a complex, contingent, contextual arrangement (dispositif, apparatus, assemblage, rhizome).


Edwards, J. (2010). The materialism of historical materialism. In D. Coole and S. Frost, eds., New materialisms: ontology, agency, and politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 281–297.

edited 3 April, 2019 by Allan Parsons

Associated Terms

See also Fetishism (Commodity fetishism); Reification; Historical materialism (Marxism)

(Note: this entry refers to the term used in sociology and psychology to describe mental states that are commonly experienced in modern society. For the term that had direct relevance to Narrative Environment practice, see Alienation-effect)

In general, alienation refers to the sense of distance from nature, separation from others, and helplessness that is an effect of modern existence since the time of the Industrial Revolution in the West (1750 onwards).

In Karl Marx’s writings, alienation is depicted as a condition of human alienation from nature; from other people; and of a person from the products of his/her own labour. The last form of alienation, from the products of one’s own labour, is induced by the exploitation of the worker under capitalism, Marx argues, enforcing an identification of the worker with the commodity value of the products of labour. Ultimately, this is seen by Marx to produce a profound alienation of humans from themselves.

In psychoanalytic theory, alienation refers to the split in subjectivity between the ego cogito and the unconscious, and the recognition that one is not in control of one’s thoughts, actions, and desires because of the existence of unconscious drives brought into play in interaction with one’s social and material environments.


Sturken M. and Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

edited 1 March, 2017 by Admin


the everyday – le quotidien – Alltaglich

In some respects, narrative environment design could be considered to be a critical, creative and reflexive practice within and about everyday life, interested not just in the ordinary but also the extraordinary. However, at first, it might not seem that the everyday is fertile ground for narrative environment design, particularly if, for example, one begins from the proposition articulated by Maurice Blanchot (1987: 17) that,

“The everyday, where one lives as though outside the true and the false, is … without responsibility and without authority, without direction and without decision, a storehouse of anarchy, since casting aside all beginning and dismissing all end. This is the everyday.”

Yet if one is attentive to Blanchot’s qualification, that it is “as though” this is the case, then it can be seen that the issues with which narrative environment design is concerned are indeed present in the everyday: truth and falsehood or authenticity and inauthenticity; responsibility and authority; direction and decision-making; order and disorder; beginning and ending.

The everyday, everyday life or daily life, is the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the habitual (Perec, 2008), that which is taken for granted, that which all too familiar and therefore goes unnoticed and is overlooked. The everyday is that which slips into the background; or, as Maurice Blanchot (1987: 12) puts it in an essay section heading, “The Everyday: What is Most Difficult to Discover”.

Agnes Heller (1985), from a different perspective, suggests that the everyday might be understood as the most fundamental ontological category of society, albeit one that is not an unchanging essence but has to be continually re-constructed. For Heller, the everyday constitutes the shared life experience through which the world is intersubjectively constituted.

In terms of an actantial model of narrative environments, the everyday environs; that is its primary mode of actantiality: it becomes an unrecognised and unrecognisable part of the atmosphere, unless disrupted and brought (back) to attention.

For this reason, the everyday may be of great significance in thinking about the design of narrative environments because, similarly to the interventions of neo-avant-garde artists, a narrative environment can provide a way of “ensuring that the details of everyday life, the random constellations of objects that surround us, stop going unnoticed”, as George Brecht, conceptual artist and member of Fluxus, expressed it. Appropriating Zen and other forms of Mahayana Buddhism for their own ends, the work of neo-avant-garde artists and composers, such as the ‘anti-art’ of George Maciunas, a central figure in Fluxus, and the ‘situation art’ of Tom Marioni, rejected orthodox modernism in favour of the sheer immediacy and authenticity of everyday life.

Everyday life is a central, highly diverse and problematic theme for modern philosophy and social theory and, since the mid-1990s, has become persistent topic within art practice. The analysis of the everyday has been undertaken by such thinkers as Dilthey, Wittgenstein, Simmel, Husserl, Schutz, Heidegger, Dewey, Lefebvre, Kosik, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Bloch, Habermas, Garfinkel, Debord and de Certeau.

As Lefebvre (2014: 679) points out, this represents a radical change of focus for philosophy, because,

“In the past, philosophers excluded daily life from knowledge and wisdom. Essential and mundane, it was deemed unworthy of thought. Thought first of all established a distance (an epoche) vis-a-vis daily life, the domain and abode of non-philosophers.”

By changing its focus thus, Lefebvre suggests, philosophy is seeking to renew itself by overcoming speculative abstraction, an endeavour which has been ongoing since Marx, Husserl, Heidegger, Lukacs and others.

As Gardiner (2006: 207) highlights, the theorists mentioned above set out to problematise everyday life, to expose its manifold contradictions, effects and determinations, as well as its hidden potentialities. This problematisation is accomplished through various techniques of the alienation effect, estrangement or defamiliarisation whose aim is to unsettle the state of habitualised, perpetual distraction that, it is argued, constitutes the everyday life of modernity, thereby jolting it into a condition of active awareness or mindfulness.

Such approaches, therefore, differ from mainstream sociological studies, in which the everyday is the realm of the ordinary. In the alternative sketched out by Lefebvre and others, the everyday is treated  as incipiently extraordinary. As Gardiner (2006: 207) explains,

“The ordinary can become extraordinary not by eclipsing the everyday, or imagining we can arbitrarily leap beyond it to some ‘higher’ level of cognition, knowledge or action, but by fully appropriating and activating the possibilities that lie hidden, and typically repressed, within it. Such an enriched experience can then be re-directed back to daily life in order to transform it.”

In line with the Marxian dictum in the Theses on Feuerbach, the goal is to elevate lived experience to the status of a critical concept, not simply in order to describe it, but in order to change it (Kaplan and Ross, 1987: 1). The French understanding of the everyday, Schilling (2003: 24) comments, incorporates the avant-garde injunction to “change life” which runs through the left-wing politics of Lefebvre, the disruptive interventions of the Situationist International and the popular tactics of resistance articulated by De Certeau and which was adapted by the Surrealists from Rimbaud and Marx.

Everyday life undoubtedly does display routinised, static and unreflexive characteristics, as Schütz and other sociologists have noted. Nevertheless, the work of Lefebvre and others leads to the recognition that everyday life is also capable of surprising dynamism, penetrating insight and unbridled creativity. Everyday lives and knowledges thus demonstrate an irreducibly imaginative and dynamic quality. They cannot simply be written off as trivial, inconsequential and habit-bound (Gardiner, 2006: 207). In this sense, the French-derived thinking about the everyday differs from German-language reflections on Alltaglichkeit, such as in Lukacs’ Metaphysics of Tragedy and Heidegger’s Being and Time, which characterise the everyday as the domain of inauthenticity, tiriviality and error (Schilling, 2003: 24).

Michael Sheringham (2006: 3) emphasises the importance of French thought in the post-World War Two period (post-1945) in bringing the notion of the everyday, or the quotidien, to prominence. He argues that from the mid-1950s onwards a cluster of closely-related ways of thinking about and exploring the everyday developed which led to the notion of the everyday being positioned at the centre of French culture from the 1980s onwards, and into the 21st century. Since the 1980s, investigations and explorations of the everyday have become prominent in France certainly, but also elsewhere.

Prominent amongst those paying attention to the everyday in the French context are Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes, Michel de Certeau and Georges Perec, in dialogue with such thinkers as Edgar Morin, Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and those included under the banner of Situationism. In turn, these writers draw common inspiration from ideas about the everyday at large in the writings of Karl Marx, Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau and Walter Benjamin, as well as the Surrealists (Sheringham, 2006: 4).

Thus, the work of critical neo-Marxist writers, such as Guy Debord, Henri Lefebrvre, the early Jean Baudrillard and Edgar Morin, articulating a ‘critique of everyday-life’, formed a unique contribution to the construction of a sociology of the quotidian, which examined everyday life as a site of capitalist domination characterised by ‘alienation’, ‘reification’ and ‘commodity fetishism’, or what Debord called the ‘society of the spectacle’ (Evans, 1997:223).

For Marx, the everyday is the site of political struggle, towards which philosophy should direct its attention; and is also the object of critique in certain forms of literary studies, as noted by Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak (2002: 30):

“In Marx’s text philosophy must thus displace itself into the everyday struggle. In my argument, literature, insofar as it is in the service of the emergence of the critical, must also displace itself thus.”

In being conceptualised as a site of struggle, i.e. within an agonistic framework, the everyday can be understood narratively as a set of dramatic conflicts taking place in specific environments for specific kinds of actants and, therefore, thinking about the everyday is of interest in the design of narrative environments.

Brooker (2003: 96-97) suggests that references to everyday life can be taken to express an emphasis upon the forms and meanings of a common or popular culture. The assumption behind this position is that, as Raymond Williams argues, culture is ordinary, rather than the exclusive province of an elite. In turn, this underlies a broadly political perspective on cultural production and consumption, enabling the routine or banal in daily life to be recognised as a complex field of contested cultural meanings.

If, as Maurice Blanchot (1987: 13) suggests, the everyday constitutes, “a utopia, and an Idea, without which one would not know how to get at either the hidden present, or the discoverable future of manifest beings”, then the task of the narrative environment designer, as critical theorist of everyday life, becomes that of practising a utopian humanism.

Such a practice celebrates the intrinsic, although often invisible, promises and possibilities of ordinary human beings and the inherent value of common sense forms of making sense and knowing. It also recognises, nonetheless, the shortcomings of the mundane world as currently constituted. It is therefore attuned to the transgressive, sensual and incandescent qualities of everyday existence, whereby the whole fabric of daily life, in its sociality, materiality, spatiality and temporality, can take on a festive character, akin to that of a work of art (Gardiner, 2006: 207).

Good places to start researching how the study of everyday has developed are:

Cultural Studies, volume 18, issue 2/3, 2004, and

Yale French Studies, no. 73, 1987.

See also the entry for Situationist International

See also Painting the everyday in Europeana

Selected readings

Blanchot, M. (1987). Everyday speech. Yale French Studies, 73, 12–20.

Brooker, P. (2003). A Glossary of Cultural Theory, 2nd ed. London, UK: Arnold.

Evans, D. (1997). Michel Maffesoli’s sociology of modernity and postmodernity: an introduction and critical assessment. Sociological Review, 45 (2), 220–243. Available from http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/1467-954X.00062 [Accessed 7 May 2016].

Heller, A. (1985) The Power of Shame: A Rational Perspective. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Johnstone, S., ed. (2008). The Everyday. London: Whitechapel Gallery

Lefebvre, H. (1995). Critique of everyday life. Volume 1: Introduction. London, UK: Verso.

Lefebvre, H. (2014). Critique of everyday life. Volume III: From modernity to modernism (towards a metaphilosophy of daily life). In: Critique of everyday life. The one-volume edition. London, UK: Verso.

Gardiner, M.E. (2006). Everyday knowledge. Theory, Culture & Society, 23 (2-3), 205–207. Available from http://dx.doi.org/0.1177/026327640602300243 [Accessed 6 May 2016].

Perec, G. (2008). Species of spaces and other pieces. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Sandywell, B. (2004). The Myth of everyday life: toward a heterology of the ordinary. Cultural Studies, 18 (2), 160–180.

Schilling, D. (2003). Everyday life and the challenge to history in postwar France: Braudel, Lefebvre, Certeau. Diacritics, 33 (1), 23–40. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3805822 [Accessed 7 May 2016].

Sheringham, M. (2006). Everyday life: theories and practices from Surrealism to the present. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


edited 18 September, 2016 by Allan Parsons

Specific narrative environment designs may be said to be ‘political’ or to have political effects in some sense. In order to define more clearly what might be meant by this kind of assertion and to understand how a narrative environment might be said to act ‘politically’, it is worth pondering the distinction often made by contemporary political theorists between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’.

Politics or policy (la politique in French, Politik in German), refers to concrete policy-making, decisions and actions, the struggle for power and its exercise; while ‘the political’ (le politique in French, das Politische in German) refers to the frame of reference within which ‘politics’ occurs, implying the notion of polity or political unity. This distinction, awkward in English, has made its way into Anglo-American political theory via European philosophy.

Oliver Marchart (2007) traces the history of this ‘political difference’ in Ricoeur, Arendt, Schmitt and Mouffe, through to Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe, with diversions into Wolin, Sartori and others.

The theoretical differentiation between politics and the political occurs for the first time in German political thought with Carl Schmitt, while the habit of differentiating between these two concepts started in French thought in 1957, with Paul Ricœur’s essay ‘The Political Paradox’. This led Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe to adopt the differentiation which, in turn, motivated other theoreticians such as Claude Lefort and Alain Badiou to reformulate their own theory in terms of the political difference.

Ricoeur was responding to the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956. He was shocked by the unexpectedness of the Budapest uprising and the severity of its suppression by Soviet troops. In his view, the event demonstrated the autonomy of the political as a domain of human experience, distinct from other domains such as the moral, economic or aesthetic. The political domain has own particular problems, dynamics, modes of action and normative criteria (Schaap, 2013).

The concept of the political is frequently invoked by post-Marxists and theorists of radical democracy. Reacting against the Marxist view of politics, both Schmitt and Arendt, as does Ricoeur, insisted on the autonomy of the political. French post-Marxists,  including Claude Lefort, Étienne Balibar and Jacques Rancière, have drawn on these debates about the political to critically appraise the liberal human rights consensus that emerged in the wake of the Cold War as a basis for examining how human rights might be mobilised for an emancipatory politics (Schaap, 2013).

For Lefebvre, the difference between le politique and la politique enables a distinction (i.e. not a disassociation nor a separation) between the thinking of the political and political action.

In the work of Chantal Mouffe, ’the political’ refers to the dimension of antagonism that can take many forms and can emerge in different social relations. ‘Politics’, she takes to refer to the ensemble of practices, discourses and institutions that seek to establish a particular order and to organise human co-existence in conditions which are always potentially conflicting, because they are affected by the dimension of ‘the political’.


Chambers, S.A. (2011). Jacques Ranciere and the problem of pure politics. European Journal of Political Theory, 10 (3), 303–326.

Marchart, O. (2007). Post-foundational political thought: political difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Ricoeur, P. (1965). The Political Paradox. In: History and Truth, translated by. Charles A Kelby. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 247-270.

Schaap, A. (2013). Human rights and the political paradox. Australian Humanities Review, 55, 1–22.

edited 3 May, 2017 by Allan Parsons

A rhythm is a regular recurrence of a phenomenon, or a pattern of recurrence.

To grasp its value for narrative environment design, one example would be Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis, in which he proposes to analyse biological, psychological and social rhythms in order to demonstrate the interrelation of understandings of space and time in the comprehension of everyday life.

Lefebvre, H. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: space, time and everyday life. London, UK: Continuum.


edited 20 March, 2016 by Mr. Administrator
edited 4 October, 2015 by Admin