Henri Lefebvre
Lefebvre in 1971
Born(1901-06-16)16 June 1901
Hagetmau, France
Died29 June 1991(1991-06-29) (aged 90)
Navarrenx, France
Alma materUniversity of Paris (MA, 1920;[1] DrE, 1954)[2]
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolContinental philosophy
Western Marxism
Hegelian Marxism
Doctoral studentsJean Baudrillard
Main interests
Notable ideas

Henri Lefebvre (/ləˈfɛvrə/ lə-FEV-rə, French: [ɑ̃ʁi ləfɛvʁ]; 16 June 1901 – 29 June 1991) was a French Marxist philosopher and sociologist, best known for pioneering the critique of everyday life, for introducing the concepts of the right to the city and the production of social space, and for his work on dialectical materialism, alienation, and criticism of Stalinism, existentialism, and structuralism. In his prolific career, Lefebvre wrote more than sixty books and three hundred articles.[4] He founded or took part in the founding of several intellectual and academic journals such as Philosophies, La Revue Marxiste, Arguments, Socialisme ou Barbarie, Espaces et Sociétés.[5]


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, Georges Friedmann, Georges Politzer, and Pierre Morhange in the Philosophies group seeking a "philosophical revolution".[6] This brought them into contact with the Surrealists, Dadaists, and other groups, before they moved towards the French Communist Party (PCF).

Lefebvre joined the PCF in 1928 and became one of the most prominent French Marxist intellectuals during the second quarter of the 20th century, before joining the French resistance.[7] From 1944 to 1949, he was the director of Radiodiffusion Française, a French radio broadcaster in Toulouse. Among his works was a highly influential, anti-Stalinist text on dialectics called Dialectical Materialism (1940). Seven years later, Lefebvre published his first volume of The Critique of Everyday Life.[8] His early work on method was applauded and borrowed centrally by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). During Lefebvre's thirty-year stint with the PCF, he was chosen to publish critical attacks on opposed theorists, especially existentialists like Sartre and Lefebvre's former colleague Nizan,[9] only to intentionally get himself expelled from the party for his own heterodox theoretical and political opinions in the late 1950s. He then went from serving as a primary intellectual for the PCF to becoming one of France's most important critics of the PCF's politics (e.g. immediately, the lack of an opinion on Algeria, and more generally, the partial apologism for and continuation of Stalinism) and intellectual thought (i.e. structuralism, especially the work of Louis Althusser).[10]

In 1961, Lefebvre became professor of sociology at the University of Strasbourg, before joining the faculty at the new university at Nanterre in 1965.[11] He was one of the most respected professors, and he had influenced and analysed the May 1968 student revolt.[12] Lefebvre introduced the concept of the right to the city in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville[13][14] (the publication of the book predates the May 1968 revolts which took place in many French cities). Following the publication of this book, Lefebvre wrote several influential works on cities, urbanism, and space, including The Production of Space (1974), which became one of the most influential and heavily cited works of urban theory. By the 1970s, Lefebvre had also published some of the first critical statements on the work of post-structuralists, especially Michel Foucault.[15] During the following years he was involved in the editorial group of Arguments, a New Left magazine which largely served to enable the French public to familiarize themselves with Central European revisionism.[16]

Lefebvre died in 1991. In his obituary, Radical Philosophy magazine honored his long and complex career and influence:

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.[17]

The critique of everyday life

One of Lefebvre's most important contributions to social thought is the idea of the "critique of everyday life", which he pioneered in the 1930s. Lefebvre defined everyday life dialectically as the intersection of "illusion and truth, power and helplessness; the intersection of the sector man controls and the sector he does not control",[18] and is where the perpetually transformative conflict occurs between diverse, specific rhythms: the body's polyrhythmic bundles of natural rhythms, physiological (natural) rhythms, and social rhythms (Lefebvre and Régulier, 1985: 73).[19] The everyday was, in short, the space in which all life occurred, and between which all fragmented activities took place. It was the residual.[20] While the theme presented itself in many works, it was most notably outlined in his eponymous three-volume study, which came out in individual installments, decades apart, in 1947, 1961, and 1981.

Lefebvre argued that everyday life was an underdeveloped sector compared to technology and production, and moreover that in the mid 20th century, capitalism changed such that everyday life was to be colonized. In this zone of everydayness (boredom) shared by everyone in society regardless of class or specialty, autocritique of everyday realities of boredom vs. societal promises of free time and leisure, could lead to people understanding and then revolutionizing their everyday lives. This was essential to Lefebvre because everyday life was where he saw capitalism surviving and reproducing itself. Without revolutionizing everyday life, capitalism would continue to diminish the quality of everyday life, and inhibit real self-expression. The critique of everyday life was crucial because it was for him only through the development of the conditions of human life—rather than abstract control of productive forces—that humans could reach a concrete utopian existence.[21]

Lefebvre's work on everyday life was heavily influential in French theory, particularly for the Situationists, as well as in politics (e.g. for the May 1968 student revolts).[22] The third volume has also recently influenced scholars writing about digital technology and information in the present day,[23] since it has a section dealing with this topic at length, including analysis of the Nora-Minc Report [fr] (1977); key aspects of information theory; and other general discussion of the "colonisation" of everyday life through information communication technologies as "devices" or "services".

The social production of space

Main article: Social production of space

Lefebvre 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).

Lefebvre contends that there are different modes of production of space (i.e. spatialization) from natural space ('absolute space') to more complex spaces and flows whose meaning is produced in a social way (i.e. social space).[24] Lefebvre analyzes each historical mode as a three-part dialectic between everyday practices and perceptions (le perçu), representations or theories of space (le conçu) and the spatial imaginary of the time (le vécu).[25]

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. Lefebvre argued that every society—and, therefore, every mode of production—produces a certain space, its own space.

Lefebvre's concept has been criticised: e.g. in The Urban Question, Manuel Castells. Many responses to Castells are provided in The Survival of Capitalism, and some such as Andy Merrifield[26] 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 "Actually-Existing Success: Economics, Aesthetics, and the Specificity of (Still-)Socialist Urbanism," Michal Murawski critiques Lefebvre's dismissal of actually existing socialism by showing how socialist states produced differential space.[27]



  1. ^ a b Schrift (2006), p. 152.
  2. ^ Schrift (2006), p. 153.
  3. ^ Ian H. Birchall, Sartre against Stalinism, Berghahn Books, 2004, p. 176: "Sartre praised highly [Lefebvre's] work on sociological methodology, saying of it: 'It remains regrettable that Lefebvre has not found imitators among other Marxist intellectuals'."
  4. ^ Shields, Rob (1999). Lefebvre Love and Struggle. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-09370-5.
  5. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 427. ISBN 9780415252256.
  6. ^ Michel Trebitsch: Introduction to Critique of Everyday Life, Vol. 1 Archived 8 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Mark Poster, 1975, Existential Marxism in Postwar France: From Sartre to Althusser, Princeton University Press
  8. ^ "Lefebvre on the Situationists: AnInterview". Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  9. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, Spring 1992 Archived 26 June 2003 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Henri Lefebvre and Leszek Kołakowski. Evolution or Revolution; F. Elders (ed.), Reflexive Water: The Basic Concerns of Mankind, London: Souvenir. pp. 199–267. ISBN 0-285-64742-3
  11. ^ "Préface de : Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life. Volume III. (1981)". Archived from the original on 8 June 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  12. ^ Vincent Cespedes, May 68, Philosophy is in the Street! (Larousse, Paris, 2008).[page needed]
  13. ^ Mark Purcell, Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant, GeoJournal 58: 99–108, 2002.
  14. ^ "Right to the City" as a response to the crisis: "Convergence" or divergence of urban social movements? Archived 10 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Knut Unger, Reclaiming Spaces
  15. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991 Archived 26 June 2003 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Gombin, Richard (1971). The Origins of Modern Leftism. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-021846-6., p40
  17. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991.
  18. ^ Lefebvre, Henri (1947). The Critique of Everyday Life. Verso. ISBN 978-1844671946., p40
  19. ^ Lefebvre, Henri; Regular, Catherine (2004). Rhythmanalysis. Continuum. ISBN 978-0826472991.
  20. ^ "Préface à : Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life. Volume I. Introduction". Archived from the original on 8 June 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  21. ^ Elden, 2004, pp. 110–126.
  22. ^ Ross, Kristin (2005). May 68 and its afterlives. University of Chicago. ISBN 978-0226727998.[page needed]
  23. ^ Shaw, Joe; Graham, Mark (February 2017). "An Informational Right to the City? Code, Content, Control, and the Urbanization of Information". Antipode. 49 (4): 907–927. Bibcode:2017Antip..49..907S. doi:10.1111/anti.12312.
  24. ^ Place, A Short Introduction by Tim Cresswell
  25. ^ Shields, Rob, Places on the Margin, Routledge, 1991, ISBN 0-415-08022-3, pp. 50–58.
  26. ^ Crang, Mike; Thrift, Nigel, eds. (11 September 2002). Thinking Space. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203411148. ISBN 9781134721184.
  27. ^ Murawski, Michał (October 2018). "Actually-Existing Success: Economics, Aesthetics, and the Specificity of (Still-)Socialist Urbanism". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 60 (4): 907–937. doi:10.1017/S0010417518000336. ISSN 0010-4175. S2CID 149783548.
  28. ^ DES stands for diplôme d'études supérieures [fr], roughly equivalent to an MA thesis.
  29. ^ Elden 2004, p. 96.


Further reading