Sitting in my cosy seat on the heated shuttle bus out of Monash, reading Rythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life by Henri Lefebvre on my kindle, I began to reflect on my position in the neighbourhood. There were a number of things that sparked this, previous comments from a respected colleague, an unfortunate comparison to Alain de Botton and Lefebvre’s text right there in that moment.
The third chapter of the book seemed to indicate that, after a long and illustrious career, the old fella had gone completely mad. Either that or he had reached that moment in his life, that many academics do, where he considered that every thought he had deserved to be printed in gold. Did he really think that such banal reflections about his immediate surroundings were of interest to anyone at all? Did he realise that such descriptions hardly constituted a “new” approach. Sartre did something similar in Nausea. As did Georges Perec in the aptly titled An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris.
This got me reflecting on what has been a recurring problem over the last few weeks. Is the idea of a “critique” of everyday life, such as the analysis of my lived environment, any more dangerous than a bowl of soggy weet-bix. Is it just another self indulgent academic spiel screaming “Look! Look! Look how interesting I am!”. Have I become this guy.
This is a danger. Nevertheless I still think that a critique of everyday life, despite being on the brink of banality, is potentially more. The question is: beyond banal descriptivism, what can we learn about big issues, power relations, inequality, political violence and discrimination through an analysis of the everyday?
[For those privileged enough to be able to access academic journal I would highly recommend the short pieces by the likes of Xavier Guillaume and Cynthia Enloe in this issue of International Political Sociology. Don’t be intimidated, they are only a couple of pages long each.]
I believe that firm links can be drawn between seemingly banal occurrences and wider reaching power structures. Those power structures responsible for forms of political violence, discrimination and inequality.
In the everyday we can unravel practices that prolong power relations through repetition. Which kinds of subjectivities are considered desirable in the neighbourhood space? Which kinds of activities? How are these institutionalised? Who do these marginalise?
We can also look at emerging tendencies. Structures in the making. How is Brunswick being transformed? Which rationalities are behind these transformations? What kind of neighbourhood do they envisage? Much academic work and activism has already highlighted the violence of gentrification.
Finally, within neighbourhood life we can observe the birth of new possibilities. Which practices, which interactions are undermining dominant power structures? How can we identify, potentialise and expand these?
These aspects alone seem reason enough to justify a focus on everyday life. What does the reader think?
PS: Returning to my positionality. Where do I stand amidst these going ons? Am I sitting on my balcony, as Lefebvre did, mobilising my academic God’s eye-view to judge the passers by? Should I simply blame it all on these guys without even bothering to look?
How can I claim to be outside the process. I am one of the gentrifiers.
When analysing the neighbourhood I can’t claim to speak in the first person about you, or about them. Talking about us seems problematic too. Us is exclusive. It is better to draw on the wonderfully Australian “youse” [as the plural you leads to confusion] to describe my position in relation to other Brunswick residents. I have no problem admitting to them: I am one of youse.