The everyday and human geography

Human geography, in order to be an effective science, study’s its subject in every aspect looking at how humans behave and more importantly what makes up their life, their everyday, Henri Lefebvre states that “Everyday life, is in a sense residual, defined by what is left over after all the distant, superior, specialised structured activities have been singled out by analysis” (Lefebvre, 1991) This means that what we define as the everyday is the things that do not define us as an individual, the things that everyone around the world takes part in, such actions that are exemplified in Ridley Scott’s film ‘A day in the life’. This is just one idea of the everyday life, another is suggested by Jameson (1991) is this “It is arguable that our daily life is dominated by categories of space rather than categories of time” My interpretation of this is that time is relative to location and that what a person is doing at a moment depends where in the world they are, so you look at everyday life as being dictated by space, this idea seems to make sense, as in ‘A day in the life’ you see people of different ages, races and genders performing the same tasks at the same time which of course is not how life works, but if you define life by location it does, and so our everyday is a collection of locations.

Taking Lefebvre’s definition he considers work to not be part of the everyday due to the fact that it is a specialised activity with those who work performing different roles thus meaning that there everyday is different but it has been suggested that the addition of work to the everyday as explained in the book “Understanding everyday life” (Highmore, 2002) through a quote from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from ‘The German ideology’ which states “if in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from the physical life process” which outlines the belief that the life we think we lead is in fact false, and that if we observe something on a media format then it is often a false representation designed using the idea’s of Lefebvre, taking away all of the complex ideas of life and showing the simplistic ones, which is what we see condensed into reality T.V shows which claim to be giving us an inside into everyday life but in reality are giving us an everyday that is devoid of the individual aspect and whilst it seems to be reality as Highmore correctly states  that ‘ideology has to be seen as a profound actuality rather than an illusion that can simply be cast off by taking a second look.’ The meaning for human geographers is this, that in order to use the everyday as a critical component, humanity must be observed in a ‘natural’ environment meaning that in order to study human behaviour we cannot create a false environment as this creates an incorrect reality that the subject knows what is going on and changes there behaviour accordingly and not representing everyday life.

But we as a people believe in the everyday, it is what makes us feel secure in our life’s that as long as we are not altering the system, that system will keep us safe, leading to Robert Hughes criticising the work of Michel Foucault as he believes that Foucault’s work implies that ‘ we are not in control of history and never can be’ and there is some truth to that in the past wars were decided by kings and lords but the common people fought them because it was their duty, and whilst war was not an everyday activity, the  use of the analogy to describe us not controlling our history is, history involves all of us, yet so few stand out they are the ones who control us. It is this idea of controlling the everyday that Foucault is more interested in his 1975 book ‘Discipline and Punishment’ where he examines the use of the everyday as a control to keep order in prisons he recognises that by altering someone’s everyday you can alter the person in to becoming a citizen of the state, this thought is what is believed in Marxist theory though it is exactly what Foucault disagreed with, for him to create discourse was the way to see the truth of a situation and that it is only through discourse that the world changes, bringing to light a problem that few recognised but brought to the attention of the main population a mirror in the everyday that allows us to see what is wrong in society until these windows occur we maintain the same everyday, keeping with us the same social issues as carried by the generation before us with the inability to see them until such a window appears, as is the way of many things looking back the treatment of women and black people is so obviously wrong but until the time when discourse appeared that was the way that the everyday worked this links to Marx and Engels idea of the ‘actuality within the actuality’ what is really behind our narrow minded version of the world that we live in, and what is in the big picture.

Human geography by studying the everyday can hope to open these windows before the discourse occurs, creating a more co-operative society that has the ability to recognise its own issues once it has been made to brush off the false veneer of enforced everyday, this is why the everyday is critical to human geographers as human geography study’s how people interact with the world it is critical to understand what drives people to continue to enjoy the freedoms that uncontrolled everyday life brings.


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