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Practice, Everyday Life, Activism
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it(Karl Marx, emphasis by author in Theses on Feurbach 1845, 1978:145).

Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life is a neo-Marxist interpretation of what society had become in the 1940s. He is particularly influenced by Marx’s notion of false consciousness and the liberation of the individual (or creation of man) through a ‘practical connection’ with the world (Marx, 1978: 163). According to Lefebvre, “we are caught in a hybrid compromise between knowledge and the aesthetic,” where reality is framed for the masses on a stage (Lefebvre, 2000:132). His critique is based on the premise that the consciousness of 1940’s society is largely based on the practice of everyday life of the powerful. Thus the common man perceives the world under the spell of spectacle of big men (136). The interests and practices of the powerful are mediated to the masses through events, festivals, radio and consumption -- falling under the heading of spectacle. The masses then dwell in the reality of those in power, under a false conscious with a false perception of themselves. To avoid this false consciousness, Lefebvre says consciousness should depend on the human’s real everyday life where “the meaning of life is not to be found in anything other than that life itself” (144). It is in the realm of this everyday life where knowledge exists and where genuine change can occur (137). Because the realm of everyday life is also the realm of change for Lefebvre; he stresses it is also the domain on which social theory and history should focus (2000: 137).
“All we need do is simply to open our eyes, to leave the dark world of metaphysics and the false depths of the ‘inner life’ behind, and we will discover the immense human wealth that the humblest facts of everyday life contain” (132).

According to Lefebvre, “myths of thought” are replaced with a richer and more complex idea of “thought-action” through the conscious practice of everyday life (2000:135). He illustrates this point by describing that it is labor that slowly over time has physically transformed the landscape through ‘humble gestures’ (134). Gestures and words produce direct results either physically or through persuasion. Hence, he, argues such gestures and words need to be paired not with mythical consciousness but instead with consciousness that is directed towards specific goals through movement or action (135). He describes Marx and Engles as the first great thinkers to perceive how thought is linked to action (143).

Following their lead, Lefebvre proposes that “the historian or the man of action can proceed from ideas to men, from consciousness to being – i.e. towards practical, everyday reality – bringing the two into confrontation and thereby achieving criticism of ideas by action and realities” (emphasis by Lefebvre: 2000, 145). For Lefebvre the dehumanization of the human qualities of life is one of the major contradictions of the modern era. This contradiction exists primarily because of the capitalist regime, where “having” and “being” have become intertwined, convoluting the human spirit and alienating individuals from themselves. Following this logic, to exist means to have and having nothing means being nothing (155). This distinction then separates men from each other, guiding actions away from ‘being’ and towards ‘having’, resulting with the human alienated from him or herself. To overcome this alienation, one must achieve a “fulfillment of human reality” that is based on an objective reality dictated by senses, instincts, feelings and human reason (163). Man must be connected to his actions in order to be ‘human’. According to Lefebvre, it is through everyday life that humans can overcome the spectacle’s domination and each can discover his or her own human self (163). It is through the critique of the human contradiction and through the critique of everyday life where the individual, and eventually, society can become empowered.

It is in this notion of the spectacle, and the practice of everyday life that lies at the root of the writings of the Situationists International throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Writings of the Situationists International closely resemble the framework laid by Lefebvre. This framework focuses on alienation through spectacle and liberation of the human through the practice of everyday life.
“There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man's life than in all the philosophies”
(Raoul Vaneigem The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967 Chapter 2).

In 1967 Guy Debord published Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem published The Revolution of Everyday Life. Both of these works build upon the ideas presented in Lefevbre’s Critique of Everyday Lifeˆ (1947). The spectacle for Debord is based on the idea that the consumer society is alienated or detached from every aspect of life, where spectacle is a “concrete inversion of life and an autonomous movement of non-life” (Society of the Spectacle 1991: 2). This idea is akin to Lefebvre’s notion that in consumer societies “having” becomes “being” (Lefebvre 2000:155).

However, at the time of Lefevbre’s publication (1947), spectacle was disseminated primarily through advertising, and in media not as heavily dominated by images as prominent media were during the late 1960s. In the twenty years between the publication of the two works, consumer society was bombarded by an influx of images through advertising broadcast on television and printed on glossy paged color magazine layouts. Technological innovation had lowered the cost of quality printed reproductions, which were circulated to mass audiences. Also, televisions had become much more common household items, resulting in the constant dissemination of advertising into the living rooms of the population. This change in form of how images were disseminated and mediated is reflected in Debord’s explanation of the spectacle. He defines spectacle not as a collection of images, but instead as “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (12). The spectacle is not just the advertisement, but instead is consumer society that makes its consumption choices based on the mediation of images within that society. However, the spectacle described by both Debord and Lefevbre is still based on power relations where big men warp the consciousness of the masses to fit the realities of those in power (Lefevbre, 200: 133, 154; Debord 1991:16). The medium through which the message was conveyed is what had fundamentally changed, not power relations.

Also, some of the ideas of the Situationists in the late 1960s were disseminated in more popular media in Europe. Pamphlets in many ways popularized practice-based, revolutionary ideas -- particularly on French university campuses. The majority of the writings of the Situationists International were published in journals or in the form of books. However, several Situationist pamphlets that were widely accessible, drove several streams of thought that provoked the student protests in Paris during May of 1968. The Poverty of Student Life (1966), one of the more famous pamphlets distributed on university campuses in France was published by members of the Situationsits International and Students of Strasbourg. This pamphlet was originally published at the University of Strasbourg by students elected to the student union, who made 10,000 copies with university funds (Dark Star: 2001, 9). This pamphlet is a revolutionary cry for change through practice that seeks theory as a guide (SI and Students of Strasbourg, 2001:14).The theory relayed in this pamphlet is largely based on practice theory. It also has a heavy flavor of anarchistic tendencies. It ends with a call for direct action through the practice of everyday life:
The real revolution begins at home: in the desperation of consumer production, in the continuing struggle of the unofficial working class. … The only real subversion is in a new consciousness and a new alliance—the location of the struggle in the banalities of everyday life, in the supermarket and the beatclub as well as on the shop floor
(SI and Students of Strasbourg: 1966: 27).

The ideas of the ‘society of the spectacle’ and transformation through the practice of everyday life did not become popular amongst the masses, but they did become popular amongst revolutionary sub-cultures, and were actualized on Parisian city streets in May of 1968. Student protests eventually flowed out of the Latin Quarter and became riots merging with labor union struggles. In June of 1968, a group known as ‘Solidarity’ published a pamphlet titled Paris: 1968. This article was written as an “eye-witness account of what one person saw, heard or discovered” during the two week time of protests in Paris (Solidarity, 2001: 67). The following paragraph is an interesting interpretation of the causes and reason behind the student uprising, from a source sympathetic to the protesters: “The driving force of their revolt is their own alienation, the meaningless of life under modern bureaucratic capitalism. … It is no accident that the ‘revolution’ started in Nanterre faculties of Sociology and Psychology. The students saw that the sociology they were being taught was a means of controlling and manipulating society, not a means of understanding it in order to change it. In the process they discovered revolutionary sociology. They rejected the niche allocated to them in the great bureaucratic pyramid, that of experts in the service of technocratic Establishment, specialists of the ‘human factor’ in the modern industrial equation. In the process they discovered the importance of the working class. The amazing thing is that, at least among the active layers of the students, these ‘sectarians’ suddenly seem to have become the majority: surely the best definition of a revolution” (68).

On the streets of Paris in 1968, the theory of the practice of everyday life, and protest came together explicitly and this theory was symbolically actualized in a mass spectacle of its own character. The protest revolved around propaganda slogans shouted by participants, graffitied on walls and displayed on signs and banners. The Solidarity article describes the novelty and liberatory medium of protest that ‘propaganda murals’ display. “The walls of the Latin Quarter are the depository of a new rationality, no longer confined to books, but democratically displayed at the street level and made available to all. The trivial and the profound, the traditional and the esoteric all rub shoulders in this new fraternity, rapidly breaking down barriers and compartments in people’s minds (Solidarity, 65).

The direct action revolt in Paris in 1968 was an historical event that inverted the spectacle it critiques. Protesters used tactics of spectacle to promote revolutionary ideas including the ideas of the practice of everyday life. The protests were a compressed presentation of ideology in action. Critical Mass does the same. However, the action the movement promotes is not symbolic in the demonstration. Critical Mass uses the means they are promoting to spread its pro-bike message by parading bicycles through the city streets.

 

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