Problems with the everyday


In their book, Slow LivingWendy Parkins and Geoffrey Craig address concerns around ‘the everyday’ (and its theorisation in recent times). They write:

In focusing our attention on slow living, we can only begin to sketch, from that heterogeneity, how the practices of time, space, pleasure and politics associated with slow living are both enacted in the everyday at the same time as they put the category of the everyday under question.
Despite being such a significant and widely used concept, however, the definition of the everyday or everyday life is often elusive or unstated. It seems to be ‘everywhere’, as the routine, ‘the taken-for-granted’ which then becomes invisible (Felski 1999-2000: 15, 31; Chaney 2002: 10). Beyond the problem of defining the facticity of the everyday, however, theorists also dispute the significance and potential of the realm of the mundane. Rita Felski, for instance, has persuasively argued that the focus on the everyday by radical intellectuals over the twentieth century (such as Lefebvre, Debord and the Situationists) rested on the construction of the quotidian as ‘an imagined reservoir of utopian energies and unruly impulses’ (2002: 609). In this radical tradition, ‘To affirm the everyday is thus simultaneously to negate it’ because it was only in overcoming the ‘very everydayness of the everyday’ that its true potential could be realized (Felski 2002: 610). Michael Gardiner, by contrast, with reference to some of the same theorists that Felski examines, argues the virtues of an approach which problematizes everyday life, ‘expos[ing] its contradictions and teas[ing] out its hidden potentialities’ (2000: 6).
It seems to us that it is possible to recognize the ‘unruly’ elements of everyday life which point to its ‘irreducibly imaginative and symbolic dimension’ (Gardiner 2000: 16) without either condemning the immanence of the everyday or excoriating habit as inherently inauthentic (Felski 2002: 608, 615, 611). Seeing the everyday as a messy or ‘dilemmatic site (Honig 1996) is not an attempt to master it, nor to imagine it is possible (or even desirable) to expose all our everyday assumptions to critical interrogation (see Heller 1984). It is an attempt to attend to its ethical and affective potential.” (p.6)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Wendy Parkins and Geoffrey Craig (2006) Slow Living.  Berg: Oxford, New York.

Reference is to: Felski (1999-2000), ‘The Invention of Everyday Life’, New Formations, 39: 15-31

Felski, R (2002) ‘Introduction’, Special Issue on Everyday Life, New Literary History, 33: 607-22

Gardiner, M (2000) Critiques of Everyday Life, London: Routledge

Honig, B (1996) ‘Differences, Dilemmas and the Politics of Home’ in S Benhabib (ed), Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, Princeton: Princeton University Press


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