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Henri Lefebvre
Full name Henri Lefebvre
Born June 16, 1901(1901-06-16)
Hagetmau, France
Died June 29, 1991 (aged 90)
Navarrenx, France
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Neo-Marxism
Main interests Everyday Life · Dialectics · Alienation · Mystification · Social space · Urbanity · Rurality · Modernity · Literature · History
Notable ideas Critique of Everyday Life · Theory of Moments · Rhythmanalysis

Henri Lefebvre (16 June 1901 – 29 June 1991) was a French sociologist, intellectual and philosopher who was generally considered a Neo-Marxist[1].



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" [2]. This brought them into contact with the Surrealists and other groups, before they moved towards the French Communist Party (PCF). Lefebvre joined the PCF in 1928 and later published attacks on opponents of its line such as Nizan [3].

From 1930 to 1940, Lefebvre was a professor of philosophy; in 1940 he joined the French resistance. From 1944 to 1949, he was the director of Radiodiffusion Française, a French radio broadcaster in Toulouse.

His Critique of Everyday Life, first published in 1947, was among the major intellectual motives behind the founding of COBRA and, eventually, of the Situationist International.[4] He later commented that

"The book is an "allusive" one - allusive to culture, "leisure" and urban reality... Its ambiguity enabled conflicting interpretations to be made, both extremist ones (the revolution in and through everyday life, everything all at once) and reformist ones (improve the status of the everyday, the "quality of life")." [5]

In 1958 Lefebvre was expelled from the PCF. During the following years he was involved in the editorial group of Arguments, a New Left magazine whose

"chief merit lay in having enabled the French public to become familiar with the experiments in revisionism carried out in Central Europe in the twenties and thirties" [6]

In 1961, Lefebvre became professor of sociology at the University of Strasbourg, before joining the faculty at the new university at Nanterre in 1965. [7]
He was one of the most respected professors, and he had influenced and analysed the May 1968 students revolt.[8]

He wrote in French, English, and German.

Lefebvre died in 1991. In his obituary, Radical Philosophy magazine wrote:

"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." [9]

The (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). These works have deeply influenced current urban theory, mainly within human geography, as seen in the current work of authors such as David Harvey and Edward Soja, and in the contemporary discussions around the notion of Spatial justice. Lefebvre is widely recognized as a Marxist thinker who was responsible for widening considerably the scope of Marxist theory, embracing everyday life and the contemporary meanings and implications of the ever expanding reach of the urban in the western world throughout the 20th century. The generalization of industry, and its relation to cities (which is treated in La pensée marxiste et la ville), The Right to the City and The Urban Revolution were all themes of Lefebvre's writings in the late 1960s, which was concerned, amongst other aspects, with the deep transformation of "the city" into "the urban" which culminated in its omni-presence (the "complete urbanization of society").

In his book The Urban Question (translated into English very early, in contrast with Lefebvre's works), Manuel Castells heavily criticizes Lefebvre's theoretical arguments contained in the books published in the 1960s about the contemporary city from a Marxist standpoint. Castells' criticisms of Lefebvre's subjective approach to Marxism echoed the Structuralist school of Louis Althusser, of which Lefebvre was an early critic. Many responses to Castells are provided in The Survival of Capitalism, and some may 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 The Production of Space, Lefebvre contends that there are different levels of space, from very crude, natural space ('absolute space') to more complex spatialities whose significance is socially produced ('social space').[10]

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. As a Marxist philosopher (but highly critical of the economicist structuralism that dominated the academic discourse in his period), Lefebvre argues that this social production of urban space is fundamental to the reproduction of society, hence of capitalism itself. Therefore, the notion of hegemony as proposed by Antonio Gramsci is used as a reference to show how the social production of space is commanded by a hegemonic class as a tool to reproduce its dominance.

"(Social) space is a (social) product [...] the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action [...] in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power."[11]

Lefebvre argued that every society - and therefore every mode of production - produces a certain space, its own space. The city of the ancient world cannot be understood as a simple agglomeration of people and things in space - it had its own spatial practice, making its own space (which was suitable for itself - Lefebvre argues that the intellectual climate of the city in the ancient world was very much related to the social production of its spatiality). Then if every society produces its own space, any "social existence" aspiring to be or declaring itself to be real, but not producing its own space, would be a strange entity, a very peculiar abstraction incapable of escaping the ideological or even cultural spheres. Based on this argument, Lefebvre criticized Soviet urban planners, on the basis that they failed to produce a socialist space, having just reproduced the modernist model of urban design (interventions on physical space, which were insufficient to grasp social space) and applied it onto that context:

"Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa."[12]


  • 1925 Positions d'attaque et de défense du nouveau mysticisme, Philosophies 5-6 (March). pp. 471–506. (Philosophy. Pt. 2 of the 'Philosophy of Consciousness' project on being, consciousness and identity originally proposed as a thesis topic to Leon Brunschvicg)
  • 1934 with Norbert Guterman, Morceaux choisis de Karl Marx, Paris: NRF. (numerous reprintings).
  • 1936 with Norbert Guterman, La Conscience mystifiée, Paris: Gallimard (new ed. Paris: Le Sycomore, 1979).
  • 1937 Le nationalisme contre les nations, (Preface by Paul Nizan) Paris: Editions sociales internationales. (Reprinted, Paris: Méridiens-Klincksliek 1988, Collection Analyse institutionnelle, Présentation M. Trebitsch, Postface Henri Lefebvre).
  • 1938 Hitler au pouvoir, bilan de cinq années de fascisme en Allemagne, Paris: Bureau d'Editions.
  • 1938 with Norbert Guterman, Morceaux choisis de Hegel, Paris: Gallimard (3 reprintings 1938-*1939, reprinted Collection Idées, 2 Vols. 1969).
  • 1938 with Norbert Guterman, Cahiers de Lénine sur la dialectique de Hegel , Paris: Gallimard.
  • 1939 Nietzsche, Paris: Editions sociales internationales.
  • 1946 L'Existentialisme, Paris: Editions du Sagittaire.
  • 1947 Logique formelle, logique dialectique Vol. 1 of A la lumière du matérialisme dialectique Written in 1940-41 (2nd volume censored). Paris: Editions sociales
  • 1947 Descartes, Paris: Editions Hier et Aujourd'hui.
  • 1950 Knowledge and Social Criticism, Philosophic Thought in France and the USA Albany N.Y.: N.Y.; State University of New York Press. pp. 281–300. (2nd ed. 1968).
  • 1958 Problèmes actuels du marxisme, Paris: Presses universitaires de France; 4th edition, 1970, Collection 'Initiation philosophique'
  • 1958 (with Lucien Goldmann, Claude Roy, Tristan Tzara) Le romantisme révolutionnaire, Paris: La Nef.
  • 1961 Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d'une sociologie de la quotidienneté, Paris: L'Arche
  • 1963 La vallée de Campan - Etude de sociologie rurale, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France
  • 1965 Métaphilosophie, foreword by Jean Wahl, Paris: Editions de Minuit, Collection 'Arguments'
  • 1965 La Proclamation de la Commune, Paris: Gallimard, Collection Trente Journées qui ont fait la France
  • 1968 Le Droit à la ville, Paris: Anthropos (2nd ed.) Paris: Ed. du Seuil, Collection Points
  • 1968 La vie quotidienne dans le monde moderne, Paris: Gallimard, Collection Idées
  • 1968 Dialectical Materialism, J. Sturrock trans., London: Cape. ISBN 0-224-61507-6
  • 1968 Sociology of Marx, N. Guterman trans. of 1966c, New York: Pantheon.
  • 1969 The Explosion: From Nanterre to the Summit, Paris: Monthly Review Press. Originally published 1968.
  • 1970 La révolution urbaine Paris: Gallimard, Collection Idées
  • 1971 Le manifeste différentialiste, Paris: Gallimard, Collection Idées
  • 1971 Au-delà du structuralisme, Paris: Anthropos.
  • 1973 La survie du capitalisme; la re-production des rapports de production
  • 1974 La production de l'espace, Paris: Anthropos.
  • 1974 with 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
  • 1975 Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, ou le royaume des ombres, Paris: Tournai, Casterman. Collection Synthèses contemporaines. ISBN 2-203-23109-2
  • 1975 Le temps des méprises: Entretiens avec Claude Glayman, Paris: Stock. ISBN 2-234-00174-9
  • 1978 with Catherine Régulier La révolution n'est plus ce qu'elle était, Paris: Editions Libres-Hallier (German trans. Munich, 1979). ISBN 2-264-00849-0
  • 1978 Les contradictions de l'Etat moderne, La dialectique de l'Etat, Vol. 4 of 4 De 1'Etat, Paris: UGE, Collection '10/18'.
  • 1980 La présence et l'absence, Paris: Casterman. ISBN 2-203-23172-6
  • 1981 Critique de la vie quotidienne, III. De la modernité au modernisme (Pour une métaphilosophie du quotidien) Paris: L'Arche
  • 1981 De la modernité au modernisme: pour une métaphilosophie du quotidien, Paris: L'Arche Collection 'Le sens de la marché'.
  • 1985 with Catherine Régulier-Lefebvre, Le projet rythmanalytique Communications 41. pp. 191–199.
  • 1986 with Serge Renaudie and Pierre Guilbaud, "International Competition for the New Belgrade Urban Structure Improvement", in Autogestion, or Henri Lefebvre in New Belgrade, Vancouver: Fillip Editions. ISBN 978-0-9738133-5-7
  • 1988 Toward a Leftist Cultural Politics: Remarks Occasioned by the Centenary of Marx's Death, D. Reifman trans., L.Grossberg and C.Nelson eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.; New York: Macmillan. pp. 75–88. ISBN 0-252-01108-2
  • 1991 The Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, John Moore trans., London: Verso. Originally published 1947. ISBN 0-86091-340-6
  • 1991 with Patricia Latour and Francis Combes, Conversation avec Henri Lefebvre P. Latour and F. Combes eds., Paris: Messidor, Collection 'Libres propos'. ISBN 2-209-06518-6
  • 1991 The Production of Space, D. Nicholson-Smith trans., Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Originally published 1974. ISBN 0-631-14048-4
  • 1992 with Catherine Regulier-Lefebvre Eléments de rythmanalyse: Introduction à la connaissance des rythmes, preface by René Lorau, Paris: Ed. Syllepse, Collection Explorations et découvertes. ISBN 2-907993-11-9
  • 1995 Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes September 1959-May 1961, J. Moore, trans., London: Verso. Originally published 1962. ISBN 1-85984-961-X
  • 1996 Writings on Cities, E. Kofman and E. Lebas trans. and eds., Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19187-9


  1. ^ Friedmann, John (1987). Planning in the public domain: from knowledge to action. Princeton.  
  2. ^ Michel Trebitsch: Introduction to Critique of Everyday Life Vol 1
  3. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991
  4. ^ October magazine interview with Lefebvre, 1983
  5. ^ Lefebvre, Henri (1973). The Survival of Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production. Allison & Busby. ISBN 0-85031-173X.  , p58
  6. ^ Gombin, Richard (1971). The Origins of Modern Leftism. Penguin. ISBN 0-1402-1846-7.  , p40
  7. ^ Michel Trebitsch: preface to Critique of Everyday Life Vol 3, 1981
  8. ^ Vincent Cespedes, May 68, Philosophy is in the Street! (Larousse, Paris, 2008).
  9. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991
  10. ^ "Place, A Short Introduction", Tim Cresswell
  11. ^ Lefebvre, Henri The Production of Space, Blackwell 1991, ISBN 0631181776. p. 26
  12. ^ Lefebvre, Henri The Production of Space, Blackwell 1991, ISBN 0631181776. p. 59

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