Lefebvre & Ancient Space

I have added a new menu item and page for Henri Lefebvre Resources and Lefebvre & Ancient Space. If you follow me on Twitter or have heard me present, then you will be aware of my use and interest in Henri Lefebvre’s work on everyday life, urbanism and production of space. I often begin presentations with a quote from Rhythmanalysis, as it nicely encapsulates several of my interests (below). In my readings of Lefebvre, I have pulled together his references to ancient cities and Roman culture, society, and buildings, which will be part of a side-project on Lefebvre’s use of ancient sources. This side-project draw on some of the theoretical work that did not make it into my PhD and, on the ‘Lefebvre & Ancient Space’ page, I have listed some of the key texts where Lefebvre discusses Roman and ancient space and I will be posting readings of some of these texts throughout the writing process.

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I was recently asked why Lefebvre? A question that seems to implicitly ask either do you understand it or why Marx? Lefebvre is challenging, although the more I read his other works beyond The Production of Space the easier I find him to be (creating a nice feedback loop). I find him a useful theoretician for three reasons, which do not answer whether I understand him (I am pretty sure I get some bits of his diverse work) and partially answer why Marx (Lefebvre is doing something quite distinct with Marxist thought so, the simple conflation can be misleading or simply wrong).

First, his spatial schema (Chapter 1 in The Production of Space) has been useful in thinking about the way different types of evidence can be understood. Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment is an application of Lefebvre’s own schema to the practice of architecture and the development of ‘enjoyment’ spaces (written the year before The Production of Space was originally published). The schema allows for the separation of different sources into material space, representations of space and spaces of representation, allowing their analysis before being brought back together to understand their dialectical relationship (the later chapters in The Production of Space, although these are more historical developments towards contemporary ‘production of space’). The separation and analysis is useful in asking critical questions about the types of sources and our scholarly assumptions, which we bring to those sources. David Harvey (in ‘Space as a Keyword’) sets up a matrix of spatial categories using Lefebvre and his own categories. Such conceptual tools were helpful in my research into the way different sources address the relationship between sound and ancient urban space.

Second, I encountered Lefebvre through Ed Soja’s Postmodern Geographies, which I read during my first master’s. At the time, I was working through a variety of critical theories and had a growing interest in geographical questions. I was caught by the adaptability of Lefebvre’s approach to various circumstances, although it took some time to really grasp what Lefebvre was getting at. Later when I started my PhD, I began looking at Lefebvre’s work on everyday life, as my initial PhD project was on neighbourhoods and ‘everyday life’ in the ancient Rome. It was in going through Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life that I started to pick-up on his use of the senses and started to conceive of his urban studies within his work on everyday life.

Finally, I found Lefebvre’s unsystematic, but always present use of the senses inviting. As my PhD research moved into sound and acoustics, I found in Lefebvre a possibility of theorising sensory space. That is, of applying Lefebvre’s understanding of the production of space to the bodies perception of urban space. Lefebvre utilises sensory perception in a variety of his writings and these diverse fragments make-up a considerable ‘theory’ of perception and conception of space. Lefebvre himself never fully develops these fragments, instead they echo throughout his writings. In these ways, Lefebvre provided both a critical tool and opened up a theoretical space for my own work on the role of acoustics in shaping social interaction and the reproduction of social space.

In this side-project, I want to turn to Lefebvre’s historical work and focus on his use of ancient sources. In particular, ancient cities and Rome are a featured case study in the history of the city and urbanism, as well as the historical development of ‘the production of space’. These case studies all come from publications in the mid-60s to mid-70s. Today, in Classical Studies, The Production of Space is referenced (quite regularly) in passing, usually in a nod to the importance of the word ‘space’ or to point out the complexity in definitions of space. Engagement with Lefebvre’s work however is minimal and this project hopes to provide a nuanced and critical reading of the role of ancient Rome in his thought. I will (sporadically) post some commentaries on ‘key texts’ in which reference to ancient cities and Rome appear.

Along with resources for my own work, I have also put several links to Stuart Elden’s blog Progressive Geographies. He has some very useful resources for getting into Lefebvre’s work, as well as his own introduction to Lefebvre, Understanding Henri Lefebvre. It is worth pointing out the most recent issue of Foucault Studies has a themed section on Foucault and Roman Antiquity: Foucault’s Rome, edited by Richard Alston and Shreyaa Bhatt. I have not had a chance to read the articles yet, but they are on my list and will likely have some overlap with my Lefebvre work.

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