Who was Henri Lefebvre ?

Henri Lefebvre (16 June 1901 – 29 June 1991) was a French sociologist, Marxist intellectual, and philosopher, best known for his work on dialectics, Marxism, everyday life, cities, and (social) space.


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".[1] This brought them into contact with the Surrealists, Dadaists, and other groups, before they moved towards the French Communist Party (PCF). He later worked closely with wives and girlfriends, in some places publishing under their names or publishing with them.[2]

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.

Lefebvre joined the PCF in 1928 and became one of the most prominent French Marxist Intellectuals during the second quarter of the 20th century.[3] Among his works was a highly influential, anti-Stalinist, text on dialectics called Dialectical Materialism (1940). Seven years later, Lefebvre published his first volume of The Critique of Everyday Life, which would later serve as a primary intellectual motive for the founding of COBRA and, eventually, of the Situationist International.[4] His early work on method was applauded and borrowed centrally by Sartre in The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). During Lefebvre’s thirty year stint with the PCF, he was chosen to publish critical attacks on opposed theorists, especially existentialists like Sartre and Lefebvre's former colleague Nizan,[5] only to get himself expelled from the party for his own heterodox theoretical and political opinions in the late 1950s. Ironically, he became one of France’s most important critics of the PCF’s politics (e.g. immediately, the lack of an opinion on Algeria, and more generally, the partial apologism for and continuation of Stalinism) and intellectual thought (i.e. Structuralism, especially the work of Louis Althusser).[6] By the 1970s, Lefebvre had also published some of the first critical statements on the work of post-structuralists, especially Foucault.[7] 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"[8]
In 1961, Lefebvre became professor of sociology at the University of Strasbourg, before joining the faculty at the new university at Nanterre in 1965.[9] He was one of the most respected professors, and he had influenced and analysed the May 1968 students revolt.[10] In response to the events of 1968, he introduced the concept of The Right to the City in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville.[11][12]

Following the publication of this book, Lefebvre wrote several influential works on cities, urbanism, and space, including The Production of Space (1974), which became one of the most influential and heavily cited works of urban theory.

Lefebvre died in 1991. In his obituary, Radical Philosophy magazine honored his long and complex career:
"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."[13]


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, Dolores Hayden, 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, Manuel Castells criticizes Lefebvre's Marxist Humanism and approach to the city influenced by Hegel and Nietzsche. Castells' political criticisms of Lefebvre's approach to Marxism echoed the Structuralist Scientific Marxism school of Louis Althusser of which Lefebvre was an immediate critic. Many responses to Castells are provided in The Survival of Capitalism, and some may argue[who?] 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.

Lefebvre contends that there are different modes of production of space (i.e. spatialization) from natural space ('absolute space') to more complex spatialities whose significance is socially produced (i.e. social space).[14] Lefebvre analyses each historical mode as a three-part dialectic between everyday practices and perceptions (le perçu), representations or theories of space (le conçu) and the spatial imaginary of the time (le vécu).[15] His conception of "imaginary" draws from the work Cornelius Castoriadis.

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. This argument implies the shift of the research perspective from space to processes of its production; the embrace of the multiplicity of spaces that are socially produced and made productive in social practices; and the focus on the contradictory, conflictual, and, ultimately, political character of the processes of production of space.[16] As a Marxist theorist (but highly critical of the economic 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. The social production of space is commanded by a hegemonic class as a tool to reproduce its dominance (see Gramsci).
"(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."[17]
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."[18]
See also:


  • 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.
  • 1942 Le Don Juan du Nord, Søren Kierkegaard-play, based on The Journals of Kierkegaard.[19]
  • 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
  • .; John Sturrock (translator) (1968. Reprinted 2009), Dialectical Materialism, Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 978-0-8166-5618-9, http://books.google.com/books?id=l9u7L8g3VjcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=dialectical+materialism#v=onepage&q&f=false, retrieved 26 September 2010  First published 1940 by Presses Universitaires de France, as Le Matérialisme Dialectique. First English translation published 1968 by Jonathan Cape Ltd. 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. Translation and Précis available online.
  • 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'.
  • 1991 The Production of Space, Donald 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.
English translation: Rhythmanalysis: Space, time and everyday life, Stuart Elden, Gerald Moore trans. Continuum, New York, 2004
  • 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
  • 2003 Key Writings, Stuart Elden, Elizabeth Lebas, Eleonore Kofman eds. London/New York: Continuum.
  • 2009 State, Space, World: Selected Essay, Neil Brenner, Stuart Elden, eds. Gerald Moore, Neil Brenner, Stuart Elden trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Books on Lefebvre

  • Rob Shields, Love and Struggle - Spatial Dialectics (London: Routledge 1999)
  • Stuart Elden, Understanding Henri Lefebvre: Theory and the Possible (London/New York: Continuum, 2004)
  • Andy Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2006)
  • Goonewardena, K., Kipfer, S., Milgrom, R. & Schmid, C. eds. Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre. (New York: Routledge, 2008)
  • Stanek, L. Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011)


  1. ^ Michel Trebitsch: Introduction to Critique of Everyday Life Vol 1
  2. ^ Shields, Rob (1999). Lefebvre Love and Struggle. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09370-8. 
  3. ^ Mark Poster, 1975, Existential Marxism in Postwar France: From Sartre to Althusser, Princeton University Press, IBSN: 101-574-917.
  4. ^ October magazine interview with Lefebvre, 1983
  5. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991
  6. ^ Henri Lefebvre and 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
  7. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991
  8. ^ Gombin, Richard (1971). The Origins of Modern Leftism. Penguin. ISBN 0-1402-1846-7. , p40
  9. ^ Michel Trebitsch: preface to Critique of Everyday Life Vol 3, 1981
  10. ^ Vincent Cespedes, May 68, Philosophy is in the Street! (Larousse, Paris, 2008).
  11. ^ Mark Purcell, Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant, GeoJournal 58: 99–108, 2002
  12. ^ “Right to the City” as a response to the crisis: “Convergence” or divergence of urban social movements?, Knut Unger, Reclaiming Spaces
  13. ^ Radical Philosophy obituary, 1991
  14. ^ "Place, A Short Introduction", Tim Cresswell
  15. ^ Shields, Rob Places on the Margin, Routledge 1991, ISBN 0-415-08022-3 pp.50-58.
  16. ^ Stanek, Lukasz Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory, University of Minnesota Press 2011, p. ix
  17. ^ Lefebvre, Henri The Production of Space, Blackwell 1991, ISBN 0631181776. p. 26
  18. ^ Lefebvre, Henri The Production of Space, Blackwell 1991, ISBN 0631181776. p. 59
  19. ^ Staubrand, Jens (2009). Kierkegaard International Bibliography Music Works and Plays. Copenhagen. ISBN 978 87 92510 05 1. , in English and Danish


External links