Geography Geography and Everyday Life
John Clayton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0095


The “everyday,” also often referred to as the “quotidian,” has been one of the most important concepts considered by human geographers as a way of thinking about the places in which we live and the spaces through which we move on a daily basis. It captures an attempt to appreciate the significance of commonplace environments and prosaic situations that often remain ignored or unexplored in favor of the spectacular, unusual, or exceptional. Far from viewing these aspects of life either as unimportant or natural, geography has come to acknowledge the value of the ordinary as revealing something vital about identities and socio-spatial relations. By contesting the assumptions underpinning positivist and some quantitative geography and foregrounding the complex, yet often-routine lives of ordinary people, a range of humanist, feminist, Marxist, and post-structuralist contributions have emphasized everyday experience as the focus of geographic inquiry. While humanist approaches have drawn on phenomenological, subjective, and sometimes romanticized elements of experience, feminist- and Marxist-inspired geographers have sought to emphasize and look to alter unequal power relationships embedded within everyday experience. Arguably, the concept of “everyday life” became more animated following what is recognized as a “cultural turn” within human geography from the early 1990s, through an engagement with cultural studies and with philosophical traditions that raise questions about how we make sense of the world around us. Alongside this it is possible to identify a growing interest in post-structuralism and nonrepresentational theory and debates concerning the materiality and immateriality of everyday life, resulting in growing interest in everyday practice, embodiment, emotion, and affect. Given such trends, little consensus exists on what constitutes the everyday—something or somewhere that seems to escape efforts to pin it down. For example, is everyday life an identifiable realm separate from other aspects of life or is it a container for all experiences and knowledge? Is everyday life constituted by those unique and passing moments of creativity that escape regulation and control? What do these moments look like or feel like? Can consideration be extended to more regular, patterned, and routinized activities and sites? What is the relationship of such activities to intentionality and consciousness and how might individual everyday experiences relate to broader processes, scales, and power relations? Everyday life is, then, a terrain of struggle and negotiation as lived experience, but also as a realm of academic debate. As such, it has become central to discussions of social and geographic theory, the source of innovation in methodology, and has influenced a vast range of inter- and subdisciplinary scholarship that this article begins to highlight.


Despite the fact that most human geographers pay attention to everyday life, perhaps surprisingly few introductory undergraduate textbooks are available that explicitly deal with this as its primary focus. However, one key text that does do this is Holloway and Hubbard 2000, which explores the various approaches adopted in the “re-peopling of geography” (p. 12) following its historical fascination with spatial science. Other contributions come in the form of introductory texts to the subdisciplines of cultural geography, such as Crang 1998 and Mitchell 2000, and social geography, such as Pain, et al. 2001 and Valentine 2001, all of which, in different ways, consider the way we influence and are influenced by our everyday environments and constructions of place. Mitchell 2000, an introduction to cultural geography from a US perspective, emphasizes the role of the political economy and ideology in the reproduction of the “idea” of culture through what the author refers to as “culture wars.” Crang 1998 deals more directly with the spatial manifestations and location of culture as defined through various practices, beliefs, ideas, and objects with a more open philosophical agenda. Both Pain, et al. 2001 and Valentine 2001 emphasize the role of various everyday spaces, identities, and power relations in the formation of everyday experiences for different social groups, although the organization of material in Valentine 2001 around scales rather than topics allows for a clearer spatial appreciation of the everyday. A number of more comprehensive and general human geography textbooks are also available, including Nayak and Jeffrey 2011, which offers broad sweeps of the discipline through attention not only to philosophical change and cultural and post-representational turns, but also to the everyday exclusions of specific social groups. Other key introductory books for undergraduates include sociology texts, for example Scott 2009, which outlines some of the key concerns of early-21st-century geographers, including emotions, home, eating and drinking, health, shopping, leisure, and methodologies, although it does not explicitly focus on “geography.” The crossover between geography and sociology is also apparent in Bennett and Watson 2002, which explores some of the key spaces of everyday life, such as the pub, the home, the street, and the notion of community.

  • Bennett, Tony, and Diane Watson, eds. Understanding Everyday Life. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.

    This is an edited collection including contributions from sociologists who cover topics of interest to social and cultural geographers through an examination of the role and power of specific everyday spaces in perpetuating and disrupting established social relations.

  • Crang, Mike. Cultural Geography. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Concise and introductory text on the relations between cultural ideas and practices and their reproduction through specific places and spaces. Offers useful glossary of terms and vivid examples and case studies.

  • Holloway, Lewis, and Phil Hubbard. People and Place: The Extraordinary Geography of Everyday Life. New York: Prentice Hall, 2000.

    Accessible undergraduate introduction to the relationship between people and place from humanistic, cultural, and qualitative perspectives. Makes important links between these approaches and offers clear examples of how geography is used and mobilized in everyday life situations. Includes student exercises, key publications, and additional reading suggestions.

  • Mitchell, Don. Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

    Extensive book on the development of cultural geography in relation to cultural studies, consideration of everyday landscapes, and examination of a range of social geographies through the lens of “culture wars.”

  • Nayak, Anoop, and Alex Jeffrey. Geographical Thought: An Introduction to Ideas in Human Geography. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, 2011.

    The first section outlines some of the key theoretical developments in human geography, and the second discusses the geography of difference in terms of sexuality, gender, and ethnicity. The last section focuses on more-recent developments within the discipline in terms of postcolonialism, postmodernism, and the shift in attention to lived, embodied, and emotional geographies.

  • Pain, Rachel, Michael Burke, Duncan Fuller, Jamie Gough, Robert MacFarlane, and Graham Mowl. Introducing Social Geographies. London: Hodder Arnold, 2001.

    Introductory text for students unfamiliar with the language used in social geography. Offers topic overviews, chapter summaries, case studies, and further reading. After a very brief introduction to philosophical approaches that have been adopted, the text is organized around social issues of work, leisure, communities, “race,” gender and sexuality, age, disability, nature, housing, crime, and poverty.

  • Scott, Susie. Making Sense of Everyday Life. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009.

    This sole-authored book has been written to map directly onto a sociology module delivered by the author at Sussex University in the United Kingdom; however, it makes important links to some key theoretical and empirical concerns of human geographers.

  • Valentine, Gill. Social Geographies: Space and Society. New York: Prentice Hall, 2001.

    Uses scale and the connections between these scales as the organizing principle of chapters, which include topics on the body, the home, communities, institutions, the street, the city, the rural countryside, and the nation. It also includes suggested essay titles, class exercises, a guide to completing a dissertation, and a glossary.

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