Henri Lefebvre is now established as one of the most important social theorists of the 20th century. Over a long life (b. 1901–d. 1991) he wrote and published prodigiously more than sixty books and several hundred articles on a range of issues and themes. His legacy and lasting impact not only includes being the most influential and seminal theorist on the reprioritization of space in social and critical analysis but also recognition for his contribution to the analysis of everyday life, modernity, the Right to the City, and the urban. He continues to influence and inspire research across a number of disciplines and fields; these include rural and regional studies, sociology, geography, politics, philosophy, and urban studies. Lefebvre’s commitment Marxism; his nondogmatic and humanist approach to the definition, discussion, extension, and application of key concepts; and his integration of those concepts into his various analyses of the rural and the city, of the state, of space and politics, and of modernity and everyday life led him to a conflicted relationship and at times marginalization within the structuralist-influenced French Academy and the Communist Party of France in which he was a member for thirty years. His anti-Stalinist stance and nonconformist opposition to the structural determinism prevalent within the party led to his expulsion, but throughout the 1960s, as professor of sociology at the University of Strasbourg and latterly at the new university at Nanterre, he became one of the most respected teachers and intellectuals inspiring and influencing the May 1968 student revolt. Lefebvre’s work after that, still influenced and committed to Marxist dialectics and critique, increasingly focused on the urban, the social production of space, everyday life, modernity, and the survival of capitalism. Of these his introduction of the concept of the right to the city and the social production of space have been immensely influential for a range of urban scholars and theorists and his work as a whole is being increasingly adopted, adapted, and extended by a variety of researchers of the city in a range of disciplines. The works selected below reflect Lefebvre’s long career and extensive corpus of work. However, only those books and articles that have been translated into English are included here. They represent his exegesis of Marxism and its application to a range of themes that were applied or are important for urban analysis. The secondary literature cited is organized thematically and while not comprehensive provides an overview of the expanding literature on, about, and applying Lefebvrian analysis.
Monographs by Lefebvre
Lefebvre was if nothing else an engaged and committed scholar with more than sixty published books that span a range of topics, themes, and decades. He sought to demonstrate the value of theory and its usefulness for understanding how and why capitalism has survived, as well as the potential that conflict and contestation of dominant hegemonic ideas and procedures can have to offer possibilities for challenging the structures, practices, and ideologies to be found in the produced spaces and routinized times of modernity. The monographs selected reflect his undiminished commitment to Marxism and its application for understanding and analyzing different yet interrelated aspects of modernity and the urban; they include those that have become foundational and inspirational texts for a range of disciplines, analyses, and approaches to the study of the city, the urban, and modern experience. The following monographs therefore are included on the basis of covering those key themes and texts and in which key concepts, perspectives, and his underlying Marxist approach are introduced and expanded. They are also selected on the basis that they are available in English translation. Lefebvre 1968a provides a detailed justification of a Marxist dialectical materialist approach to the analysis of modern capitalism while Lefebvre 1968b emphasizes the appropriateness of developing and applying a sociology of Marx. Lefebvre 1969 further explores modern Marxism and its role in analyzing and promoting social change. The significance of everyday life is introduced and applied in a cogent analysis of rhythms and routines in Lefebvre 1971. In Lefebvre 1976 the role of space is considered as fundamental in the survival of capitalism. Lefebvre 1991 analyses in detail the seminal theory of the production of space. A foundational text for studies of the city and the urban is presented in Lefebvre 2003a and expanded in Lefebvre 2003b through a consideration of the rhythms of time and space in everyday life. Lefebvre 2014 explicitly addresses the possibilities and potential of architecture to positively contribute to human experience and enjoyment while Lefebvre 2016a explicitly considers how and why Marxist thought can and should be applied to the city. Finally, Lefebvre 2016b allows Lefebvre to review and apply Marxist thought as essential for understanding modern capitalism.
Lefebvre, Henri. Dialectical Materialism. Translated by John Sturrock. London: Jonathan Cape, 1968a.
Originally published in 1940 (Paris: Alcan), this book established Lefebvre’s position as a key thinker in French Marxism. It emphasizes the importance of applying a holistic understanding and application of Marxian thought, refusing attempts to simplify it by stressing the importance of not only economic and political considerations but the sociological, psychological, and philosophical implications of key concepts to a critical analysis of the modern capitalist condition.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Sociology of Marx. Translated by N. Guterman. London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 1968b.
Originally published in 1966 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France), Lefebvre’s commitment to explaining the value of Marxist thought and its impact, influence, and relevance for sociology is discussed and approached as a means to promote the view that a “sociology of Marx” is not only possible but fundamental for understanding not only the changes that led to the transition to capitalism but how the modern world is structured and operated.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval. Translated by Alfred Ehrenfeld. Modern Reader Paperbacks. New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1969.
This book, published in the immediate aftermath of the events in Paris in 1968, represents Lefebvre’s response to the challenges faced by academics and others with the analysis of how radical social movements can effect social changes. His Marxian analysis includes reflections and critiques of modern French society, strategy, and tactics, and the need to address and apply what he calls social and theoretical knowledge.
Lefebvre, Henri. Everyday Life in the Modern World. Translated by Sacha Rabinovitch. New York: Harper Torch Books, 1971.
This significant book from 1968 provides a focused analysis of the importance of understanding the rhythms, routines, and revolutions that are to be found in everyday life. Lefebvre brings his Marxist analysis to the seemingly banal experience of everydayness to provide a critique of the prevalence of consumer society in what he calls the “bureaucratic society of controlled consumption” (chapter 2: pp. 68–109), and through understanding it, how we can challenge our exploitation.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Survival of Capitalism. Translated by Frank Bryant. New York: St. Martin’s, 1976.
Lefebvre’s analysis, published originally in 1973, addresses how capitalism has survived through an identification of the need to understand dialectically the reproduction of the relations of production as no longer attached to temporality but to the contradictions of space. His focus on understanding the survival of capitalism moves from conceptions of mental space to that of social space, which underpins much of his later work on space, the urban, and modernity.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
Lefebvre’s most important and significant work has become recognized as a seminal text reprioritizing the critical role of space as a fundamental element of historically and socially produced space in society. Originally published in 1974, this groundbreaking text provides an explanation of the complexity of the production of space and is fundamentally important in the development of spatial theory and research across a variety of disciplines, not least urban studies.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Urban Revolution. Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003a.
Originally published in 1970 (Paris: Gallimard), Lefebvre presents a cogent and detailed analysis of modern urban society as a revolution in the organization, structure, and experience of the world which is increasingly dominated by the city. This small but hugely significant book was pioneering in its approach and is considered as foundational for contemporary thinking and analysis of the city.
Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. Translated by Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore. London: Continuum, 2003b.
The last book Lefebvre wrote, published shortly after his death in 1992, brings together and synthesizes many of his analyses of the urban and modernity. He appraises the social and biological rhythms of everyday life to demonstrate that space and time are inevitably and irrevocably interrelated to how we are governed, regulated, and manipulated in space and time and their impact on our experience of the world.
Lefebvre, Henri. Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment. Edited by Łukasz Stanek and Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Written in 1973 but unpublished until recently this work extends Lefebvre’s thinking and theorizing on urban space focused on architecture. It reflects and focuses on architectural practices and processes of habitation and calls for an imaginative approach—rather than merely a technical and specialized spatial science—an ‘architecture of jouissance’ that should emphasize pleasure and enjoyment tied to natural rhythms, the body, and the sensual experience of urban space.
Lefebvre, Henri. Marxist Thought and the City. Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016a.
Published originally in 1972 (Paris: Casterman), Lefebvre’s book approaches the analysis of the transition of life under feudalism to the rise of the modern industrial capitalist city. He reviews the work of Marx and Engels and their relevance for understanding the modern urban condition. This is classic Lefebvre demonstrating his Marxist humanist focus on urban problems which is as relevant today as it was when written in the 1970s.
Lefebvre, Henri. Metaphilosophy. Edited by Stuart Elden. Translated by David Fernbach. London: Verso, 2016b.
Originally published in 1965 (Paris: Syllepse), Metaphilosophy provides Lefebvre with the opportunity to retrieve the emancipatory potential of Marxist theory by applying Marx’s revolutionary thought to consider how philosophy engages with the world and the need for philosophy to approach and understand its role in developing a program of radical worldwide change.
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