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| Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction -- Book by Ben Highmore; Routledge, 2002
Preface and acknowledgements
This book is an introduction to 'everyday life and cultural theory'. It is an introduction, not so much because it is written in an introductory style (though I hope that it is written in a way that avoids some of the more unappetizing conventions of academic writing), but because work on the everyday is, as I argue, only just beginning. The 'everyday life theory' that I write about here is both an introduction and an invitation to start thinking about an arena of life that manages, for the most part, to avoid scrutiny. Or rather, the kinds of interventionist scrutiny that it has received have often been undertaken in the name of governing the everyday. Here, instead, a form of inventive and critical attention allows, potentially at least, another 'everyday' to begin to appear.
The order of the chapters in this book may seem a little odd. Chapter 2 (which tells you what the rest of the book is about, and tries to knit together some of the main arguments) might seem more like an introductory chapter than chapter 1. My decision to place a very general chapter about 'everyday modernity' in front of this is because I wanted to be able to ground the arguments with some historical description of a world 'out there', which cultural theory might be seen as responding to. After chapter 2 the book progresses in the usual chronological fashion.
The choice of which theorists and theories are included within this account probably also needs a word or two. This book is a route-map of one particular path through the many varied possibilities that are suggested by connecting the terms 'everyday life' and 'cultural theory'. It strikes me that 'theory' (a much overused term, of course) could be the name we reserve for the most insistent puzzling about aspects of life that are taken as problematic. Now while there is a whole variety of theorists who deal with problematics and the everyday (Erving Goffman, Harold Garfinkel, Martin Heidegger, Agnes Heller, Dorothy E. Smith - to mention just some of the most obvious ones), they don't necessarily deal with the everyday as a problematic. As such the everyday often becomes the occasion, the territory for a puzzling that is often directed elsewhere. The theorists and theories chosen here seem to me to be characterized by a much more directed attention to the everyday as a problematic. They all seem to bring the everyday into an awkward focus.
This ambivalence vividly registers the effects of modernity. If the everyday is that which is most familiar and most recognizable, then what happens when that world is disturbed and disrupted by the unfamiliar? If the 'shock of the new' sends tremors to the core of the everyday, then what happens to the sense of the everyday as familiar and recognizable? In modernity the everyday becomes the setting for a dynamic process: for making the unfamiliar familiar; for getting accustomed to the disruption of custom; for struggling to incorporate the new; for adjusting to different ways of living. The everyday marks the success and failure of this process. It witnesses the absorption of the most revolutionary of inventions into the landscape of the mundane. Radical transformations in all walks of life become 'second nature'. The new becomes traditional and the residues of the past become outmoded and available for fashionable renewal. But signs of failure can be noticed everywhere: the language of the everyday is not an upbeat endorsement of the new; it echoes with frustrations, with the disappointment of broken promises.
Please read the rest of the book at Questia online library
| The writing of any book voraciously consumes vast swathes of everyday life. This book was no exception. So my first acknowledgement must be to Wendy Bonner who has had to endure God knows how many hours (days, years) of this book. For suffering bad moods, garbled monologues, missed meal times, and much besides, I dedicate this with all my love. Our children have probably not come out of this unscathed either. To the question 'Where's daddy?' the answer 'He's in his working room' became something of a haunting and guilt-inducing refrain. So thanks then to Molly for not taking any of this too seriously and for continually 'disturbing' me with new tricks and new ways of wearing clothes. Thanks also to Zebedee who came along just at the right time.
From the start Steven Connor helped shape this project and kept it on course as it weaved (sometimes precariously) about. His unflagging enthusiasm and pertinent advice made writing this book much less onerous than it could have been. A number of people have read part or all of earlier versions of the book (some were hoodwinked into it, others volunteered themselves; all of them helped). So I'd like to thank Ian Buchanan, Barry Curtis, Iain Hamilton Grant, Michelle Henning, Alan Read, Simon Sadler and Morag Shiach. Various anonymous readers read some of this with an eye to its publication - their support gave me the encouragement to finish it. Thanks as well to Rebecca Barden and Alistair Daniel at Routledge for getting the book to publication. I want to thank everyone in the School of Cultural and Media Studies at the University of the West of England and especially all those involved in the 'everyday life research group'. Finally I want to thank my parents, who have supported a career which for so many years must have seemed invisible.
Investigating the everyday
THERE IS NO ESCAPE: to launch an investigation into the theoretical practices of those who attend to everyday life requires attention to the everyday 'itself'. To trace the troubled career of 'the everyday' as it is mobilized by a disparate collection of intellectuals from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century necessitates an attempt to gauge the specific gravity of the term, its connotations and its references. Unspecific gravity might be a better phrase. As the notion of 'everyday life' circulates in Western cultures under its many guises ( Alltagsleben, la vie quotidienne, run-of-the-mill and so on) one difficulty becomes immediately apparent: 'everyday life' signifies ambivalently. On the one hand it points (without judging) to those most repeated actions, those most travelled journeys, those most inhabited spaces that make up, literally, the day to day. This is the landscape closest to us, the world most immediately met. But with this quantifiable meaning creeps another, never far behind: the everyday as value and quality - everydayness. Here the most travelled journey can become the dead weight of boredom, the most inhabited space a prison, the most repeated action an oppressive routine. Here the everydayness of everyday life might be experienced as a sanctuary, or it may bewilder or give pleasure, it may delight or depress. Or its special quality might be its lack of qualities. It might be, precisely, the unnoticed, the inconspicuous, the unobtrusive.
The heterogeneous and ambivalent landscape of everyday modernity needs investigating. This investigation starts, like all investigations should, with a detective. For Sherlock Holmes 'everyday life' is decidedly undecided. While never in doubt about the correctness of his own investigative methods, Holmes' relationship to the everyday is marked by a passionate ambivalence that takes us to the heart of the problem of everyday life in modernity. Sherlock Holmes gets bored. He gets bored when the mysterious and enigmatic side of life is not taxing his rationalistic intelligence. Conan Doyle's detective is a man who is often bored. For him the world of the everyday is associated with the dull and the humdrum: 'I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life' (Doyle  1993:45). To what extent Dr Watson shares this love is an open question: one thing is for sure, his love of the bizarre does not have the passionate intensity of Holmes'. Nor does he suffer so much when faced with the everyday. Holmes is repulsed by the everyday and can only deal with its atrophying force by taking refuge in cocaine:...