History, memory and the everyday

This article explores the relationship between history, memory and everyday life with particular reference to the theories of Henri Lefebvre and other French critics, who use the everyday as a way of making sense of particular kinds of cultural change in Western societies. For Lefebvre, the everyday is significant because it is a sphere in which the modern and residual can co-exist: it shows how the apparently universalizing processes of modernity are shot through with historical survivals and local differences. However, this relationship to history is concealed beneath the invisibility of the everyday, the fact that it 'evade's the grip of forms' (Lefebvre 1971, p. 182). The value of a certain kind of involuntary memory, I want to argue, is that it can denaturalize the everyday and connect it again with historicll processes. The essay concludes by examining material culture as a particularly fertile ground for investigating this sort of memory. When the commonplace objects of the recent past survive accidentally into the present, they conjure up unstable and elusive meanings and provide fragmentary evidence that routines have histories.