Everyday Life in Theory & Practice

This graduate seminar is about everyday life as both problem and possibility.  On the one hand we have the everyday as monotonous routine, in which a series of prosaic activities unfolds as if in an unvarying, unending succession.  Day in and day out we wake, bathe, dress, work, cook, eat, shop, play, rest, and interact with others, summoning habits of thought, conduct, and expression to help us along.  Thus we are able to navigate an extraordinarily complex world easily and efficiently—practically without thinking.  But at what point do we become so accustomed to the usual ways of operating that practically anything can seem tolerable?

On the other hand, as Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, and many other writers have affirmed, monotony and complacency need not comprise the sum total of our lives.  Paradoxically, the repetitiveness that so structures the workaday world can itself become an engine of difference.  Indeed there is a power intrinsic to doing something again—the power of contingency.  As with the dawn of each new day, we are regularly presented with opportunities for creativity, renewal, and critique.  Everyday life may suggest a narrowing of possibility, but it can just as well imply its bursting forth.

This course will address this tension through four principal questions: what is everyday life? how does everyday life both enable and constrain social and political action? in what ways has cultural studies engaged everyday life? and how might it continue to do so in ways that resist the field’s becoming intellectually and politically unimaginative—its becoming, in the monotonous sense, everyday?

Roughly the first half of this seminar will be dedicated to exploring specific theoretical foundations that underpin the study of everyday life.  Thereafter we will explore some of what cultural studies has had to say on the topic.  The objective of this course is to think through the conditions necessary to reinvent the project of cultural studies for the 21st century—a more imaginative, effective, and globally relevant cultural studies which, with any luck, might help to reinvigorate everyday life as both theoretical category and domain of human practice.