The Everyday, "that slipperiest of conceptual eels"

November 3, 2019

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Uniform November's interest in addressing everyday places with associated memories of violence, might at first ostensibly orientate this peacebuilding research as an attempt to engage the city’s legacy of violence from a ‘bottom-up’[1] or ‘hybridist’[2] perspective rather than a ‘top down’[3] approach. However, our aim is to; challenge the preconceived notion and status of the everyday and its potential within a peacebuilding context, whilst exploring its seemingly illusive and all-inclusive nature.

 

The connection between ‘the everyday’ and peacebuilding is a beguiling area of academic exploration that has seen a growth in many fields of study including International relations (IR). The subject is intriguingly difficult to pin-down due to its elusiveness, relevance and its potential.

 

 

According to Highmore’s reading of Lefevre’s seminal work on ‘the everyday’ the subjects obscurity lies in its ubiquitous nature , explaining that, “If…the everyday lies both outside all the different fields of knowledge, while at the same time lying across them, then the everyday isn’t a field at all, more like a para-field, or a meta-field” (Highmore, 2002). A ‘meta-field’ that according to Lefebrve, “profoundly related to all activities, and encompasses them with all their differences and conflicts; it is their meeting place, their bond, their common ground” (Lefebvre, 1991).

 

An existence that allows the everyday to appear, as it did to Truzzi, as 'alive', 'immediate' and 'real' (Brown, 1969), whilst fluid and hauntingly evasive, “[in]-between the always already and ever-not-quite-yet, the everyday transpires, suspended, as the infinitely strung-out process of perpetually leaving too soon and arriving too late. Or is it arriving too soon and leaving too late? Either way, you will somehow have missed it because the everyday passes by, passes through. It sails past, sails over. It goes around, goes under” (Seigworth and Gardiner, 2004).

 

To work with the everyday, therefore, it seems that we must consider Seigworth and Gardiner’s argument that, “[w]e begin by knowing this: there is nothing to know of everyday life. That is, everyday life does not easily or readily submit itself to either questions or answers from the knowing (and variously disciplined) subject/s of epistemology” (Seigworth and Gardiner, 2004). Whilst acknowledging the complicated situation that if, ‘the everyday’ is the background to a study of social and political relationships it then becomes un-everyday in nature once placed under theoretical scrutiny. Haberman explains, “the moment this background knowledge enters communicative expression, where it becomes explicit knowledge and thereby subject to criticism, it loses precisely those characteristics which life-worlds always have for those who belong to them: certainty, background character, impossibility of being gone behind” (Habermas and Dews, 1992).

 

 

Michel de Certeau’s ‘Practice of Everyday Life’ and his study of the ordinary ‘processes of active appropriation’ have become classic points of reference. De Certeau examines the ways in which people seem to re-appropriate culture in everyday situations, in other words, the ways in which the public adapt their environment, altering things, from ‘utilitarian objects to street plans to rituals, laws and language’, in order to make them their own (Crook, 1998). He argues these adaptations are ‘distinctive, repetitive and unconscious’. He explores the tension between the state and society, a tension where institutions of power represent obstacles that individuals find adaptive ways of overcoming. For example, “The city planning commission may determine what streets there will be, but the local cabbie will figure out how best to navigate the lived reality of those streets. This art of making-do is what de Certeau calls bricolage, a process that often implies cooperation as much as competition” (Goff, 2010). 

 

This art of ‘making-do’ or ‘bricolage’ can be identified in places like Belfast. In  states struggling to address the legacy of the past, electing to “enacting governmentality and its own priorities, while marginalising local needs, culture and agency – ultimately reconciliation - in favour of institution-building” (Richmond, 2011).

 

The city’s population seems to have adapted their own cultural approach to memorialisation by funding and narrating their own adaptations of commemoration, by recognising and acknowledging their violent past locally, using unofficial plaques and gardens to mark the fallen and honour the dead. According to Richmond, “for de Certeau, the everyday represented how individuals unconsciously navigate their way around and try to create their own activities while taking into consideration institutions of power” (Richmond, 2011).

 

Uniform November aims to examine the notion of impact and subsequent adaption by looking at the places known to the public as sites where significant violence has taken place but that haven’t been officially or un-officially marked, exploring how they might inform the practice of everyday life.

 

 

 

 

[1] The ‘Bottom Up’ approach to peacebuilding according to Lefranc is work to transform individual prejudices and emphasize relations amongst "ordinary people". The shared objective of these practices is to construct peace that proves more "sustainable" than the usual international peacemaking and peacebuilding policies that focus upon political elites and institutional reform (Charbonneau et al., 2013).

 

[2] The Hybrid peace process (a top down and a bottom up approach) and the acknowledgment of resilience in a fractured or struggling state. According to MacGinty’s analysis there are 4 factors of ‘Hybridity’, the ability of

liberal peace agents and their networks and structures to enforce compliance; the incentivizing powers of Liberal peace networks and structures; the ability of local actors to resist, ignore, or adapt liberal peace interventions and the ability of local actors, networks, and structures to present and maintain alternative forms of peacebuilding. (MacGinty 2011)

 

[3] Edward Newman in his book ‘New perspectives on liberal peacebuilding’ in 2009, it was a ‘top down’ elite, ethnocentric and a Western style formulaic process of peacebuilding that gave little thought to the local context of religious values and the historical, regional, and culture norms.

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