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Understanding The Bedrock of Reality

To study the everyday worlds and accomplishments of ordinary persons is to touch bedrock reality

The everyday

The ‘everyday’ is a difficult and complex concept that has been wrestled with for hundreds of years by theorists representing a wide diversity of knowledge fields, giving ‘the everyday’ a meta-field-like status that Highmore suggests, “lies both outside all 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 meta-field”.  In earlier texts, key theories on the everyday by de Certeau and Lefebvre will be used to define and explain my understanding of the everyday 

Uniform November studies once-everyday places, the associated memories of violence they represent, and explores ways in which they impact social and political relations within a post-conflict urban context struggling to address the legacy of a violent past.

My practice recognises the everyday places, that through violence have come to mean something else to those who live in and around the city which also includes those responsible for peacebuilding there.

By everyday places I mean, the repetitive, common and taken for granted, the parts of the urban environment in which residents frequently socialise but only truly appreciate once it becomes relevant to what’s being done or if it has a special meaning or character that stimulates deeper recognition. 

These places appear socially and politically significant and yet they are not acknowledged or recognised formally. After visits to Belfast, Mosul and Sarajevo it is obvious that many passers-by, taxi drivers, police, tour guides, politicians and academics knew of their everyday history and the difficulties the authorities have in dealing with their violent past. Each person spoken to had their perspective on a familiar interpretation of what happened in these places, who was hurt, who was to blame, and the justice or lack of it. They understood their role in a common narrative of violence, unrecognised and unaddressed.

These everyday places are therefore an essential and yet overlooked part of peacebuilding work and more energy should be invested in identifying and developing methods to tack post-conflict memorialization in urban contexts.


IR, Peacebuilding and the Everyday    


In recent years the synergy between the everyday and peacebuilding has received growing attention in the field of international relations (IR). 

IR and peacebuilding according to scholars such as MacGinty, Jabri and Pouligny (Jabri, 2010; Mac Ginty, 2011; Pouligny, 2006) have been relatively slower than other fields of knowledge in their attempt to study the everyday, with much of the literature focusing on the West, rather than more acute forms of everyday life in conflict, post-conflict and developing polities (Richmond, 2011). Richmond explains that much of the so-called, “liberal, cosmopolitan and constructive theory, recently actualised through documents such as ‘Agenda for Peace’ or ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or the ‘Higher level Panel Report’, reaches implicitly for the everyday, but also to emancipate and facilitate the everyday” (Richmond, 2011). This is an approach not dissimilar to recent government strategies in Northern Ireland which have stemmed from the ‘Galvanising the Peace’ report in 2017, the ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Irelands Past’ in 2018, and the ‘Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report’ in 2018.

That said, there is growing interest in the everyday and its synergies within the scholarly field of IR and peacebuilding. Björkdahl explains that …. “the connection between the everyday and the international has received growing attention in the field of international relations (IR) in recent years. To rethink the international in terms of the everyday, the mundane and the ordinary has brought attention to neglected spaces of the international and turned the everyday into a site of IR analysis”(Björkdahl et al., 2019), an approach that doesn’t go far enough for more contemporary thinkers in other academic fields, suggesting that “far from being dominated by sameness, the everyday is an arena of endless difference” we cannot simply “go to” the everyday; we are “always-already” immersed in it, although we typically do not realize this. Sheringham, warns us throughout this study that we need to engage with the everyday “on its own terms,” rather than to subordinate it to preconstituted ideological narratives or abstract conceptual categories (Gardiner, 2009; Sheringham, 2006).

Ty Solomon and Brent J. Steele have similarly, yet more hopefully, suggested that ‘IR has begun to (re)discover the lives and people of global politics’ by turning to ‘micropolitics’, that is, to ‘those features of social life that often slip through our normal schematic or binary frameworks’ (Solomon and Steele, 2017: 268ff); and Michele Acuto, who defines the everyday ‘as the spatiality of situated, mundane, and habitual practices’ (Acuto, 2014: 346), designates it as a constituent sphere of global governance and IR more broadly”.


In an important contribution to ‘Cooperation and Conflict’, Stuart Croft and Nick Vaughan-Williams stated that ‘the recent lean in IR to the “everyday” as a category of analysis – with its alternative temporal stress on rhythm and repetition and scalar emphasis on the micro and proximate – is not in and of itself a corrective to the discipline’s ‘elitist bias’ (Croft and Vaughan-Williams, 2017: 21). What they call for is ‘[a]n alternative genealogy of the “everyday”– one that pays specific attention to non-elite constructions, meanings and experiences of (in)security and their attendant rhythms and scales’ (Croft and Vaughan-Williams, 2017: 22).


Everyday Places of Violence

An alternative way to explore the impact of violence during the conflict is to view it from an ‘everyday’ perspective.  An approach that engages the everyday by examining ‘everyday places’, sites where extreme violence took place, by asking, to what extent, if any, do these sites and their associated memories of violence impact social and political relations in the city.

This interest in examining 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, this text aims to; challenge the preconceived notion and status of the everyday and its potential within a peacebuilding general context, whilst exploring its seemingly illusive and all-inclusive nature.

Therefore, this text will explore the theory addressing ‘the everyday’ a concept that Gardiner describes as,

 “that slipperiest of conceptual eels……its transgressive and boundary-dissolving nature (positioned as it is on the cusp between subjective experience and objective social structure, communal life and individuality), whereby the seeming eternalness and stubborn obduracy of the everyday is shot through with an ephemeral performativity and singularity” (Gardiner, 2009).

My thinking touches on the concepts of three primary thinkers,

  1. Michel de Certeau whose approach to the everyday argues that the practices of everyday life are ‘distinctive, repetitive and unconscious’

2. Henri Lefebvre who states that the everyday is “the most universal and the most unique condition, the most social and the most individuated, the most obvious and the best hidden”(Lefebvre and Levich, 1987) 

3. Habermas’s notion of the ‘lifeworld’(Habermas and Dews, 1992).


I also like to engage the concept of the everyday by studying contemporary works by scholars such as John Roberts, Michael Sheringham and Stephan Crook before reviewing relevant IR literature on the subject which explores ‘the everyday’ from a peacebuilding perspective, whilst wrestling with the paradox that

once we subject the everyday to the gaze of objectifying and systematic social science, it slips through our fingers”.

This is a phenomenon that Sheringham calls a “liminal region of experience”(Sheringham, 2006).

A phenomenon that could help develop an interesting platform from which to help frame some of the thinking within this field.

Moreover, the article aims to explore in more detail literature that supports Sheringham’s theory of ‘liminal region of experience’ and the possibility that these places were once ‘everyday’. Parts of the built environment, due to the extreme violence perpetrated within or around them during the conflict, meaning that these spaces of everydayness have become something else, ‘non-everyday’ places, subjecting them to a more direct focus within society and ‘to the gaze of objectifying and systematic social science’. Places that could affect peacebuilding activity and how social and political relations in the city are addressed.



The Elusive Everyday

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


According to Highmore’s reading of Lefevre’s influential work on ‘the everyday’ the obscurity of the subject 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, is “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. Habermas 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).

Despite the challenges of researching with the everyday in mind, there has been a relatively recent resurgence of interest in the everyday among social theorists from Habermas, Crook and Highmore to de Certeau and Lefevre. The relevance that ‘the everyday’ might have in society and therefore the potential it might have has inspired many theorists looking to unlock and code ‘the everyday.’ From an IR perspective, the everyday might help unlock the peacebuilding conundrum of sustainable peacebuilding in post-conflict societies. (Jeong, 2005; Mac Ginty, 2010; Newman et al., 2009; Richmond, 2011). Habermas, for example, attempts to explain the everyday, by exploring the notion of the ‘Lifeworld’, a place moving beyond a philosophy of consciousness where 'we can think of the lifeworld as represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretive patterns' (Habermas et al., 2005). He refers to the lifeworld as 'a storehouse of cultural givens' (1990), however, he still acknowledges that “[t]he formal structures of the lifeworld remain the ghostly double and principle of order of everyday practices, whether the lifeworld is modelled as a structure of consciousness or a structure of communication (Habermas et al., 2005). Interestingly Crook in his reading of Habermas explores the idea that thematisations of the everyday loosely converge on two ideas, “that of the as 'taken-for-granteď and that of the everyday as ‘living history’” a direct link to the pre-modern social totality” (Crook, 1998). A dubious summation, yet adopted by many scholars as a rough and ready substantive concept of everyday life as a set of familiar and routine activities that fill a person’s day (Antoniades, 2008).

He posits that “[t]o study the everyday worlds and accomplishments of ordinary persons was to touch bedrock reality”(Crook, 1998), explaining that in recent years, “the everyday’ has moved closer to the centre of ‘fashionable attention’ once more”, citing the importance of de Certeau’s portrayal of everyday as “a tactical resistance to strategies of the powerful” (Crook, 1998) (Ahearne, 2010). De Certeau, Lefebvre and Perec’s interpretation of ‘the everyday’, in other words, the proposed elusiveness and the unconscious ‘tactical and strategic’ forms of behaviour within society, seems to resonate the most in this study’s approach.


“The unrecognised, that is, the everyday…. Lefebvre


Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the theorization of everyday life drew the attention of major scholars whose work still informs a great deal of research today. Michel de Certeau, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, George Perec and Henri Lefbvre, between them, they helped fashion an important approach to the modern grasp of what ‘the everyday’ might mean. Interestingly, all lived in France, in the post-WWII era, frequently interacting and no doubt reflecting on familiar developments that Sheringham describes as, “rapid modernization and urbanization, the “spectacular” (in the Situationist sense) growth of mass media and mass consumption, and the “colonization” of the everyday by state and capital”  (Sheringham, 2006). Although Barthes and Foucault’s work[4] will help inform elements of this article, the work of de Certeau, Lefbvreand and Perec seems more relevant at this stage.   

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, how the public adapts their environment, altering things, from ‘utilitarian objects to street plans to rituals, laws and language’, 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 Mosul, Sarajevo and  Belfast. In a state struggling to address the legacy of the past, electing to “enact governmentality and its own priorities, while marginalising local needs, culture and agency – ultimately reconciliation - in favour of institution-building” (Richmond, 2011). The cities and their population seem to have adapted their own cultural approach to memorialisation by funding and narrating their own adaptations of commemoration, 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). This writing examines 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 unofficially marked, exploring how they might inform the practice of everyday life.

De Certeau outlines ‘strategic’ and ‘tactical’[5] as forms of behaviour relevant to the practice of everyday life. Richmond’s reading of de Certeau suggests, “Institutions operate in a strategic manner to which people adopt tactical responses”. Therefore, “People are able to adapt and take ownership over structures and institutions so that they begin to reflect their own everyday lives rather than structural attempts at assimilation. This re-appropriation through the everyday then becomes a crucial part of politics and represents a move from subjects to active citizens”. An important aspect of social-political agency that could help inform an approach to peacebuilding that recognises the potential in the ordinary.

George Perec’s exploration of the ordinary is another classic point of reference in the my thinking. Perec challenges the relationship society has with the everyday by asking, “[h]ow should we take account of, question, describe what happens everyday and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?. These questions have resonance in that Perec believes that society appears unaware or uninterested in the ‘common things’ and that, “[w]hat speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked”(Perec, 1973). He suggests that society seems conditioned to recognise that “[b]ehind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals”(Perec, 1973). This is an interesting theory from which to begin exploring the impact place has in post-conflict urban contexts, especially after they have achieved existence through violence. Places that may have once been everyday, are now non-everyday places in nature or what Perec might class as infra-ordinary places within the city. Acknowledging that “[w]hile it presents itself as the great swath of the unexceptional, everyday life needs only a little jiggling for it to reveal most of us as exceptions” (Highmore, 2005; Perec, 1973).

The final classical point of reference in my thinking so far is Lefebvre’s ‘critique of everyday life’ especially  Lefebvre’s notion that, “everyday was, in short, the space in which all life occurred, and between which all fragmented activities took place. It was the residual”. Lefebvre’s work offers opportunities to measure, decipher or identify aspects of the everyday, as he offers to “decode the modern world, that bloody riddle, according to the everyday”(Lefebvre and Levich, 1987). Interestingly, he describes the everyday as the common denominator and as cyclical, “being situated at the intersection of two modes of repetition: the cyclical, which dominates in nature, the linear, which dominates in processes known as rational”. He offers the everyday as the common denominator for activities explaining that, “the everyday can be analysed as the uniform aspects of the major sectors of social life: work, family, private life and leisure”. This is a theory that seems to reaffirm the importance of the everyday in society and therefore the potential impact or significance that any repute or intrusion might have. After all is that not the main aim of terrorists, to attack the everyday in the understanding that it will cause maximum civil impact and affect, “[a]ll terrorist acts involve violence or the threat of violence. Terrorism is specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victim(s) or object of the terrorist attack. It is meant to instil fear within, and thereby intimidate, a wider `target audience' that might include a rival ethnic or religious group, an entire country, a national government or political party, or public opinion in general” (Hoffman, 2006). Therefore, any trauma to a ubiquitous everyday seems to have repercussions[6].  Lefebvre concurs that the everyday is fragile and open to manipulation, he explains that, “[t]he everyday, is therefore the most universal and the most unique condition, the most social and the most individuated, the most obvious and the best hidden. A condition stipulated for the legibility of forms, ordained by means of functions, inscribed within structures, the everyday constitutes the platform upon which the bureaucratic society of controlled consumerism is erected”. He sees the everyday has become a product that connects commercial and consumption systems manipulated for capitalist purposes. This idea of a common commodification, whilst giving purchase on a useful understanding of the everyday also resonates with regards to another part of my research. It helps support the idea that the cosmopolitan modes of remembrance have also become a universalised system. Lefebvre suggests that “in the domain of architecture, a variety of local, regional, and national architectural styles has given way to "architectural urbanism," a universalizing system of structures and functions in supposedly rational geometric forms”. In the same way, local, ethnic and regional methods of remembrance have given way to a more universal system of addressing the legacy of past violence.

Lefebvre, Perec and de Certeau begin to offer an understanding of ‘the everyday’ as belonging to a meta-field of knowledge, fluid and elusive in nature, fragile, cyclical and often taken for granted. The everyday seems to be the source of social continuity and resilience whilst delicate and prone to manipulation. Perec offers a way of understanding the everyday places touched by violence in Cities as infra-ordinary places and de Certeau gives support to the idea that the everyday has a critical role to play in determining the impact these places might have on the city’s social and political relationships within the peacebuilding context

[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.

[4] Foucault’s work on "biopower" exploring the ways in which power manifests itself in the form of daily practices and routines through which individuals engage in self-surveillance and self-discipline, and thereby

subjugate themselves:  This is disciplinary power; biopower refers to the state’s us eof large data to manage the lives of a population.  Biopower, is a useful concept which will be explored as part of this research.

Likewise, Barthes’ interest in the creative possibilities embedded within the lived experience of everyday meaning, exploring the 'the prestige of the detail', the idea that, “in all forms of systemic signification 'a minimal difference can have maximal consequences'” (Lusty, 2009). .


[5] According to Blauvelt’s reading of de Certeau “Strategies are used by those within organizational power structures, whether small or large, such as the state or municipality, the corporation or the proprietor, a scientific enterprise or the scientist. Strategies are deployed against some external entity to institute a set of relations for official or proper ends, whether adversaries, competitors, clients, customers, or simply subjects. Tactics, on the other hand, are employed by those who are subjugated. By their very nature tactics are defensive and opportunistic, used in more limited ways and seized momentarily within spaces, both physical and psychological, produced and governed by more powerful strategic relations” (Blauvelt et al., 2003).

[6] Coincidently at the same time as theorist wrestle with the importance of the ubiquitous everyday as perhaps a meta-field of consciousness, scientists were exploring humanity from a micro perspective. Our DNA was under scrutiny, they had found that only a small proportion of our DNA coded proteins and the rest was junk or dark DNA, and yet when the Junk DNA was removed or interfered with, this has catastrophic effects overall. I can’t help but draw a comparison between the Junk DNA and the Everyday, “When researchers first worked out how DNA encodes the instructions for making proteins in the 1950s, they assumed that almost all DNA codes for proteins. However, by the 1970s, it was becoming clear that only a tiny proportion of a genome encodes functional proteins – about 1 per cent in the case of us humans”. Slowly Science are revealing the importance of the Junk DNA after developing more sophisticated means of measurement and a greater wholistic understanding of the conundrum.



Calling for an “alternative genealogy of the everyday – one that pays specific attention to the non-elite constructions, meanings and experience of (in)security and their attendant rhythms and scales”(Croft and Vaughan-Williams, 2017)

Ty Solomon and Brent J. Steel explain that “IR has begun to (re)discover the lives and people of global politics” by turning to micropolitics, that is, to those features of social life that often slip through our normal schematic or binary frameworks” (Solomon and Steele, 2017)

Michele Acuto, who defines the everyday ‘as the spatiality of situated, mundane, and habitual practices’ designates it ‘a constituent sphere of global governance’ and IR more broadly. (Acuto, 2014)

non-elite constructions and, ostensibly, mundane practices. It is therefore a call for engagements with the challenge to not remain content with IR as ‘a discipline whose object of study is usually considered separate from how people live their daily lives’ (Montsion, 2012: 930)


“An approach driven by the premise that communities affected by war know best what peace means to them and therefore should be the primary source of information on peacebuilding” (Everyday peace indicators) 


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