Henri Lefebvre

Biography of Henri Lefebvre

Henri Lefebvre (16 June 1901 – 29 June 1991) was a French sociologist, Marxist intellectual, and philosopher, best known for his work on dialectics, Marxism, everyday life, cities, and (social) space. He coined the slogan "the right to the city".

Lefebvre was born in Hagetmau, Landes, France. He studied philosophy at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), graduating in 1920. By 1924 he was working with Paul Nizan, Norbert Guterman, Georges Friedmann, Georges Politzer and Pierre Morhange in the Philosophies group seeking a "philosophical revolution". This brought them into contact with the Surrealists, Dadaists, and other groups, before they moved towards the French Communist Party (PCF). He later worked closely with wives and girlfriends, in some places publishing under their names or publishing with them. From 1930 to 1940, Lefebvre was a professor of philosophy; in 1940 he joined the French resistance. From 1944 to 1949, he was the director of Radiodiffusion Française, a French radio broadcaster in Toulouse.

Lefebvre joined the PCF in 1928 and became one of the most prominent French Marxist Intellectuals during the second quarter of the 20th century. Among his works was a highly influential, anti-Stalinist, text on dialectics called Dialectical Materialism (1940). Seven years later, Lefebvre published his first volume of The Critique of Everyday Life, which would later serve as a primary intellectual inspiration for the founding of COBRA and, eventually, of the Situationist International. His early work on method was applauded and borrowed centrally by Sartre in The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). During Lefebvre’s thirty year stint with the PCF, he was chosen to publish critical attacks on opposed theorists, especially existentialists like Sartre and Lefebvre's former colleague Nizan, only to get himself expelled from the party for his own heterodox theoretical and political opinions in the late 1950s. Ironically, he became one of France’s most important critics of the PCF’s politics (e.g. immediately, the lack of an opinion on Algeria, and more generally, the partial apologism for and continuation of Stalinism) and intellectual thought (i.e. Structuralism, especially the work of Louis Althusser). By the 1970s, Lefebvre had also published some of the first critical statements on the work of post-structuralists, especially Foucault. During the following years he was involved in the editorial group of Arguments, a New Left magazine whose

"chief merit lay in having enabled the French public to become familiar with the experiments in revisionism carried out in Central Europe in the twenties and thirties"

In 1961, Lefebvre became professor of sociology at the University of Strasbourg, before joining the faculty at the new university at Nanterre in 1965. He was one of the most respected professors, and he had influenced and analysed the May 1968 students revolt. In response to the events of 1968, he introduced the concept of The Right to the City in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville. Following the publication of this book, Lefebvre wrote several influential works on cities, urbanism, and space, including The Production of Space (1974), which became one of the most influential and heavily cited works of urban theory.

Lefebvre died in 1991. In his obituary, Radical Philosophy magazine honored his long and complex career:
"the most prolific of French Marxist intellectuals, died during the night of 28–29 June 1991, less than a fortnight after his ninetieth birthday. During his long career, his work has gone in and out of fashion several times, and has influenced the development not only of philosophy but also of sociology, geography, political science and literary criticism."

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