2008 volume 26(2) pages 338 – 358
doi:10.1068/d5307

Cite as:
Fraser B, 2008, "Toward a philosophy of the urban: Henri Lefebvre’s uncomfortable application of Bergsonism" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26(2) 338 – 358

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Toward a philosophy of the urban: Henri Lefebvre’s uncomfortable application of Bergsonism

Benjamin Fraser

Received 18 June 2007; in revised form 26 October 2007

Abstract. Although Henri Lefebvre (1901 – 1991) publicly and consistently eschewed the philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941), his writings in effect made great use of the latter’s key ideas and method. Like Bergson’s philosophy, Lefebvre’s urban criticism denounced the spatialization of time and gave priority to lived experience over the abstractions employed by static intellectual or traditionally analytical models of experience. Throughout The Urban Revolution, The Production of Space, The Critique of Everyday Life, Volumes 1 – 3, and the writings posthumously collected in Rhythmanalysis, Lefebvre’s urban philosophical project appropriated the ideas Bergson advanced in his three major works, Time and Free Will, Matter and Memory, and Creative Evolution, through their application to the problems of social life—a de facto collaboration that Bergson never lived to appreciate and that Lefebvre would never recognize. This connection is important not only as a corrective to the scant attention paid to Lefebvre’s work by philosophers, but also because it reinforces both thinkers’ own emphases on interdisciplinarity and on reconciling theories of knowledge with theories of life. The combined work of the two philosophers suggests a philosophical basis for the current emphasis of theory in both cultural studies and human geography in that it stresses the importance of acknowledging movement, process, and mobilities in approaches to the problems of urban life. The composite of Bergson – Lefebvre provides the basis for articulating a philosophy of the urban.

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