Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) (source: www.zones-subversives.com)

Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) (source: www.zones-subversives.com)

In a previous post, I have briefly located the emergence of the idea of rhythmanalysis, referring to Bachelard's (1950) intuition. In this post, I would like to locate the contribution of Henri Lefebvre – a French philosopher and sociologist – around this notion. Since the 1960s, Lefebvre took over Bachelard’s initial use of the idea of rhythmanalysis and started conceiving it as a way to explore emancipatory strategies through the analysis of the experience of everyday rhythms (e.g., Lefebvre, 1961/2002, 1974/1991, 1992/2004). 

[The following section is adapted from Alhadeff-Jones, 2017, pp.181-182]

Lefebvre's interest for rhythms was part of a broader concern regarding the quotidian, the banality and emptiness of everyday life within capitalist society. Because all human practices are constituted rhythmically, in terms of a relationship between repetition and difference (Lefebvre, 1992/2004), they provide grounds to study everyday interactions and understand how alienation and emancipation are embedded in quotidian rhythms.

About the social production of space and time

At first, Lefebvre envisioned rhythmanalysis as a sociological method to study the fabric of relations and interactions between social time characterized by cyclic rhythms (e.g., circadian periodicities determined by cosmic rhythms) and linear processes (e.g., monotonous repetitions) inherent to techniques found in industrial society (Revol, 2014). Assuming that social space and time (e.g., urban city) produce, and are produced, through the experience of repetitions and rhythms, Lefebvre conceived quotidian spaces (e.g., streets, squares and working spaces) as the result of rhythmic activities that could become the focus of analysis (Revol, 2014). The emancipatory aim of rhythmanalysis came therefore from the possibility to interpret how space and time are socially produced; it had to unveil how they become a source of alienation. What was at stake remained the capacity to appropriate for oneself the experience of rhythms that shaped and was shaped by the spaces within which one evolves (Revol, 2014). 

Rhythmanalysis as an embodied approach

For that reason, Lefebvre conceived rhythmanalysis as an embodied approach through which the rhythmanalyst has to feel and to experiment empirically how rhythms are lived. The rhythmanalyst has therefore to "listen” to his or her body as a “metronome” and to “learn rhythm from it” to appreciate external rhythms (Lefebvre, 1992/2004, p. 19). Focusing on one’s senses, breath, heart-beats and rhythmic use of one’s limbs is required to feel and perceive lived temporalities and to apprehend how they relate to the temporal and spatial environment within which one evolves. It is a work of appropriation of one’s own body as much as it may lead to the transformation of social praxis (Revol, 2014). Drawing a parallel with the practice of medicine, Lefebvre (1992/2004) suggests that the task of the rhythmanalyst is to identify social arrhythmia and transform the way it impacts social life. The approach also carries an esthetic function; to feel, perceive and be moved by rhythms, the rhythmanalyst must also focus on the sensible values of rhythms (Lefebvre, 1992/2004).

Analyzing one's relationship to space as a way to explore one's rhythms

From a philosophical and theoretical perspective, Lefebvre’s conception of rhythm remains often unclear (e.g., the role of measure vs. its free-flowing features), and his interpretation of Bachelard’s intuitions appears superficial (Sauvanet, 2000, p. 167). His main contribution, from an educational perspective, is that his conception of rhythmanalysis goes beyond the intimate and imaginary spaces envisioned by Bachelard to conceive its scope of action within the realm of concrete interactions within society (Revol, 2014). In comparison with Jaques-Dalcroze, Mandelstam’s or Bode’s rhythmic methods (Alhadeff-Jones, 2017), Lefebvre’s contribution fills a gap: by inscribing the experience of individual rhythms within the history of social spaces, and by showing how such spaces relate to the intimate experience of time, Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis provides us with a concrete path – and a medium –to envision how individual and collective rhythms may relate with each other beyond analogies and metaphors.