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Ordinary / Everyday / Quotidian

Organisers: Lawrence Rainey, Alex Beaumont and Benjamin Madden, English and Related Literature


The quotidian demands a radical reappraisal of a level of experience which the western tradition has shown a deep bias against: the mundane, the habitual, the routine; in a word, the ordinary. Moreover, our systematic neglect of the ordinary has often worked along gendered lines, dismissing the domestic sphere and popular culture as inferior, feminine domains relative to the active, masculine world of work, history, and high culture. This bias left a strong mark on twentieth-century literature, philosophy, art, history, and criticism. Enormous intellectual shifts across all of our disciplines over the past few decades have foregrounded the paradoxes and ambiguities of representation, and reawakened us to the importance of social context, but the effort to grapple with the elusive knowledge encoded in the practice of the everyday is just beginning. Scholars in all fields are just coming to appreciate how central to twentieth-century cultures was the attempt to find “a kind of radiance in dailiness.”

The quotidian has taken on a renewed urgency in the present, as so many of our fantasies of the good life are stymied by economic crisis, and people all over the world are forced to look for meaning in more “ordinary” satisfactions. And in the larger context of a relentlessly demystifying attitude in both the media and academe towards elite culture, to what extent have we succeeded in eradicating the assumptions behind “great men” theories of history and politics? There could not be a more suitable moment, therefore, to pursue the questions that quotidian criticism raises, for instance:

  • How do we account for the seeming paradox that the most ordinary experiences often attract the most complex representative strategies?
  • Are some artistic forms or genres (for instance, the novel) better habituated to representing the ordinary than others (for instance, poetry)?
  • How can humanities scholarship make use of and contribute to a rich sociological tradition going beyond Lefebvre and de Certeau to encompass more contemporary theorists?
  • How can we negotiate interdisciplinary differences in the vocabulary surrounding the everyday?
  • How can we describe historical developments in the everyday? Do we need a language of changing cognitive thresholds for “ordinary experience”?
  • Does the category of the ordinary confound any of our habitual distinctions between the “modern” and the “postmodern”?

Speaker series

Autumn Term 2012:

The Everyday and the Archive

Michael Sheringham (Oxford) Tuesday 23 October (Week 3)


Alltagsgeschichte: Writing the History of Modernity

Holger Nehring (Sheffield) Tuesday 20 November (Week 7)


Spring Term 2013:

There Is Nothing Other than Ordinary Language

Rupert Read (UEA)

Lecture: Tuesday 29 January (Week 4), 17:30, Treehouse

Workshop: Wednesday 30 January (Week 4), 13:15, Treehouse


Contemporary Fiction and Everyday Life

Neal Alexander (Nottingham)

Lecture: Tuesday 19 February (Week 7), 17:30, Bowland

Workshop: Wednesday 20 February (Week 7), 13:00, Treehouse


Summer Term 2013:

Everyday Life and How It Changes

Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster)

Lecture: Tuesday 21 May (Week 5), 17:30, Lecture Theatre D/L/036

Workshop: Wednesday 22 May (Week 5), 13:00, Seminar Room D/L/116