Everyday knowledge as unnoticed knowledge

New doctoral thesis: Heightened everydayness: Young people in rural Sweden doing everyday life

Reduced to its essentials, everyday life is repetitive and mundane, accomplished through routine activity. It is ordinary, trivial, and often left unnoticed. It is not surprising, then, that most people do not pay much attention to their everyday life knowledge. My thesis, however, I carve out a rather different understanding of everyday life and knowledge. Contrary to general understandings of daily living as trivial and dull, it depicts a vibrant everyday life rich in content, and highlights knowledge as a fundamental and fascinating aspect of everyday life activities.

Empirically, the thesis is about young people’s everyday life in rural Sweden. It is an ethnographic study of a group of twelve-year-olds living in a small village, and how they go about their everyday lives and activities. Theoretically, everyday life is understood as a doing and an interpretative activity. Young people in my study interpret and interact with humans and non-humans in their environments as they do everyday life and everyday knowledge. How does knowledge figure in their everyday life? How do rural youngsters themselves understand their everyday knowledge, and what do their experiences tell us about knowledge orders and wider social processes?

In accordance with the young informants’ representations of their everyday lives, the thesis primarily deals with what I call heightened everydayness – the ‘extraordinariness in the ordinary’. These are situations when everyday life is constituted as more meaningful, rich, and fun than ordinary daily life: when the youngsters play computer games, go bike-riding in the village, drive tractors, watch YouTube and more. The analysis shows how youngsters accomplish such heightened everydayness through communal everyday processes; by being on the move, physically and virtually; engaging in indeterminate or problematic situations; and being with cared-for people, animals and things.

Heightened everydayness and (unnoticed) knowledge

Knowledge emerged as a fundamental aspect of heightened everydayness, and through ethnographic fieldwork the thesis shows how the everyday activities youngsters engage in require a significant body of knowledge. This is their everyday knowledge, intimately associated with and embedded in everyday activities, and made meaningful in relation to them. An example can be seen in the extended extract below. Casper, a twelve-year-old living in the village, tells me about his ‘daily routine’, as he calls it.

I get up from the bed, then I eat two toasts and a glass of milk, sit down at the kitchen table and sit there for like twenty minutes and watch Youtube and eat.” “What do you watch on Youtube?”, I ask. “Well, I usually look at ‘Jocke and Jonna’, they are called. And sometimes I look at birds. And then I put on my jacket and shoes and go out. Then I open for the hens, they have a trapdoor. Or now that I am at home they may roam freely in the yard, but not the pheasants, because they can escape. They don’t feel at home yet. And well, I open for them, and set things right for them, and fix their water, clean a little, or something like that, and give them some new food. And now it is more work to do with the pheasants, I have no proper day routine with them yet. So, then I go around and check things out, I have a look at what they do and pick up the brood duck so she gets to bathe a little and then I take out the ducklings in the poultry yard, and then maybe I go in and get my cellphone so I don’t forget it. And I usually stay indoors a bit and so, check out stuff. I also have a lot of plants that I have planted, like potatoes and stuff. Water them a little. Then I go out again and see what the others are doing. Then well, I usually stay outside with the hens. And then I stay there and pick some eggs, and well. And then in the evening, when it is evening, I take all the chickens in. The ducks usually sleep outside, or they are not allowed to do that, but I have to chase them in, the hens go in voluntarily. And then I lock them up, wish them goodnight. And then I bring in the ducks and ducklings. If it is windy, I can’t take the ducklings out, because then they blow away. And then I go indoors, I always wash my hands after I’ve been at the poultry yard, before I eat and so. So I wash my hands before I go in and eat. And then we usually check out a series called ‘Prison Break’ that we watch on Netflix, / — / me, dad and his girlfriend Lena. And then we go to bed, always at 10 pm. That is when we usually go to bed.

Casper’s account is not exceptional. During fieldwork, the youngsters told me about their everyday life, yet they never paid much heed to the knowledge required for and embedded in their activities. For them, it is trivial and taken for granted, pragmatic and subordinate to everyday activities. As in the case of Casper above, everyday activities are not associated with knowledge and the youngsters seem unaware of the many skills the use in everyday life. Instead, they see other spaces, such as school, as important knowledge spaces. Contrary to their everyday knowledge, school knowledge is both articulated and considered important. The thesis concludes that neither young people themselves nor other people seem to notice their everyday knowledge. It is not regarded as proper knowledge – or even as knowledge.

What is regarded as (proper) knowledge varies depending on context. In everyday life, the rural youngsters move through various spaces where different forms of knowledge is of relevance. They encounter, create and recreate various knowledge orders. By studying knowledge as it emerges in young people’s ordinary and various everyday activities and spaces, it is possible to learn more about more general knowledge orders and societal power relations. Through young people’s experiences of their everyday life and activities it is possible to discern spaces and activities where different types of knowledge are made relevant, subordinate or invisible. Space seems to be an issue as the relation between urban and rural environments is hierarchical. How does spatial inequality matter in processes where some knowledge is noticed and constructed as proper, while other is left unnoticed and not regarded as knowledge at all? The relevance, legitimacy and recognition of knowledge can be seen as a key issue in relation to societal challenges such as inequality, social cohesion and populism. Studying young people’s everyday activities in a rural village, enrichens our understanding of the role of various forms of knowledge and knowledge orders in contemporary society.

Christel Avendal defended her doctoral thesis at Lund University in June 2021. The thesis can be read here (Swedish version including summary in English): https://portal.research.lu.se/portal/sv/publications/foerhoejd-vardaglighet(6d9dc9a0-71d2-4027-8e9c-58be677b4123).html

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