Everyday routines

Carmen Leccardi
Department of Sociology and Social Research
University of Milan-Bicocca

Sunday 6 May
Since years, by now, my working week begins on Sunday. I am so used to consider Sunday as the key day for the week agenda that, as far as I’m concerned, it is “occupied” when it is invaded – often not by choice, but because social relations impose it – by this or that so-called leisure activity. An overturning of the dominant social rhythms, and the rites accompanying them. An indispensable overturning if I want to at least try to square the circle: or in other words, try to reconcile an increasing number of professional commitments with a quantity of available time that remains unvaried (or that decreases: as the years go by, I have noticed that some existential rhythms become slower, requiring more time). To seek to “gain” a little time which is missing during the week, the Sunday offers an indispensable support. A fundamental activity, as everyone who faces the same type of situation knows, in fact consists of the ability to mentally anticipate the scenario of future commitments (transforming them, as Schutz would say, in a project they are working toward in the world). This is my state of mind on a Sunday in early May in my small out-of-town refuge, on the Lago Maggiore. You will learn more about the activities I am about to embark on by continuing to read this brief account.

Monday 7 May
The first appointment on Monday is the lectures on the History of sociological thought (obligatory course in the first year), after which I participate in the usual organisational meetings linked to various commitments of an institutional character. So-called “ordinary administration”. But this week I also have a new meeting; I have to speak with the representatives of the “Piccolo Teatro”, the theatre founded by Giorgio Strehler, an important cultural institution of the city. The Piccolo, as it is usually called by the Milanese, has launched a cultural project called the “Eurolab”, built on the basis of the digital filing of all the documents associated with the cultural activity of the theatre (today about 30,000) – music, photographs, videos, newspaper articles, and so on. This multimedia archive is made available to the city and to other cultural institutions in particular, first and foremost to the university. As coordinator of the “culture and communication” orientation of the Faculty of Sociology I meet the persons in charge of the project. We leave after a pleasant conversation of more than two hours, in the second half of the afternoon. The idea is to establish a communication link between the knowledge stored in the computerised memory of the theatre and the needs associated with the new professional skills of students who have opted, when defining their educational curriculum, for this orientation. For this purpose a document will be prepared, formalising the collaboration between the Piccolo and the Faculty of Sociology – among other things offering the students the possibility to do educational internships at the theatre. E-mailing by night: one would like to do anything rather than sit down in front of the computer after dinner. But I haven’t found the time during the day.

Tuesday 8 May
In the morning, at the rectorate, there is a national meeting for the discussion of the new European doctorates, which are being launched in these years. Also my Faculty has created one (it involves, in addition to Milan-Bicocca, the London School of Economics, Sciences Po in Paris and the von Humboldt in Berlin). This is a matter of a very interesting perspective, a challenge of the traditional way to conceive doctoral education. The International Commission of the athenaeum, which I sit on, is staking a lot on this new frontier in education, and this meeting is a concrete demonstration of it. The lecture I hold in the afternoon is particularly inspiring – both for me and for the students. We discuss the early Frankfurt School, in particular Adorno and Horkheimer and their “Dialectic of Enlightenment”. We debate on the criticism of modern society proposed by these authors, on the predominance of instrumental rationality, on alienation. We seek to understand if, and from what point of view, these concepts are applicable to the everyday life of youths in the very beginning of the Twenty-first century. A small group of students stay behind to discuss after the scheduled lecture is finished. They are all boys. Yet, among the numerous participants, the number of girls and boys is equivalent. The girls – we are in the first year of the course – generally appear more attentive and participating. They listen and follow the discussions more carefully than the boys. But they participate less, they are more “shy”, perhaps less sure of themselves. The evening: two hours of the usual e-mail, the new everyday slavery. The ambivalence of technology: it opens unimaginable horizons, and thus the doors to new experiences, while it invalidates other, equally essential ones (consider slowness as possibility and at the same time parameter of the very idea of experience).

Wednesday 9 May
Today I must hold a three-hour lecture to students attending the doctorate in Methodology and applied research. My lecture opens the so-called “qualitative module” – which will centre on the research perspectives in the field of qualitative research (in particular of hermeneutic, ethnographic, historical-comparative, ethnomethodological approaches). It introduces the theme of hermeneutics in the social sciences. As far as our period is concerned, I refer first and foremost to the theoretic-empirical elaborations developed in Germany by Ulrich Overmann and Rainer Zoll. Among other things I tell about a research experience I personally carried out in the second half of the Eighties – the Italian results of which, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, were never published – which analysed, using Zoll’s “collective hermeneutics” instruments, the cultural models of youth labour. The research (which involved Germany and Belgium apart from Italy) has been carried out among the youths of Northern, Central and Southern Italy. The students appear very interested. A student asks me an appointment in order to study the theme in depth: he is writing his doctorate dissertation precisely on youth labour models. During the break I have a sandwich with a colleague/friend. It is relaxing and pleasant. Even if the bar on the first floor is always crowded by students throughout the day – and especially during the lunch break – we manage to find a corner to spend some time together. In spite of everything, we are lucky persons. In the free moments of the day, between one commitment and another, I manage to answer – not all at once, but now and then – the usual industrial quantity of e-mail messages. I’m saved the nightly effort for today.

Thursday 10 May
Thursday has for several years been first and foremost the day I receive students. It’s a day which marks a before and an after during the week. In fact, with this day the second part of the weekly cycle begins, the one during which it is more possible to dedicate attention – at least as long as other commitments do not get in the way – to research and writing activities. On Thursday I experiment, with particular intensity, the mixture of cyclic and linear time which substantiates everyday life (a theme dear to Lefebvre) but which is particularly evident when one reflects on the week as a structure of the social time. In my case: there is a repetition – on Thursday morning I don’t have to lecture – but, within this repetition, there is also the potential “novelty” which every Thursday morning may bring. Today I have to prepare a speech for a research seminary to be held the day after tomorrow, Saturday. The research, which I have been following for two years on behalf of the Institute of History of the Liberation Movement in Italy, concerns the relationship between youths, memory and the teaching of history. It has both a qualitative and quantitative character. Backed by the Ministry of Education, the investigation casts light on an aspect one usually tends to pass over too lightly: the influence wielded by adults (in this case teachers) in orienting the organisation – or lack of it – of historical memory of youths. Afternoon. At 3 PM I begin receiving students as usual, this officially ends at 5 PM, but often continues beyond. Among others I speak to two students, a young woman and a young man, both of whom hold jobs, and who are completing their university studies. Both are graduating in Political Sciences, the Faculty where I taught until three years ago. As they work, the writing of their dissertation has proceeded slowly. Even if I belong to another athenaeum today – the Faculty of Political Sciences is headed by the University of Milan and not the Milan-Bicocca – I continue to follow their dissertations. The young man, who is a bank employee, works on a dissertation on youthful associationism on a Sicilian island, Lipari, which he comes from. The young woman, a manager with an information technology company, is working on a dissertation on the hip-hop culture in Italy. She has collected very interesting interviews among Milanese b-boys. She is enthusiastic about rap culture and music. She asks me if I believe she will be able to demonstrate glimpses of the hip hop life style in Milan through slides prepared by her, and play the music made by young Milanese rappers, when presenting her dissertation before the commission. I am thoughtful about the second point: I think about the solemnity of the ceremony… I immediately see before me the black togas with red decorations we will have to wear and the atmosphere of these ritual ceremonies; I imagine the rap notes embracing the togas. Sincerely, on these occasions I have often seen people use projected sheets, and more rarely slides. So far I have never happened to hear music. But this is a special dissertation, of ethnographic research. I promise that I will find out.

Friday 11 May
In spite of myself I have to spend the whole morning in front of the computer. On the one side I have to prepare a summary of the lectures I have held this week, to publish them in the web for the students following the course on the History of sociological thought; on the other I have to work (and e-mails, as one may imagine, play an indispensable role) on the organisation of the international conference “Family forms and the young generation in Europe”, which is by now imminent. It will be held in Milan, at the Bicocca University, from 20 to 22 September. The convention is announced by the European Observatory on Family Matters, by our Research Committee 34, by the Research Committee “Everyday Life” (!) of the Italian Sociological Association of which I am coordinator, by the Department of Sociology and Social Research and the Faculty of Sociology of Milan-Bicocca. It is a demanding convention and the organisational problems are numerous. I spend the afternoon discussing a series of issues with the two persons who are, along with me, most directly involved in the work. I return at home after 8 PM – the university closes its doors at a quarter to eight. I could not have stayed any later.

Saturday 12 May
The week is not over. I still have to participate in the seminary on youth and history. Even if the debate will continue in the afternoon, I only stay until the late morning. I go for a walk in central Milan. Tomorrow will be an important day, as people will vote a new parliament, apart from the mayor and the administration of Milan. The electoral campaign, as one usually says in these cases, has been “heated”. These elections appear particularly important for Italy. The day is splendid, the sun warm – in the last days it has rained a lot. The centre is crowded and cheerful like every Saturday. I return home, by now it is late afternoon. I fall asleep for a moment on the sofa listening to the notes of my favourite piece of Vivaldi – the solo motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera. In any case, tomorrow it’s Sunday once again.