The other day, I had a rather heated dispute about the usefulness of "the everyday" as a focus of anthropological enquiry. It felt exactly like a conversation two weeks ago, and quite similar to another one the weeks before that. Anthropologists who don't consider the everyday a particularly useful category (like me) seem to become an exception in the discipline. And I honestly wonder why...

Of course, anthropologists' emphasis on long-term field exposure, on "going native and livin' their life" might have led to this fascination with "the everyday". Increasing attention to ordinary people and their histories, practices and voices rather than merely reinforcing perspectives of the powerful might be another reason (even though I wonder why whe should think that ordinary people somehow live more in "the everyday"). Yet these two factors have been there ever since Malinowski (and the Subaltern Studies Group, respectively). They can not explain why "the everyday" is on the rise now, as evinced in all frequency indicators which I found - be it according to crowd-sourced Mendeley tags or according to the more established Social Science Citation Index (whose results are reflected in the chart to the right, which shows the number anthropological articles with the topic "everyday" over time).

The rise of "the everyday" becomes even more mysterious to me if I take my own subfield as an example - the one concerned with questions of identity formation, (religious) belonging, group dynamics and individuation, heterogeneities and inequalities, and the like. Isn't it the exceptional events in our life-courses and social environments which help us to understand ourselves, to forge a sense of biography, and to position ourselves towards others? Isn't it the festivals and family reunions, the emotional highs and lows (rather than the in-betweens)? Isn't it our achievements and failures, our first day at school, first job, first love (rather than the second, third, or fiftieth)? Yet scholars increasingly seem to assume that identities are best researched in everyday situations...

Don't get me wrong: I perfectly agree that whatever gets formed at exceptional times has to be sustained, reconstructed, nurtured in everyday life. I would even concede that such everyday practices subtly transform what has been formed at exceptional times. Children are socialized through a gradual process of embodying routines; observing how Muslim mothers teach their children the daily prayer might thus give some insights in religious identity formation. And many religious people (me included) attribute great spiritual importance to recurring routines.

But I feel that "routines" and "the everyday" have lately been confused with each other. In fact, religious festivals, life-course events, and other such exceptional times have their routines as well - but it is precisely their exceptional character, the break from the everyday, which makes them powerful. Whatever might be (and needs to be) sustained in the everyday crystallizes in special times (and can thus best be researched at these times). Wouldn't these very same children, if asked about their religious biography and identity, narrate such powerful exceptions and defining moments rather than the subtle transformation occuring afterwards? Wouldn't they talk about the first time they were allowed on the streets during Muharram, the first time they managed to fast during Ramadan, or this one visit to their favourite shrine when a Pir helped them in times of sheer despair? Wouldn't these be the kind of stories they hold dear, even if they happen to drop by at the same shrine every other day, even if they sustain their spirituality through routinely fasting and celebrating every year ever since?

I am not, of course, ignorant to the possibility that I am wrong, that indeed "the everyday" forms our identities and exceptions remain exceptions. Yet the more disputes I have about this issue (and they seem to become part of my everyday life, pun intended), the more colleagues I encounter who find my emphasis on transformative events suspicious, the more "the everyday" really looks like another academic fad to me.