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Everyday Practices Book Review

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven F. Randall Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

In this insightful and thought provoking book, de Certeau endeavours to establish his theory of productivity and consumption being innate in everyday life. To add, de Certeau explores Foucault’s concept of social practices in Disciplines and Punishment, Bordieu’s habitus, and others, as his introductions to the procedures of everyday creativity, or practices. Furthermore, he explains the system of “the relations between consumers and the mechanism of production” while distinguishing two uses of practices: strategy and tactics. By opening the discussion with the “everyman” or the “nobody” he is talking about the philosophy of anonymity. There seems to be some mixed emotions towards this everyman, both praising yet somewhat negative. For how he is shown with “already democratic in inspiration” but has also “embarked in the crowded human ship of fools.” (pg. 1) The character noble in his struggle of existence against hostile systems, but is ironic in simplicity. Saying that, trivialities stand between the everyman’s paths.

De Certeau claims that there is a must in using common language as a means to understand common, anonymous, people, when his language is anything but. Anonymity, the mass, hides within general society’s perception and are unknown to all, even to themselves. Saying that common is so unanimous that it is hard to differentiate. This may be an unreasonable interpretation but it’s hard to see it within his language; it may be due to the translation or the fact that he comes from a line of blunt French humanists, nonetheless it is strange given his aim to use popular language and uncover popular resistance. Then turning to say experts, at least in De Certeau’s generalisation, are anybody, nobody, just like the ordinary man. It may indicate them as oppressive forces seeing that experts use specialised language and knowledge to justify a position of authority. It is also a case of mistaken identity as they who “confuses social place with technical discourse” Experts are philosophers and scientists who try to explain common experience with specialised knowledge, which is not suited for the task. Authority is granted to experts as they use the specialised knowledge. Contrary to the fact that there is a disagreement between the facts stated by De Certeau and other experts. A paradox of given arguments regarding to their evidence and themselves; they kind of cancel each other out.

Whilst, Wittgenstein gives language a treatment from a perspective that’s not conciliated by historicity, there’s a constraint to language, relating to “we are subject to, but not identified with, ordinary language... without the possibility of aerial view or any sort of totalisation.” (pg. 11). In that regard, people are bound to their understanding of the world via language. The ability to objectively discuss language while operating within a language is of some concern too, since this has been an element of anthropological linguistics for some time. To clarify, it “is the understanding of the crucial role played by language, and other semiotic resources, in the constitution of society and its cultural representations.” (Duranti, pg. 6)

A hypothesis of the ordinary is suggested, “The critical return of the ordinary, as Wittgenstein understands it, must destroy all the varieties of rhetorical brilliance associated with powers that heirarchize and with nonsense that enjoys authority” thus, to understand ordinary language, people must approach it from within, using ordinary language? This makes people foreigners within their own span of ordinary life. Seemingly the objective of this is to make a critical science of the ordinary. That is meant to extract and understand the ordinary in some cohesive terms. (p. 13)

With the procedures that people apply daily on the micro level in order to subvert, momentarily, the disciplining powers, he finds the answer to this in "the tactic", an action which he defines as insinuating itself within the space of the other, working its way into the territory of that which it seeks to undermine, like a little virus infecting a vast computer program. This tactic indicates itself not to destroy or take over the entirety of that which it is entering. It claims no space for itself, relying rather on time -- "it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing'" (pg. xix). In addition, the gains from its minute coups are always discarded, "whatever it wins, it does not keep" (pg. xix). The time essence can be corresponded with how certain aspects of history, design history, works in a similar way to tactics, which is talking about defuturing. Defuturing works along the lines of an unseen force but has always existed.

Thus, to illustrate this meaning of "the tactic", de Certeau presents the term "la perruque". "La perruque" is the worker's own work being performed at the place of employment under the disguise of work for the boss. Nothing of value is stolen; what is taken advantage of is time. De Certeau further defines "la perruque" (pg. 28) by saying, "It differs from absenteeism in that the worker is officially on the job. La perruque may be as simple a matter as a secretary's writing a love letter on 'company time' or as complex as a cabinetmaker's 'borrowing' a lathe to make a piece of furniture for his living room." In this tactic, the worker diverts time away from producing profit for his or her employer and instead uses it for his or her own enjoyment, for activities that are "free, creative, and precisely not directed toward profit" (pg. 25). Everyday life, for de Certeau, is made up of such tactics as "la perruque". Everyday life is made up of "clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, 'hunter's cunning' ..." (De Certeau, xix).

The link between Foucault and Fiske then becomes evident by de Certeau’s representation. Whereas Foucault's history of the eighteenth century reveals how poaching becomes problematic at the time when anxieties develop regarding capital and material objects, de Certeau shows the ways in which poaching shifts from a tactic of stealing goods to a tactic of time, of fleeting encounters with dominant formations in which nothing of material value is gained. By calling these manoeuvres "clever tricks of the 'weak'", de Certeau creates the possibilities for Fiske's discussions on poaching in Understanding Popular Culture (pg. 38). "The landlord provides the building within which we dwell, the department store our means of furnishing it, and the culture industry the texts we 'consume' as we relax within it," states Fiske, but in inhabiting the landlord's space, "the practices of dwelling are ours, not his" (Fiske, pg. 33).

Onwards, De Certeau adds to his theory with Walking in the City. We look at a map of a city and assume top view. This viewpoint from above is a fiction, originally from Renaissance painters who "represented the city as seen in a perspective that no eye had yet enjoyed" (pg. 92). The construction which has emerged from that period and carried through Modernity has been that of a celestial eye, a god-like eye. This view does not correspond to the actual lived experience of the city. For the author, the ordinary citizens of a city live "below the thresholds at which visibility begins". Walking is the procedure which produces true maps of London “... walking is ‘an elementary form of this experience of the city’ and integral to this experience are walkers, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban 'text' they write without being able to read it" ( pg. 93). Walking in the city also deals with how the pedestrians shape the city not the city shaping them, well, it does though that is interchangeable or perhaps the same. ( Their identity is anonymous.

Taking the case further for walking in the city, Marc Auge interprets "place" as merely a collection of inanimate elements "coexisting in a certain order" ."Space" is brought into existence by a human body moving across and through this "place". Pedestrians transform a street into a space (Auge, pg. 80).” “The preconditions of social space have their own particular way of enduring and remaining actual within that space. Thus primary nature may persist, albeit in a completely acquired and false way, within 'second nature'.”(Lefebvre, pg. 229) Alas, collaborates with the argument that space and the form, in this case the walkers, interrelate with each other to give meaning yet because of preconceptions of them they then have the additional labels from previously.

Conclusively, the author has used numerous, strong evidences to support his theory. It is valuable in regards to coming to understand the social analysis over the past three centuries which served as historical points, although only in the area of which De Certeau’s has described. He couldn’t have talked about three whole centuries worth of anthropology with so many different aspects. In addition, if the text holder engages enough with the book then they may find amusement in the way De Certeau discreetly pokes fun at the experts he decided to source. Despite that, because of the method in asserting his voice is somewhat tedious to decipher, it means that the audience he was writing for had a difficult time understanding. That poses a question that may be asked by “common” people whom may be subjected into reading this book, “will there be a translation of the translation or be made less demanding of the reader’s knowledge of applicable vocabulary?”

Auge, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe. London: Verso, 1995
De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven F. Randall Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Duranti, Alessandro. ed. Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader. Wiley, 2001
Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. New York and London: Routledge, 1989.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Ed. Anthropos English, 1991.

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