Certeau On the Oppositional Practices of Everyday Life 1980

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This essay is dedicated to the ordinary man. The common hero. Disseminated charac- ter. Untold wanderer. In invoking, at the outset of my narratives, this absent being who gives them their beginning and necessity, I question myself as to the desire of which he figures the impossible object. When we dedicate to him documents which formerly were offered in homage to divinities or to inspirational muses, what do we ask of this oracle merged with the rumor of history that will authorize us to speak or make believable what we say
  On the Oppositional Practices of Everyday LifeAuthor(s): Michel De Certeau, Fredric Jameson and Carl LovittReviewed work(s):Source: Social Text, No. 3 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 3-43Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/466341 . Accessed: 28/02/2013 11:44 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.  .  Duke University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Social Text. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded on Thu, 28 Feb 2013 11:44:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  On The Oppositional ractices f Everyday ife MICHEL DE CERTEAU I. READING THE ANONYMOUS This essay s dedicated o the rdinary an. The common ero. Disseminated harac- ter. Untold wanderer. n invoking, t the utset f my narratives, his bsent eing who gives hem heir eginning nd necessity, question myself s to the desire f which e figures he mpossible bject. When we dedicate o him ocuments hich ormerly ere offered n homage o divinities r to nspirational uses, what o we ask of this racle merged with he rumor f history hat will uthorize s to speak r make elievable hat we say? This nonymous ero omes rom ay ack. He is the murmur f ocieties. lways e precedes exts. He doesn't ven wait for hem. He pays no attention o them. ut in written epresentations e gets along. Little by little e occupies he center f our scientific cenarios. he cameras ave deserted he ctors who dominated roper ames and social mblems n order o turn hemselves oward he horus f xtras massed n the sidelines, hen inally o fix hemselves n the crowd f the public. he sociologization and anthropologization f research rivilege he anonymous nd the everyday here close-ups solate metonymic etails-parts aken or he whole. lowly he representa- tives who previously ymbolized amilies, roups, nd orders re effaced rom he cene where they reigned uring he time of the name. Number as arrived, he time of democracy, f the big ity, f bureaucracies, f ybernetics. t s a supple nd continuous crowd, woven ightly ike fabric ithout ear r seam, multitude f quantified eroes who ose their ames nd faces while ecoming he mobile anguage f calculations nd rationalities hich elong o no one. Ciphered urrents n the treet. Popular ultures, roverbs, ales, olk wisdom, ave ong eemed o be the place n which uch hero might e sought nd reidentified. et t s not possible o confine he operative models of a popular ulture o the past, the countryside, r to primitive peoples. They xist n the trongholds f the ontemporary conomy. his s the ase with ripping-off la perruque: wigging ]. his phenomenon preads verywhere, ven f management enalizes t or looks the other way n order o know nothing f it.' Accused f tealing, r retrieving aterial or heir wn profit, f using he machines or their wn nds, workers ho rip ff ubtract ime rom he actory rather han oods, for nly craps re used) with view o work hat s free, reative, nd precisely ithout The present ext s an excerpt rom Michel de Certeau's forthcoming ook, Pratiques uotidiennes. our une semiotique de la culture rdinaire. he first ection was abridged rom is article, Une culture res rdinaire, in Esprit 10 (October 1978), pp. 3-26. The author s a member f the Ecole freudienne nd teaches in the Department f Literature t the University f California-San iego. He has written a prise de la parole 1968), L'Absent de I'histoire 1973), La Culture u pluriel 1974), and L'Ecriture de I'histoire 2nd ed., 1978). 'See Miklos Haraszti, Salaire aux pieces Paris, 1976), pp. 136-145. 3 This content downloaded on Thu, 28 Feb 2013 11:44:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  4 de Certeau profit. n the very places where reigns he machine hey must erve, hey nveigle or he pleasure of inventing ratuitous roducts ntended olely o signify heir wn know-how by their work nd to respond o the fellowship f workers with gift. With he complicity of other workers who thus put a check n the competition omented etween hem y the factory), ne effects ome blows within he domain of the established rder. Far from being a regression toward handicraft r individual units of production, ipping-off reintroduces nto he ndustrial pace (that s to say, nto he present rder) he popular tactics of other times or places. Any number f examples ould testify o the widespread xistence f such practices n the most normative nstitutions f modern times. With the appropriate modifications, equivalents of ripping-off lourish within bureaucratic r commercial dministrations just as much as in factories. hey are doubtless oday s extensive s ever and as little studied in their own right), fully s much the object of deep suspicion, ensure, nd omission. Nor is it only on shop floors and offices that this happens, but also in museums and specialized journals, where such practices are debased and often consigned to oblivion. Thus the nstitutions f ethnological r folklore esearch end to retain from uch practices nd activities he merest physical r linguistic bjects, which are then abelled according o their hematics nd their places of srcin, placed under glass, offered up for exegesis, and asked to disguise, beneath the peasant values proposed for he edification r the curiosity f citydwellers, he egitimation f an order which ts custodians onsider o be immemorial nd natural. n other ases, from he languages of such social operations, they extract ools and products o be ranged n exhibits of technical gadgets, spread out inertly long the borders of an untroubled system. Yet it is very precisely he effective rder of things which s subverted y ust such popular tactics for heir wn ends, without ny llusions s to their ltimate ractical effects. Where dominating owers xploit he order f things, here deological iscourse represses or ignores it, tactics fool this order and make it the field of their art. Thereby the institution ne is called to serve finds tself nfiltrated y a style f social exchange, a style of technical nvention, nd a style f moral resistance-that s, by an economy f the gift generosities hich re also ways f asking or omething n return), by an aesthetic f moves, trumphs, r strikes coups] operations which re forms of artistic xpression), nd by an ethic f tenacity so many housands f ways o deny he established rder ny egitimacy, hether f aw, meaning, r even fatality). his s what popular culture really s, and not some alien corpus, anatomized for he purposes of exhibit, prepared and quoted by a system which reduplicates pon these objects the same situation t has prepared for ts iving ubjects. The increasing ompartmentalization f time and space, the disjunctive ogic of the specializations of labor, finds no adequate counterbalance n the conjunctive ituals f mass communications. et the empirical act of this rganization annot be transformed into the law of living human subjects, individual or collective. It can indeed be outsmarted by services which, mulating he gifts f our masters, ffer n exchange products drawn from he storehouse f the very nstitutions hich solate and program those who work n them. This practice of economic embezzlement n reality marks he return f a sociopolitical thic within he economic ystem. t is thereby o doubt related to Mauss' notion of the potlatch, hat game of voluntary restation which obliges to This content downloaded on Thu, 28 Feb 2013 11:44:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Everyday ractices 5 reciprocity nd organizes whole ocial ircuit round he obligation o give n return. This kind f emulation s of course o onger he conomic aw of our own ocieties: he basic unit f iberalism s the bstract ndividual, nd exchanges etween uch nits re organized round money s a universal quivalent. oday, ndeed, his fundamental postulate f ndividualism eturns s a question which nsettles he iberal ystem s a whole: thus n a priori f western istory s transformed nto ts point f mplosion. Meanwhile, otlatch eems o persist ithin estern conomy s something ike he race of different ode f production: t urvives n nto ur wn ystem, ut n the margins, or in the interstices. t even knows evelopment, owever llegitimate, n advanced liberalism tself. he politics f he gift hereby lso becomes tactic f ubversion. y the ame oken, what n the conomy f he ift as willed oss nd n ntentional aste is within he profit conomy ransformed nto transgression, tanding s the figure or excess spoilage), or ontestation the repudiation f profit), r for rime violation f private roperty). II. ON TACTICS An initial pproach o the understanding f he ppositional ractices f veryday ife may be made through he distinction etween trategy nd tactics. call strategy he calculus or the manipulation) f relations f force which ecomes ossible whenever subject f will nd power a business nterprise, n army, city, scientific nstitution) can be isolated. trategy ostulates place usceptible f being ircumscribed s a propre and of being he base from where elations an be adminstered ith n exteriority f targets r threats clients r competitors, nemies, he ountryside urrounding city, he objectives nd objects f research, tc.). As in management, ll strategic ationaliza- tion begins y distinguishing ts appropriate lace from n environment, hat s, the place of ts own power nd will. A Cartesian esture, f you will: o circumscribe ne's own n a world ewitched y the nvisible owers f the Other. A gesture f scientific, political, r military odernity. The establishment f a caesura between n appropriated lace and its other s accompanied y considerable ffects, ome of which must e noted mmediately: (1) The proper lace s a victory f place over ime. t permits ne to capitalize n acquired dvantages, o prepare or uture xpansions nd to give tself hus n ndepen- dence in relation o the variability f circumstances. t is a mastery f time by the founding f an autonomous lace. (2) It is also a mastery f places by vision. he partition f pace permits panoptic practice n which he ook transforms trange orces nto bjects which ne can observe and measure, herefore ontrolling nd including hem n one's vision.2 o see from distance) will be equally o foresee, o anticipate ime y the reading f a space. (3) It would e legitimate o define he ower f knowing y his apacity o transform the uncertainties f history nto eadable paces. But t s more xact to recognize n these strategies specific ype f knowing, ne which pholds nd determines he power f giving tself proper lace. Moreover military r scientific trategies ave always een 2 Strategy xists nly when t ncludes he trategy f the ther. ohn on Neumann nd Oskar Morgen- stern, heory f Games nd Economic ehavior New York, 964). This content downloaded on Thu, 28 Feb 2013 11:44:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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