Monday, 13 October 2008

Why I like Michel de Certeau

I couldn't find my notes in the loft. I did, however, find a battered paperback (in French!) of L'invention du quotidien:

De Certeau

I will post some definitions of strategies and tactics in a few days time but for now here are some thoughts on why I like Michel de Certeau and why he might be useful to this course.

Ok, I like de Certeau because he acknowledges the intelligence, imagination, resourcefulness and creativity of ordinary people. I think this is relevant to New Literacy Studies as it looks to be about acknowledging (valuing?) multiple ways of making and reading texts.

De Certeau maintains that the majority of ordinary people are denied access to the means of cultural production and have little choice but to consume the products of the dominant cultural economy of large corporations and multinationals. However, despite their apparent powerlessness, and in the face of a seemingly all-pervasive institutional control, ordinary people assert their own creativity in multifarious but hidden ways:

To a rationalized, expansionist and at the same time centralized, clamorous, and spectacular production corresponds another production, called "consumption." The latter is devious, it is dispersed, but it insinuates itself everywhere, silently and almost invisible, because it does not manifest itself through its own products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order.
(de Certeau 1984, xii-xiii)

In another work called La Culture au pluriel (I'm not sure it's available in English translation), de Certeau writes of feeling awe-struck at the scale of this unacknowleded creativity:

I have to admit that there is no text, nor any institution that can ever take the place of, or compete with, the distant murmur that can be heard coming from machines, tools, kitchens - the thousands of noises of creative activity. Innumerable lexicons, strange vocabularies. They grow silent as soon as the museum or writing seizes fragments from them in order to make them speak their own interests. (quoted in Rigby 1991, 18)
I think one interesting development of the so-called digital age that I'd like to follow up is that this 'other' production is becoming more visible and less silent.

Video and image sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are providing new spaces for the articulation of "consumption".


De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rigby, B. (1991) Popular Culture in Modern France: A Study of Cultural Discourse. London: Routledge.

1 comment:

Tony McNeill said...

Culture in the Plural
By Michel de Certeau, Luce Giard
Contributor Luce Giard
Published by U of Minnesota Press, 1997
ISBN 0816627673, 9780816627677
180 pages