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172 of 178 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic and enlightening
Sometimes I am simply proud that I have read a book. This slim volume falls into that category. The fourteen short chapters explode with new ideas, fresh perspectives, and tantalizing viewpoints. To summarize these riches is unlikely to do them justice, yet I will try.
De Certeau inverts social values and cultural hierarchies. His hero metaphor is not the...
Published on January 12, 2003 by Peter A. Kindle

versus
141 of 155 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good ideas, but painful reading
DeCerteau's ideas in this book primarily deal with control and resistance: he finds that average people have developed various strategies that establishes their independence in a world that seeks to dominate them. He's especially interested in how people receive media: he thinks media producers (including writers) seek to impose meaning on media consumers, yet he rejects...
Published on May 11, 2001 by Jeremy P. Bushnell


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172 of 178 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic and enlightening, January 12, 2003
By 
Peter A. Kindle (Kansas City, Missouri) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Sometimes I am simply proud that I have read a book. This slim volume falls into that category. The fourteen short chapters explode with new ideas, fresh perspectives, and tantalizing viewpoints. To summarize these riches is unlikely to do them justice, yet I will try.
De Certeau inverts social values and cultural hierarchies. His hero metaphor is not the exemplar, but rather the ant. Wisdom resides not in the pronouncement of expert or philosopher, but in the routine discourse between ordinary people. To De Certeau the definitional constraints imposed by the experts result in artificial distinctions. Only the discourse of ordinary people is firmly rooted in experience and embraces the varieties and logical complexities of living.
Among these complexities of life is the amazing adaptive capacity of the ordinary. Even the most oppressive and controlling of cultures cannot eradicate the subversive agency of the peasant. This subversive agency is expressed through mythic stories, common proverbs, and verbal tricks. De Certeau refers to the adaptive capacity of the ordinary as tactics of living, and these tactics may be best exemplified when the worker does the personal while on the clock.
The distinction between strategy and tactics is central to De Certeau's thought. Strategy refers to the top-down exercise of power to coerce compliance. Tactics refer to the opportunistic manipulations offered by circumstance. The conflict between strategies and tactics is ironic - as strategic forces expand to increase dominance, there is a corresponding increase in opportunity for tactical subversion.
De Certeau relates his ideas to the theoretical work of Foucault and Bourdieu, and continues his inverted perspective by looking anew at the concept of city, commuter travel by rail, story telling, writing, reading, and believing.
This book is more of a riddle than a narrative; de Certeau provides glimpses of his meaning from time to time, but deliberately avoids propositional clarity. This style requires that the reader take an unusual stance toward this book. Instead of expecting the author to communicate, the reader must content himself with hints and suggestions of meaning. I am convinced that these hints and suggestions are more than worth the reader's investment of time. Find a quiet place and enjoy!
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141 of 155 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good ideas, but painful reading, May 11, 2001
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DeCerteau's ideas in this book primarily deal with control and resistance: he finds that average people have developed various strategies that establishes their independence in a world that seeks to dominate them. He's especially interested in how people receive media: he thinks media producers (including writers) seek to impose meaning on media consumers, yet he rejects the notion that consumers consume mindlessly. DeCerteau examines the creative strategies employed by consumers, and he in fact sees them as a form of unrecognized producers (which is part of why this book is of interest to people studying 'fan fiction' and similar phenomena).
Like much French theory, this book functions like a poem, making its argument by way of symbolic relationships and analogy rather than by calling upon the causal / statistical relationships that characterize much American argument. This may turn some people off, and even by French-theory standards this book is not user-friendly at all. DeCerteau often uses common, general words (say, "writing," or "time") to refer to very particular, highly-nuanced concepts. Simply relying upon the commonly-accepted meanings of those words will not do, and yet deCerteau rarely takes the time to explain the meanings that he has in mind. The result is that the book reads like an enormous cryptogram: you can only decipher what he means by particular words by noting and crossreferencing the varying contexts in those words are used throughout the book-- a tedious process which forced this reader to continually question whether the nuggets of gold were really worth all the panning through silt.
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67 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that changed the way I think, January 14, 2002
This is one of the great books of French post-structuralist thought. I realize that to some people that might be like saying "one of the nicest Nazis I know." But for those who don't immediately dismiss the entire genre, there is much to be gained from reading, and rereading, this book.
In essence, Certeau is challenging the rather despairing vision of Foucault's The Order of Things, with its image of the panopticon from which no one can escape. Certeau focuses on everyday practices to see how people do in fact escape the all-seeing gaze of the panopticon. In particular his distinction between "strategy" and "tactics" is useful and intriguing.
The language is highly poetic and at times difficult going, but *how* Certeau says what he says is in some ways as important as *what* he says. He wants to write in a way that at the same time uses and escapes the constraints of ordinary language. It takes some getting used to, but it is worth it.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparable style and scholarship, August 15, 2002
By 
Michel de Certeau's brilliant book is one of the primary nodes in the historical switchbox that eventually crossed the signals that led us through structuralism and practice theory to critical realism and Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. His classic exploration of everyday life will send flashes of light and pleasure through the mind on a constant basis - his dense, absolutely masterful, and witty expository quasi-poetry on economy, power, and practice is essentially an extended series of aphorisms, upon any one of which an entire essay could be based. And a good one, at that.
What we have here is a celebration of the everyday, the common, the mundane, and the wonderful capacity of life to resist systematization and classification via its organic flexibility and espirit de corps. It is a wonderful wake-up call: "A few individuals, after having long considered themselves experts speaking a scientific language, have finally awoken from their slumbers and suddenly realized that for the last few moments they have been walking on air, like Felix the Cat in the old cartoons, far from the scientific ground. Though legitimized by scientific knowledge, their discourse is seen to have been no more than the ordinary language of tactical games between economic powers and symbolic authorities."
Writing in the tradition of Lefevbre (more so than anyone else who comes to mind at the moment), his work touches upon contemporary Foucault and Bourdieu only briefly and then moves on to do much more. For example, in the way of analyses of strategic and tactical behavior, resistances, spatial practices, sublatern hermeneutics, and state/scientific ideologies of secrecy and knowledge. In de Certeau, we see not just a clearing of the intellectual path for towering figures such as Baudrillard, Bourdieu, Giddens, Lash, Appadurai, and Taussig (to name only a handful) - enabling them to come whistling along with their variously insightful ideas from A to Z - but we see it done with a panache and "Ich weiss es nicht" that is memorable in the persona it invokes.
And as long as you're sitting on the Paris-Munchen ICE, scratching your chin and contemplating the axiological implications of beer or coffee at 9am, I can't think of anything better to read than de Certeau's comments on the rite of passage of Railway Incarceration and Navigation (Chapter VIII), in which a whole series of transformations is extracted from the mundane in a suprahumane and very-French manner. Bon voyage!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an essential reading for contemporary urban studies, June 22, 2009
One of the most interesting writings on everyday life is Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life (1984, first published in Paris in 1980). Written in a somehow fragmented and often elliptical style, the book's central point revolves around everyday practices that he distinguishes between strategies and tactics that inform the author's arts de faire. De Certeau's hetereodox view sustains that daily life is defined by regularities, even though they may be recurrent. Far from being made of trivialities as in Erving Goffman's view, and distant from Hans-Georg Gadamer's interactive play, to say nothing of the set of normative social roles as in Talcott Parsons's view, De Certeau's everyday life is made of procedures. From his critical reading of authors such as M. Foucault, P. Bourdieu and M. Detienne, in his metaphorical language everyday life is similar to a battlefield in which procedures develop into practices, i.e. strategies and tactics. The description of the pair of concepts extends from guerrilla analogy allowing De Certeau to breaks with the understanding of daily life as routine and claims that it is rather continuous movement. In this movement, like in the battle ground, strategy refers to a "postulate of power", circumscribed to a variety of terms that De Certeau makes current use of: property, ownership, place, among others. Tactics on the contrary is seen "a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus" are ways of operating, taking "advantage of opportunities" of (daily) life (moving around, talking, reading, cooking, individual creative assemblages, etc). Determined by the "absence of power," (of proper locus) tactics is the "art of the weak" operating insidiously "blow by blow" as in the art of craft.
The daily practice emphasizes how labyrinthine procedures of action function in reference to the procedural logic and dynamic of power relations. The emphasis on daily life as a battlefield, breaks with the normative character of everyday social action and highlights the power relations that relate substantially to the social construction of public life. The concept of everyday practice in De Certeau therefore helps us to consider different ways of space formation and appropriation, as well as breaking social and physical boundaries that demarcate contemporary urban life. This leads De Certeau to another pair of articulated concepts: space and place. Space refers to the absence of previously defined positions and, therefore, it is an order that provides various possible moving experiences in everyday life. Place, on the contrary, calls for certain rather stable configurations. The everyday practices and tactics allows for an understanding of the ruptures in contemporary urban life: an insinuating poetic and war-like inversion of everyday life. This is a fundamental reason why The Practice of Everyday Life is an essential reading for contemporary urban studies.

Rogerio Proença Leite, PhD.
Professor and researcher
Federal University of Sergipe - UFS/Brazil

The Practice of Everyday Life
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Prolegomena To Future Research, October 12, 2009
By 
Nin Chan "Nin Chan" (Toronto, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
Michel de Certeau- The Practice Of Everyday Life

Foucault has repeatedly insisted that power is invariably accompanied by resistance, that resistance is as ubiquitous as power. Hence his emphasis on the intrinsic reversibility of power, a reversibility which, at its limit, encounters totalitarian domination- the attempt to hypostatize power relations, to render them irreversible. Yet, it is characteristic of Foucault's intellectual honesty that he has never attempted to imbue this resistance with a positive descriptive content, nor has he been tempted to prescribe a definitive program of resistance. This has, understandably, exasperated many who read Foucault's reticence as being symptomatic of a widespread nihilism. This is undoubtedly exacerbated by Foucault's late focus on the `hermeneutics of the subject' and techniques of the self, which could easily be construed as a disastrous amalgam of Baudelairean aestheticism and neo-Stoic asceticism. Of course, what these critics overlook is that this ethical turn is offset by a series of lectures that provide political science with a critical re-orientation. I am speaking of `The Birth of Biopolitics', `Security, Territory, Population', `Society Must Be Defended', which find Foucault grappling with micrological technologies of governmentality and biopower.

Antonio Negri, in his re-appraisal of Deleuze and Foucault, has emphasized that their work, in refraining from crafting haughty manifestos, articulates the conditions by which democracy can be constituted through an ongoing, constructive process of articulation. What this effectively terminates is a whole legacy of political thought, from Machiavelli to Lenin, a lineage that circumambulates around the sublime object of the state. When Foucault exhorts us to `chop off the king's head', he is in a sense reiterating a Lacanian maxim: let us traverse our fantasy, let us exorcise the deadly fascination with the state. Once we insulate our ears from the sad elegies to the nation state, once we part ways with the `sad militants' (Foucault's intro to Anti-Oedipus) and their masochistic rhapsodies to castration, critique and action become possible once more. This is what Negri refers to when he speaks of the immanent, constituent power of the multitude, a creative forging of singularities that no longer have any reference to the state. A new agenda is drafted, one which introduces a new dimension to political praxis: the micropolitical. Before we can speak of grand politics, we must take stock of the molecular, capillary forms of power that circulate through our very bodies, the traces of power that saturate thought. Rimbaud's exhortation, changer la vie, resonates once more- if, in a postmodern `network' world, every relation is political, politics is nothing less than the creation of new forms of commonality.

Michel de Certeau's wonderful book might seem slightly dated. Its problematic is, on a cosmetic level, situated in the same heritage as Debord, Venaigem, the Frankfurt School and Agnes Heller. Compounding matters is the fact that this book was published in the `80s, one and a half decades after cultural Marxism's preoccupation with the `everyday'. What separates it from this strain of Marxist thought is its eschewal of any macrological empancipatory politics in favor of molecular interventions, small, imperceptible forms of resistance that elude mechanisms of control. The fragmentary and elliptical form of its presentation can be vexing- the book should be approached as a `toolbox', an intellectual notebook rather than a cohesive argument. De Certeau says as much when he proposes that it be read as a series of sketches, the elaboration of which is delegated to future researchers. These two provisos aside, I find this to be a marvelous read, an attempt to enact a `reverse-Foucauldianism', mapping the ways in which `regular' men and women circumvent the machinations of a technocratic world, re-appropriating the city for their own use, investing space with desire and pleasure.

First, a few words on the rhetorical acrobatics performed throughout the text. This is a very French piece of writing, its lyrical garrulity and lexical excess bordering on the obscene. On the level of form, this book is very much worth reading, being closer to the likes of Lautreamont, Perec and JMG Le Clezio than any French theorist I can name (perhaps Foucault's early essays, his book on Roussel and The Order Of Things approach the giddying delirium of de Certeau's passages on walking and the train). I can't help but feel that certain of the more poetic sections of this text don't translate very well into English- the syntactic structure of modern French literature just seems florid and awkward when transferred to English. Still, this text is endlessly surprising, studded with beguiling images and elegant declaratives.

Besides this, I think de Certeau does a good deal more in advancing the study of the quotidian than the likes of Baudrillard, Debord and the Frankfurt School, whose phenomenologies lean a bit too much on vulgar/neo-Romantic Marxist conceptions of `false consciousness' and `reification'. In a courageous move, de Certeau deconstructs the imposture of the intellectual as Master (a strategy that we rehearsed continuously in the work of Jacques Ranciere), reinvigorating the figure of the Everyman and rescuing him from the asphyxiating talons of capitalist domination. In contradistinction to the dour narratives that would submerge the person beneath some totalizing principle (the spectacle, simulation, alienation), reducing the individual to a mere cipher for anonymous relations of power, de Certeau attempts to enact a reversal of intellectual imperialism. In this way, he formulates a science that is strictly materialist, empiricist and pluralist, a science that attends closely to the concrete and permits itself to be twisted by what emerges from it. Guided by an unflinching respect for working men and women, it attempts to map `lines of flight', trajectories that irradiate from the most unexpected sources.

Of course, this is not all that he does. de Certeau as not so sanguine as to evacuate critique from his approach altogether, and there are a number of excellent chapters that deal with power and its multiple semiotic regimes. The closing chapter on death and the chapter on language and its relation to the body-which can be read as a dialogue with Lacan's supposition that `the letter kills'- are exemplary in this respect. The richness and breadth of this book are extraordinary. You should read it.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading, January 17, 2012
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This review is from: The Practice of Everyday Life (Paperback)
I purchased the book as required reading for a doctoral level research methods course. It is a translation of work by DeCerteau that is highly conceptual in nature. The focus is upon observing, experiencing and seeking to represent the life-world from a reference point and through a lens that acknowledges that we continually and simultaneously interact, collide, incorporate and are immersed in our experiences of the world and social phenomena. Deconstructing everyday practices, the work seeks to refocus thinking and assert new angles of vision that "make the familiar strange." I especially enjoyed the chapter about navigation and travel described as a train journey in which the typical circumstance of our movement about in a seeming stationary world is reversed to our immobility as the world passes by, until we arrive and the perception is again reversed.

The book is a dense read, which may be due to the theoretical content and to some extent to the translation. In some instances, I found the inclusion of the French phrase by the original author helpful in opening meaning and facilitating understanding when I could not quite grasp the idea from the translation. The work is interesting, but is by no means to be taken up as recreational or light reading. Rather, I found it necessary to bite off in pieces leaving time to digest before moving on to further consumption of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and Heady, November 21, 2013
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For a French theorist, de Certeau is reasonably readable. I have only read this in translation, so I will add that caveat. The ideas here are accessible on their own, but the text also features interesting commentary on other philosophers and ideas in a rich discussion. I am particularly a fan of some of his discussions of speech acts, urban spaces, and the grammar of walking. His discussion of strategy and tactics is also an interesting reorientation of ideas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and unusual, August 1, 2013
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This review is from: The Practice of Everyday Life (Paperback)
Optimistic view of human life, beautifully written. Essential reading for me. I come back to this book year after year.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative poetics of practice, February 26, 2013
Beautifully expressed, rigorously researched, awesomely original. Real food for reflection. Very useful text for planning research regarding practice. Recommend reading this alongside others writing about the everyday, eg Garfinkel and Fiske.
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The Practice of Everyday Life
The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau (Paperback - December 1, 2011)
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