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Michel de Certeau (Chambéry, 1925- Paris, 9 January 1986) was a French Jesuit and scholar whose work combined history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences.

Michel de Certeau was born in 1925 in Chambéry, Savoie. Certeau's education was eclectic. After obtaining degrees in classics and philosophy at the universities of Grenoble, Lyon, and Paris, he undertook religious training at a seminary in Lyon, where he entered the Jesuit order (Society of Jesus) in 1950 and was ordained in 1956. Certeau entered the Society of Jesus hoping to do missionary work in China. In the year of his ordination, Certeau became one of the founders of the journal Christus, with which he would actively be involved for much of his life. In 1960 he earned his doctorate in theology from the Sorbonne after completing a thesis on the mystical writings of Jean-Joseph Surin. Certeau was greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud and was, along with Jacques Lacan, one of the founding members of École Freudienne de Paris, an informal group which served as a focal point for French scholars interested in psychoanalysis. He came to public attention after publishing an article dealing with the events in France of May 1968. He also took part in Robert Jaulin's department of ethnology at the University of Paris-VII after May 68.

Certeau went on to teach at several universities in locations as diverse as Geneva, San Diego, and Paris. Through the 1970s and 1980s he produced a string of works that demonstrated his interest in mysticism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis.

To date, Certeau's most well-known and influential work in the United States has been The Practice of Everyday Life. In it, he combined his disparate scholarly interests to develop a theory of the productive and consumptive activity inherent in everyday life. According to Certeau, everyday life is distinctive from other practices of daily existence because it is repetitive and unconscious. In this context, Certeau’s study of everyday life is neither the study of “popular culture,” nor is it necessarily the study of everyday resistances to regimes of power. Instead, Certeau attempts to outline the way individuals unconsciously navigate everything from city streets to literary texts.

Perhaps the most influential aspect of The Practice of Everyday Life has emerged from scholarly interest in Certeau’s distinction between the concepts of strategy and tactics. Certeau links "strategies" with institutions and structures of power, while "tactics" are utilized by individuals to create space for themselves in environments defined by strategies. In the influential chapter "Walking in the City," he describes "the city" as a "concept," generated by the strategic maneuvering of governments, corporations, and other institutional bodies who produce things like maps that describe the city as a unified whole, as it might be experienced by someone looking down from high above. By contrast, the walker at street level moves in ways that are tactical and never fully determined by the plans of organizing bodies, taking shortcuts or meandering aimlessly in spite of the utilitarian layout of the grid of streets. This concretely illustrates Certeau's assertion that everyday life works by a process of poaching on the territory of others, recombining the rules and products that already exist in culture in a way that is influenced, but never wholly determined, by those rules and products.

His work "The Writing of History", translated into English after his death, deals with the relationship between History and Religion. De Certeau makes a point in linking the history of writing history to the legitimization of political power and that "Western" traditions of history involve using the act of writing as a tool of colonialism; writing their own histories while un-writing the embodied traditions of native peoples.

Major works by Michel de Certeau

In French:

  • La Culture au Pluriel. Union GĂ©nĂ©rale d'Editions,1974.
  • L'Ecriture de l'Histoire. Editions Gallimard. 1975.
  • La Fable Mystique. vol. 1, XVIe-XVIIe Siècle. Editions Gallimard. 1982.
  • La Faiblesse de Croire. Edited by Luce Giard. Seuil. 1987.
  • L'Invention du Quotidien. Vol. 1, Arts de Faire. Union gĂ©nĂ©rale d'Ă©ditions 10-18. 1980.
  • With Dominique Julia and Jacques Revel. Une Politique de la Langue : La RĂ©volution Française et les Patois, l'enquĂŞte de GrĂ©goire. Gallimard. 1975.
  • La Possession de Loudun. Gallimard. 1970.

In English:

  • The Capture of Speech and Other Political Writings. Translated by Tom Conley. University of Minnesota Press. 1998.
  • The Certeau Reader. Edited by Graham Ward. Blackwell Publishers. 1999.
  • Culture in the Plural. Translated by Tom Conley. University of Minnesota Press. 1998.
  • Heterologies: Discourse on the Other. Translated by Brain Massumi. University of Minnesota Press. 1986.
  • The Mystic Fable: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Translated by Michael B. Smith. University of Chicago Press. 1995.
  • The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. University of California Press. 1984.
  • With Luce Giard and Pierre Mayol. The Practice of Everyday Life. Vol. 2, Living and Cooking. Translated by Timothy J. Tomasik. University of Minnesota Press. 1998.
  • The Possession at Loudun. University of Chicago Press. 2000.
  • The Writing of History. Translated by Tom Conley. Columbia University Press. 1988.

Works about Michel de Certeau

  • Michel de Certeau: Analysing Culture, By Ben Highmore. Continuum. 2006.
  • Michel de Certeau: Interpretation and Its Other. By Jeremy Ahearne. Stanford University Press. 1996.
  • Michel de Certeau: Cultural Theorist. By Ian Buchanan. Sage Press. 2000.
  • Michel de Certeau-In the Plural. A special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, edited by Ian Buchanan. Duke University Press. 2001.
  • Michel de Certeau: les chemins d'histoire. Edited by ChristiĂ n Delacroix. Complex. 2002.
  • Michel de Certeau: Le marcheur blessĂ©. By François Dosse. Decouverte. 2002.


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