Cultural theory, inventive and hopeful.

Michel de CerteauI like French sociologist Michel de Certeau not only because his ideas and methodologies are fruitful for my research in many ways, but also and especially because he was a fascinating character.

He was a Jesuit, a traveller, someone who, instead of posing and being cocky, was hesitant and careful about the ideas he developed, someone who wrote in a tentative and searching, not in a polished and conclusive style, someone who preferred asking questions and opening pathways over claiming to establish rock-solid theories, someone who wasn’t afraid of thinking outside the box, someone who took an interdisciplinary approach without ever risking to end up a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none.

Ben Highmore, in the introduction to his study Michel de Certeau: Analysing Culture, quotes a passage from a letter he received by an anonymous reviewer of one of his other pieces on de Certeau:

In a field [cultural studies] overly enamored of the contemporary, de Certeau offers the historian’s detailed appraisal of the past. In a field obsessed with the local, de Certeau offers itineraries to elsewheres. In a field where culture tends to be synonymous with the US model, de Certeau points to the other. In a field awash in the ordinary, de Certeau grasps the singular. In a field beset with nihilism, de Certeau evokes abiding faith in human history. In a field associated with celebrated stardom, de Certeau provides beguiling self-effacement.

I think that’s what attracted me to de Certeau’s writing (especially The Practice of Everyday Life and The Writing of History) from the start: he radiates attentiveness, substantiality, singularity and faith in an interdisciplinary field (and increasingly complex world) that is characterised by superficiality, randomness and arbitrariness.

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