I 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.
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.