The Writing of History

Michel de Certeau


“According to Andrew Blauvelt who relies on the work of Certeau in his essay on design and everyday life:

Certeau’s investigations into the realm of routine practices, or the “arts of doing” such as walking, talking, reading, dwelling, and cooking, were guided by his belief that despite repressive aspects of modern society, there exists an element of creative resistance to these strictures enacted by ordinary people. In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau outlines an important critical distinction between strategies and tactics in this battle of repression and expression. According to him, strategies are used by those within organizational power structures, whether small or large, such as the state or municipality, the corporation or the proprietor, a scientific enterprise or the scientist. Strategies are deployed against some external entity to institute a set of relations for official or proper ends, whether adversaries, competitors, clients, customers, or simply subjects. Tactics, on the other hand, are employed by those who are subjugated. By their very nature tactics are defensive and opportunistic, used in more limited ways and seized momentarily within spaces, both physical and psychological, produced and governed by more powerful strategic relations.”

“His work The Writing of History … 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.



“It has come in scholarly circles to have a standard pedigree that runs from George Lukacs, through the Surrealists, Walter Benjamin, Bakhtin, Henri Lefebvre, the Situationist international to Michel de Certeau. The primary concern of these scholars has been with the nature of modern everyday life in commodified, capitalist societies, their consciousness of its constraints and their concern to transform a realm of necessity into a world of freedom, of boredom into creativity, and of alienated and fragmented existence into a human wholeness. Crucially this is a story about historical change as loss, one that sets the agenda as one of humanist recuperation. One of its major premises – this can be seen most clearly in the writings of Henri Lefebvre – is that modern specialized forms of knowledge have become debased instruments of social control and discipline, and that in consequence it is only in the realm of everyday life that we can find the resources for self-fulfilment, for the realization of a whole, human self …”


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