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!