Urban Anthropology Report: Michel De Certeau's "Walking in the City"


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my report in Anthro 273: Seminar in Urban Anthropology at the Anthropology Department, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman - elective for the PhD Media Studies program at the College of Mass Communication

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Urban Anthropology Report: Michel De Certeau's "Walking in the City"

  1. 1. Michel De Certeau’s “Walking in the City” Chona Rita R. Cruz (CINDY) 86-16518 PhD Media Studies Anthropology 273 Urban Anthropology Report Dr. Hector Guazon
  2. 2. Michel de Certeau • Born 1925, died 1985 • Degrees in classics and philosophy at the universities of Grenoble, Lyon, Sorbonne • Religious training in Lyon, ordained 1956 (SJ) • Institutions and structures of power - “producers” • Individuals – “consumers” • “Everyday life is distinctive from other practices of daily existence because it is repetitive and unconscious.” • Strategies and Tactics • Everyday practices are tactical.
  3. 3. • Strategies – require a subject (an enterprise or city and so on) separated from an environment. – require a 'proper' place (regularized, rule governed, institutionalized location) from which to generate relations with an exterior (their competitors or clients and so on). – Strategies lie behind political and economic rationality. • Tactics – have no 'proper' localization – are not strongly separated from the other - they often take place in the territory of the other. – They are opportunistic, always on the watch, and involve combining disparate elements to gain a momentary advantage.
  4. 4. “Walking in the City” Chapter VII, under Part III: Spatial Practices from The Practice of Everyday Life Michel De Certeau
  5. 5. Manhattan in Popular Culture • • • • • • • • Manhattan Skyline Spiderman Avengers Watchmen Independence Day How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days The Devil Wears Prada Sex and the City
  6. 6. “Manhattan” - WallSave Wallpapers http://www.wallsave.com/wallpapers/1920x1080/paisajes/363046/paisajes-resolution-manhattan-363046.jpg
  7. 7. “Manhattan Reflections Skyline” – FunWallz http://www.funwallz.com/manhattan-reflections-skyline-wallp-tlg-6290.html
  8. 8. “Stylish and Cheap: The Best Way to Visit Manhattan” - Stranded Passengers http://strandedpassengers.org/stylish-and-cheap-the-best-way-to-see-manhattan/
  9. 9. “Eyewitness: Manhattan, New York” – The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/picture/2013/aug/08/eyewitness-manhattan-new-york
  10. 10. “Downtown Manhattan” –Data Wallpaper http://hdw.datawallpaper.com/architecture/downtown-manhattan-311643.jpg
  11. 11. “Oitava Avenida (Eighth Avenue)” – Wikipedia (Portuguese) http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oitava_Avenida_(Manhattan)
  12. 12. De Certeau views Manhattan • • • • • • Breathtaking description of the view Manhattan from the World Trade Center Compares New York with Rome Coincidatio oppositorum Voyeur / Icarus / a god Medieval and Renaissance painters
  13. 13. Voyeurs or Walkers • De Certeau, p. 92: It transforms the bewitching world by which one was "possessed" into a text that lies before one's eyes. • P.93: The panorama-city is a "theoretical" (that is, visual) simulacrum, in short a picture, whose condition of possibility is an oblivion and a misunderstanding of practices.
  14. 14. • The voyeur and the ordinary practitioner / walker / pedestrian • Walkers, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban text they write without being able to read it. (p.93) • Make use of spaces that cannot be seen (p.93) • As though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness (p.93)
  15. 15. Concerns • Locate the practices that are foreign to the "geometrical" or "geographical" space of visual, panoptic, or theoretical constructions • Practices of Space – Specific forms of operations – Another spatiality – opaque and blind mobility • A migrational, or metaphorical, city thus slips into the clear text of the planned and readable city. (p.93)
  16. 16. From the concept of the city to urban practices
  17. 17. • Perspective vision and prospective vision constitute the twofold projection of an opaque past and an uncertain future onto a surface that can be dealt with. • The city defined by threefold operation: (p.94) – The production of its own space (un espace propre): rational organization must thus repress all the physical, mental and political pollutions that would compromise it – The substitution of a nowhen, or of a synchronic system, for the indeterminable and stubborn resistances offered by traditions – Finally, the creation of a universal and anonymous subject which is the city itself
  18. 18. • Administration is combined with a process of elimination in this place organized by "speculative" and classificatory operations. • Effects: – It repeatedly produces effects contrary to those at which it aims.“ – The rationalization of the city leads to its mythification in strategic discourses. – The functionalist organization, by privileging progress (i.e., time), causes the condition of its own possibility— space itself—to be forgotten.
  19. 19. • Concept-city functions: – a place of transformations and appropriations – the object of various kinds of interference – a subject that is constantly enriched by new attributes – simultaneously the machinery and the hero of modernity. • If in discourse the city serves as a totalizing and almost mythical landmark for socioeconomic and political strategies, urban life increasingly permits the re-emergence of the element that the urbanistic project excluded.
  20. 20. • It is no longer a field of programmed and regulated operations. • Does that mean that the illness afflicting both the rationality that founded it and its professionals afflicts the urban populations as well? Perhaps cities are deteriorating along with the procedures that organized them. • One can analyze the microbe-like, singular and plural practices which an urbanistic system was supposed to administer or suppress, but which have outlived its decay.
  21. 21. • Marked by a contradiction between the collective mode of administration and an individual mode of reappropriation, spatial practices in fact secretly structure the determining conditions of social life. • These multiform, resistance, tricky and stubborn procedures that elude discipline without being outside the field in which it is exercised lead to a theory of everyday practices, of lived space, of the disquieting familiarity of the city.
  22. 22. The chorus of idle footsteps
  23. 23. • Pedestrian movements form one of these "real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city.“ • They are not localized; it is rather they that “spatialize”. • Operations of walking (can be traced on a map) vs. the act of passing by • Itself visible, it has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. (p.97)
  24. 24. Pedestrian speech acts • The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered. • Triple “enunciative” function: – Process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian – Spatial acting-out of the place – Implies relations among differentiated positions, that is, among pragmatic "contracts" in the form of movements
  25. 25. • Pedestrian speech act has three characteristics which distinguish it at the outset from the spatial system: – the present – the discrete – the "phatic.“ • Modalities of pedestrian enunciation include: – Kinds of relationships with particular paths – Which they accord • A truth value • An epistemological value • An ethical or legal value • These enunciatory operations are of an unlimited diversity. They therefore cannot be reduced to their graphic trail.
  26. 26. Walking rhetorics • There is a rhetoric of walking: the art of "turning“ phrases finds an equivalent in an art of composing a path (tourner un parcours). • Combines styles and uses (“ways of operating”) – Use – elements of a code – Style – peculiar processing of the symbolic • Analogy of prescriptive and descriptive grammar – Prescriptive grammar – proper, prescribed use accepted by canon and academe – Descriptive grammar – the way people actually use the language • Pedestrian figures in spatial practices: synecdoche and asyndeton
  27. 27. Synechdoche • sail” for “ship” • Expands a spatial element in order to make it play the role of a "more" (a totality) and take its place (the bicycle or the piece of furniture in a store window stands for a whole street or neighborhood). • Re-places totalities by fragments (a less in the place of a more); asyndeton disconnects them by eliminating the conjunctive or the consecutive (nothing in place of something). • Makes more dense: it amplifies the detail and miniaturizes the whole.
  28. 28. Asyndeton • “He has provided the poor with opportunities, with jobs, with self-respect.” • Creates a "less," opens gaps in the spatial continuum, and retains only selected parts of it that amount almost to relics. • Asyndeton cuts out: it undoes continuity and undercuts its plausibility. • A space treated in this way and shaped by practices is transformed into enlarged singularities and separate islands.
  29. 29. What “makes things go”
  30. 30. • To walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of a proper. • Moving about the city itself is an immense social experience of lacking a place—an experience that is broken up into countless tiny deportations (displacements and walks), compensated for by the relationships and intersections. • Names and symbols – repression of names vs. what makes sense. “These names create a nowhere in places; they change them into passages.” (UP)
  31. 31. • Linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions... names of an emptying-out and wearing-away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied. • Three distinct (but connected) functions of the relations between spatial and signifying practices: the believable, the memorable, and the primitive.
  32. 32. • "Memories tie us to that place. It's personal, not interesting to anyone else. That's what gives a neighborhood its character.“ • To practice space is thus to repeat the joyful and silent experience of childhood; it is, in a place, to be other and to move toward the other. • The childhood experience that determines spatial practices later develops its effects, proliferates, floods private and public spaces, undoes their readable surfaces, and creates within the planned city a "metaphorical" or mobile city : "a great city built according to all the rules of architecture and then suddenly shaken by a force that defies all calculation.”