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  • Simeon Georgiev

Michel de Certeau ‘Walking the City’ in his The Practice of Everyday Life

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

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Michel Jean Emmanuel de La Barge de Certeau (Michel de Certeau)(17 May 1925 – 9 January 1986) – Born in Chambery, Savoie, he was a member of  the religious congregation of the Catholic Church, with the hope to do a missionary work in China. His interests and work were between the history, philosophy, social science, and psychoanalysis.


He studied classics and philosophy in Grenoble, Lyon and also undertook religious training at a seminary in Lyon. In 1960 he earned his doctorate in the Sorbonne. Later he went to teach in different universities in Paris, San Diego, and Geneva. His work was influenced by Sigmund Freud. Yet, he was one of the founders of the ‘Ecole Freudienne de Paris’, which was an informal group served as a focal point for French scholars interested in psychoanalysis.


Michel de Certeau, in his poetic essay, outlines the way people walk in the city and what they experience. According to him the people walking in the city are engulfed by the building around the streets, in such a way that they don’t know the surroundings, don’t experience the city but just see what’s going on around them, when people walk in the streets “…they write without being able to read it.” [pp. 158]


He can observe the movement and the city skyline, the beauty and the changing landscape of the city like a “Solar Eye” [pp. 157] and experience the city unlike the people down below.

Walking and getting familiar with a city is an exhilarating experience and in the words of Charles Baudelaire “What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need to do is stroll about with our eyes open.” But to experience it such a way would be difficult based on Certau’s thoughts. So much that he proposes a three-step plan, a theory that opposes the “… ideals and theories of urban planners and managers…” [pp. 156]. The three step plan to a ‘utopian’ city:


  1. Create it is own organization in ‘space’, ignoring the norms placed there by the “physical, mental and political” boundaries;

  2. Create it’s own place in time, forgetting about established traditions;

  3. Create the unique location which is the city itself.


In a way, Certeau asks about the possibility of approaching a city in a creative and innovative way, forgetting the norms and guidelines, with the aim to create something new, unique and better. Not always the rules help us. We now live in a world where almost everything is possible, new techniques, materials and ideas are generated on a daily basis and following the thoughts of the author, we should probably use these, to break the constraints of today, and the rules of yesterday to create a better and more enjoyable tomorrow.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities


Questions:

  1. What do you want to change in a city to make it better?

  2. Which do you prefer bus or a tube, and why ?


New words:

superfluous – unnecessary, especially through being more than enough

well trodden – much frequented by travelers.

voracious – engaging in an activity with great eagerness or enthusiasm

expenditure – the action of spending funds.

mythification – to create a myth about (a person, place, tradition, etc.); cause to become a myth

Jesuit – a member of  the religious congregation of the Catholic Church

REFERENCES:

Michel de Certeau (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_de_Certeau (Accessed: 20 November 2016).