In his “Afterword” to Michel de Certeau’s Culture in the Plural, Tom Conley writes: “[For de Certeau] ‘culture’ needs to be understood not as a monument celebrating human mastery of nature but, to the contrary, and more modestly, as collective ways or manners of thinking and doing. ... [Culture] is marked by heterogeneity of practices, styles, modes or fashions of selectively and affectively producing (but not arrogating) habitable space.” (Conley, p. 151). In other words, according to de Certeau culture is not something highbrow, as it is often seen, but it is the way we do what we do, and it can even refer to the most banal actions and kinds of behaviour. In this view, culture consists of modes of doings characteristic for certain groups or even societies.
When I read de Certeau’s Culture in the Plural (and other books by him) and Conley’s “Afterword” for the first time several years ago, this view was not new to me. I subscribed to it already long before I had ever heard of Michel de Certeau, let alone that I had read his articles and books. I had borrowed the idea from authors in the field of cultural anthropology. But are both views – the “highbrow view” and the view of culture as the mode of daily practice – really so different today? Take the picture at the top of this blog. I have taken it on the yearly art market in my town, one week ago. What you see there is my stall with some of my photos and books and on the background a super market. Before or after having done their shopping, many people made a walk along the stalls of the art market. Some bought a piece of art; most didn’t. Is there a better example of the growing contemporary integration of culture as the mode of daily practice and highbrow culture, which is often supposed to be at a distance from the hectic of daily routine? Art is no longer something we need to watch in the serene atmosphere of a separate temple-like building, be it a theatre or a museum, and that we take in full of awe. Art is no longer something performed by demigods and explained by expert interpreters. No, art has become for everybody and by everybody. You can enjoy it everywhere and do it everywhere, as a part of your normal activities; also when you are in a supermarket or before and after shopping. It has become a part of the daily practice and it is consumed as easy as a cup of tea or a bag of chips. Isn’t it what we have aimed for, when we talked about the democratization of culture? Oh, and don’t forget the milk or the mayonnaise.Source: Michel de Certeau’s, Culture in the Plural. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Tom Conley, “Afterword: A Creative Swarm”, in id., pp. 149-175.