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  • The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living & Cooking
  • Elaine Martin
Michel de Certeau, Luce Giard, and Pierre Mayol. The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living & Cooking. Trans. Timonthy J. Tomasik. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998. xiv + 292 pp.

The fact that this work opens with a string of introductory texts reflects its complex genesis and elaboration: between two volumes, two languages, three main researchers, three consecutive, collaborative research circles, and a twenty-four year time span (from 1974, when the research was commissioned, to 1998 with this appearance of volume two in English).

These complexities are described by the editor, Luce Giard, in History of a Research Project. Although the initial research was completed by 1979 and the two volumes appeared in French in 1980, the second volume was not translated into English, because the American publisher found its concerns “too closely linked to something specifically French to interest the American public” (xlii). Giard details, in Times and Places, the changes in the second edition: additions, deletions, modifications, retitlings, updatings, and a general reordering of the texts. The new version of volume two now consists of twenty-two texts of varying lengths and topics loosely appertaining to the theme of “le quotidien.” Despite the overall patchy effect that results from so many splicings, one can discern two major thrusts, both based on anthropological-style fieldwork. The first investigates the concept of a “neighborhood,” bolstered by in-depth observational and interview work by Pierre Mayol in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyons. The second, designed to introduce women’s lives into the research project, scrutinizes “faire-la-cuisine” or “doing-cooking,” based on interviews with women about alimentary practices. [End Page 208]

The driving force behind this research project was Michel de Certeau, Jesuit priest, historian, professor in France and the U.S., and scholar active in the Ecole Freudienne of Jacques Lacan from 1964 to 1980. The organizing principle underlying all the essays is Certeau’s unique perception of consumption and the practice of everyday life à rebours: rather than viewing people as passive consumers of received products, he was interested in the individual creative act of “practicing” the products and in the more general cultural operations that frame these practices; in Certeau’s words: “the ruses of consumers compose the network of an antidiscipline which is the subject of this book” (xx). The English title, The Practice of Everyday Life, imperfectly renders the original French L’invention du quotidien—literally how practitioners invent the everyday—a more provocative idea and one truer to Certeau’s vision.

The attempt to demonstrate people’s creative, active, and individualized appropriation of consumption rather than their passive consumerism involved extensive fieldwork and the crossing of disciplinary, methodological, and generic borders. One can read this text today as one of the earliest examples of (French) cultural studies. Its theoretical referents are not only Foucault, Bourdieu, Popper, and Lacan, but also, and most significantly Freud; one could, for example, read the text as a cultural working out of Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901). The researchers’ interest in language at this relatively early stage (Foucault’s Surveiller et punir, which Certeau considered a masterpiece, appeared in 1975) was reflected in their initial plan to publish a third volume in the quotidien work, dedicated to “different types of logic and their way of ‘layering’ the utterances of language” (xxvii); its working title was Arts de dire (the practice of speaking), but the book never materialized due to conflicting commitments and to Certeau’s premature death in 1986. But language clearly plays a role in the two more narrow investigations in this work as well. For Mayol, everyday life is articulated in two fields: behaviors and expected symbolic benefits. “One regulation articulates both of these systems,” he writes, “which I have described and analyzed using the concept of propriety” (8). By ascribing new meaning to the term propriety, he creates a new tool, in the same way that Giard invites a new perspective with her invention of the term “doing-cooking.” Mayol discusses propriety in terms of miniscule repressions, the social transparency of the neighborhood, the consumption and appearance of the body...

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pp. 208-210
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