Michel de Certeau

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Michel de Certeau S.J. (* May 17, 1925 in Chambéry , Savoy ; † January 9, 1986 in Paris ) was a French Jesuit , sociologist , historian and cultural philosopher .


Michel de Certeau was born in 1925 in Chambéry, France. After studying classical philology and philosophy at the Universities of Grenoble , Lyon and Paris, he went after a layover in Sulpizianern , the seminary in Lyon, where he entered the Jesuit order in 1950 - originally with the intention of missionary activity in China - and 1956 received the ordination. In the same year he became a co-founder of the magazine Christus , to which he remained connected throughout his life. In 1960 he received his doctorate in theology from the Sorbonne in Pariswith a dissertation on the mysticism of Pierre Favre , a compatriot from Savoy and one of the first companions of Ignatius of Loyola . Strongly impressed by Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan , he became a founding member of the École Freudienne , a loose association of French psychoanalysts . There was also an intensive discussion with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Algirdas Julien Greimas . For the first time he came into the public eye with an article on the events of the Paris May '68 in the magazine Études ("En mai 68, on a pris la parole comme on a pris la Bastille en 1789."). His research ended with the publication of the works of Jean-Joseph Surin , another Jesuit mystic of the 17th century.

In addition to Paris, where he taught at the Institut catholique and temporarily at the University of Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis, various teaching positions took him to Geneva and San Diego . During the 1970s and 1980s, he mainly published on the history of mysticism, phenomenology and psychoanalysis .


De Certeau's best known and most influential work is The Art of Action , a sociological theory of everyday life and consumer behavior . According to Certeau, everyday life differs significantly from other areas of life because it is almost completely unconscious and completely repetitive. “Active consumption”, “ another production called consumption” (de Certeau) becomes a central figure of thought . The consumer is not only a passive buyer of products , but also a producer himself: by choosing the products he meets, he “tinkers” with his identity and living environment .

De Certeau does not study ' popular culture ', but rather the basic techniques, “tricks, feints and lists of consumers: walking, traveling, telling, speaking, writing, thinking, reading, doing, etc. a. ”, which are only establishing such a popular culture. Although the methodological approach is based on Michel Foucault's discourse analysis , de Certeau is less interested in the power-subversive possibilities of these practices, but in their identity-political content. It is important to distinguish between strategy and tactics : According to Certeau, strategy is “a calculation of power relations that becomes possible at the moment when a subject equipped with power and willpower ... can be replaced by an 'environment'.” Tactics, on the other hand, is “ a calculation that cannot count on anything of its own and thus also not with a boundary that separates the other as a visible totality. ”Strategy is an 'expansive' calculation that is geared towards the ever increasing control of space and time . Meanwhile, tactics always have to make do with a predetermined spatial and temporal order and understand how to exploit their respective gaps, imponderables and inconsistencies. De Certeau also sees the freedom of everyday practice mapped out in Ludwig Wittgenstein's late work Philosophical Investigations and particularly addresses his description of everyday language as a continuously developing practice. Wittgenstein's sentence, "the meaning of a word is its use in language", becomes the basis of the radical change of perspective in de Certeau's cultural theory: He directs attention away from the producers and the powerful, towards the users who do not, for example, follow the pre-established structures ( language, city or society) passively, but actively use the structures and thus reinvent the meaning of the structures without necessarily changing the structure, and without the powerful or producers of the structures being able to control this use and appropriation.

The writing of history is the title of an anthology of essays on history, de Certeau sees itself as a vicarious funeral ritual. The dead remain dead in their graves, but historiography guides them to their rest and through this act society frees itself from the madness of the unburied dead. He is based on Jules Michelet , who noted in the 19th century through his work as a historian that he kept going back to the dead like a tireless traveler. He treats them "docile, indulgent and loving".

The volume of essays GlaubensSchwachheit , edited by his estate administrator Luce Giard, brings together important theological contributions. In it, Certeau reflects on the loss of relevance of theology in science and of Christian faith in society, based on cultural history . He puts u. a. found that contemporary theological discourse “cannot assert itself as a socially relevant discourse by clinging to unbroken representation, but, if at all, only by staging the deprivation of its origin as a socially relevant discourse .”



  • L'universalisme ignatienne: mystique et mission . In: Christ. Accompagner l'homme en quête de Dieu. Vol. 13 (1966), pp. 173-183.
    • German edition: Ignatian Universalism. Mysticism and mission. Translated from the French by Andreas Falkner. In: Spirit and Life . Vol. 88 (2015), pp. 208-217.
  • La Prize de Parole. Paris 1968.
  • L'étranger or L'union dans la différence. Paris 1969.
    • German edition: The Stranger or Unity in Diversity. Translated from the French by Andreas Falkner. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-17-034054-1 .
  • La Possession de Loudun. Paris 1970.
  • L'Absent de L'Histoire. Paris 1973.
  • La Culture au Pluriel. Paris 1974.
  • with Jean-Marie Domenach: Le Christianisme Eclaté. Paris 1974.
  • L'Ecriture de l'Histoire. Paris 1975.
    • German edition: The writing of history. Translated from the French by Sylvia M. Schomburg-Scherff. Afterword by Roger Chartier . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-593-34489-0 .
  • Politica e Mistica. Questioni di Storia Religiosa. Milan 1975.
  • with Dominique Julia and Jacques Revel : Une Politique de la Langue: La Révolution Française et les Patois, l'enquête de Grégoire. Paris 1975.
  • with Yves Materne: La Réveil India en Amérique Latine. Paris 1977.
  • L'Invention du Quotidien. Vol. 1, Arts de Faire. Paris 1980.
    • German edition: Art of Action. Translated from the French by Ronald Voullié. Merve, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-88396-060-8 .
  • Croire. Une pratique de la difference. Urbino 1981.
  • La Fable Mystique. Vol. 1, XVIe-XVIIe Siecle. Paris 1982.
    • German edition: Mystische Fabel. 16th to 17th centuries. Translated from the French by Michael Lauble. Afterword by Daniel Bogner. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-518-58543-6 .
  • with Luce Giard: L'ordinaire de la communication. Paris 1983.
  • La Faiblesse de Croire. Edited by Luce Giard. Paris 1987.
    • German edition: Faith weakness. Translated from the French by Michael Lauble. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-17-019713-8 .
  • History and psychoanalysis between science and fiction. Paris 1987.
    • German edition: Theoretical fictions. History and psychoanalysis. Translated from the French by Andreas Mayer . Turia & Kant, Vienna 1997; 2nd, revised and expanded edition 2006, ISBN 978-3-85132-391-7 .

Editorial activity

  • Pierre Favre : Mémorial. Translated and commented by Michel de Certeau. Paris 1960.
  • Jean-Joseph Surin: Guide spirituel pour la perfection. Paris 1963.
  • Jean-Joseph Surin: Correspondance. Paris 1966.


  • Christian Bauer , Marco A. Sorace (Ed.): God, elsewhere? Theology in conversation with Michel de Certeau. Grünewald, Ostfildern 2019, ISBN 978-3-7867-4027-8 .
  • Iso Baumer : In the footsteps of Michel de Certeau. A defining figure for Pope Francis. In: Voices of the Time . Vol. 139 (2014), no. 2, pp. 86-96.
  • Jörg Bernardy , Hanna Klimpe: Michel de Certeau. Art of doing. In: Frank Eckardt (Ed.): Key works of urban research. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2016, pp. 173-186, ISBN 978-3-658-10438-2 .
  • Daniel Bogner : Broken Present. Mysticism and politics with Michel de Certeau. Mainz 2002
  • Michel Clévenot: Michel de Certeau 1925-1986. In: Michel Clévenot: Prophecy in the face of catastrophe. History of Christianity in the XX. Century. Lucerne 1999, pp. 212-219
  • Georg Eickhoff: History and mysticism in Michel de Certeau. In: Voices of the Time . Vol. 126, Vol. 219, H. 4, April 2001, pp. 248-260.
  • Dominik Finkelde : Michel de Certeau's metatheory of mysticism. In: Janez Perčič, Johannes Herzgsell (ed.): Great thinkers of the Jesuit order. Schöningh, Paderborn 2016, ISBN 978-3-506-78400-1 , pp. 121-134
  • Marian Füssel (Ed.): Michel de Certeau. History - culture - religion. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, Konstanz 2007, ISBN 978-3-89669-628-1 .
  • Marian Füssel: On the topicality of Michel de Certeau. Introduction to his work. Springer, Wiesbaden 2018, ISBN 978-3-531-16816-6 .
  • Johannes Hoff : Erosion of God's Speech and Christian Spirituality. Answers by Michel Foucault and Michel de Certeau in comparison. In: Orientation . 63: 116-119, 130-132, 135-137 (1999)
  • Andreas Mayer : Writing in between. To Michel de Certeau again. In: Historical Anthropology. Vol. 11 (2003), H. 2, pp. 271-276
  • Joachim Valentin : Certeau, Michel de. In: Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. Vol. 11, Freiburg 2001, Col. 44 f.
  • Daniel Weidner : Reading in the Land of the Other. Writings by Michel de Certeau. In: Weimar Contributions . 45: 112-120 (1999).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Michel de Certeau: Art of acting. Merve, Berlin 1988, p. 23.
  2. Joachim Valentin: Foreword. In: Michel de Certeau: Faith weakness . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2009, p. 10.