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A Fourth Critic of the Enlightenment: Michel de Certeau and the ethnography of subjectivity

By Jon P Mitchell


This paper examines the potential contribution of the work of Michel de Certeau (1925-1986) to anthropological theories of agency, resistance and subjectivity. It argues that de Certeau's work shares with contemporary anthropological theory a legacy of the counter-Enlightenment that combines a profound pessimism about modern society with an emphasis on the redemptive possibility of populism, expressivism and pluralism. Whilst in anthropology these developed into a complex theorisation of agency, resistance and subjectivity as embedded in socio-cultural context, de Certeau appears to systematically avoid a coherent theory. Rather, he offers a theology of agency, resistance and subjectivity that sees resistance through 'tactics' as the manifestation of an enduring counter-modern human spirit, and as inherently morally good. The paper closes with a caution against anthropologists adopting a similar 'theological' stance towards resistance

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Year: 2007
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