The Everyday Practice of the Bando to Empower the People:
De Certeau and San Juan
These two readings work very well together as one lays out a theory (de Certeau) with the other giving apractical example of that theory (San Juan). In the excerpt from The Practices of Everyday Life, de Certeau,in part, describes the generic power struggle between the weak and the strongand their separate but at times like-minded use of certain tactics thatultimately subvert the existing place of authority. In order to recognize thispower struggle and possibly see who is the current victor, de Certeau statesthat we must see cultural products in terms of their uses instead of thetraditional mindset that sees these products either from the point of view thatfocuses on the production side of something that is consumed – eaten, enjoyedand then tossed out as waste. DeCerteau’s shifts that emphasis to how these products are used and that, he suggests,is more telling of what effect these products have on shaping society and theirrole in creating culture.
More than just simply a way of seeinghow these products operate in society, de Certeau suggests that we may alsodiscover if the victor (the strong) is actually victorious, or if that thesubversive use of these products actually show that the victor is much like theemperor without his clothes. It may in fact be both. The victor has indeed won, but the victorymay still prove bitter-sweet. Finally,however, it is I believe de Certeau’s point that it behoves the “marginalizedmajority” to understand how these systems work in order to use them and not beused by them. In other words, the weakmay well inherit the earth, but only of they understand how to take it backfrom those who are exerting their power and influence to keep it from them.
De Certeau describes a variety of tools to aid the understanding of notonly the use of these products, but of the products themselves. These he describes as relationships betweensimilar ideas but with a tremendous gap of use-difference between them. I will start with the idea of the differencebetween strategies and tactics. First deCerteau states the spatial difference between strategies and tactics. Strategies (the operating systems of those inpower), he states, require a space of their own making them static andtherefore stable; and it is through this stability of place that enable theexertion of their power. Tactics on theother hand have no space of their own. They are mobile and transient; therefore, tactics are seen as an “art ofthe weak” used to subvert, through the use of trickery or ruses, theaforementioned power. De Certeau neveruses the term “subversion,” nor does he give any sense of a shift in powermaintaining “a tactic is determined by the absence of power (38).” But it seemsthat a shift in power would occur as it does in revolutions for example, thatthose without power do, at times, end up with power, or at least they end upwith the power to invest power in someone else. The everyday practices stated in his title are stated to be tacticaloperations leading then to de Certeau’s examination of the distinctions between“space” and “place.”
In the section “Spatial Stories,” deCerteau makes the distinction between space and place and the relationshipsthose terms have with the practice of everyday life. “Place” is stable,stationary and de Certeau states: dead. Place is used in terms of proper strategies to obtain and exertpower. “Space,” then, is used by theweak to gain, or at least disrupt that power, because by its very nature, spaceis unstable, alive and mobile. Eventhough there are these distinctions, there is a relationship between space andplace; as space, according to de Certeau, is a “practiced place” – giving theact of reading as example, he states that reading is a space produced by theparticular place of the written text (117). It is at his point it seems relevant to move to the San Juan text thatillustrates de Certeau’s theory with her work concerning the bando (orflyer).
In San Juan’s article “The Printed Bandoand the Everyday Moves of the Street” the actual idea of how a cultural productis used in what ultimately is an example of a power struggle. This is most evident in the contemporaneousexample of the flyer – bando – calling for the re-installation of theequestrian sculpture of Marcus Aurelius. San Juan describes what is stated as “a people vs. authority” case wherethe people of Rome are embattled with art and civic authorities. In an attempt to more closely relate the tworeadings it seems necessary to reconstruct San Juan’s story of the use of the bandowith the terms of de Certeau (given emphasis in italics).
The people of Rome (the weak) are battling the authorities of both the art establishment and the cityofficials (the strong) who have, in the first case, taken the equestriansculpture out of its location in order to clean and preserve the work. The people are stated to be working from aposition of history and space (in this instance community fulfilling deCerteau’s idea of space in the practiced place of the city) thatseems to equal the idea of the present, while the authorities are working froma position of the future – cleaning and preserving the work’s place inthe future. The tactic then, asstated by San Juan to be influenced by de Certeau, is the bando callingfor the replacement of the monument to the square. Using the very accessible and historicalmeans of “marketing” – the flyer – the people have been able to at varioustimes mobilize efforts to gain control and power in the decisions ofwhat marks their communal space and their communal identity as people ofRome. In her discussion of the historyof the bando and the influence of de Certeau on her work, San Juanstates that the strategies of control exerted by the authorities are met by the“tactics of opportunity” that result in the public and repetitive placement ofthe bando (26). Moreover, SanJuan illustrates de Certeau’s idea that in times marked by power shifts,officials or authorities have had to “resort” to the use of the “tactics of theweak” (such as the bando) in order to exert, or more often to regain,control – making explicit the conclusion that it is, “[de Certeau’s] notion ofpeople’s everyday tactics [that is] a crucial factor in urban struggle andchange. (37)”
David W. Nees 2004-2012