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Culture in the Plural

1997
Author:

Michel de Certeau
Translated by Tom Conley
Introduction by Luce Giard
Afterword by Tom Conley

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An essential engagement with multiculturalism and identity politics.

In this long-awaited translation, Michel de Certeau anticipates current debates surrounding multiculturalism and social diversity, providing a prescient critique of identity politics. He considers the idea of culture itself and looks at it from several points of view, shedding new light on the challenges facing societies in transition.

Today Culture in the Plural seems astonishing by its prescience. Our nineties preoccupations with the difficult problems of multiculturalism are here anticipated and illuminated in work that is over twenty years old.

Richard Terdiman, University of California, Santa Cruz

An essential engagement with multiculturalism and identity politics.

Since his death in 1986, Michel de Certeau has come to be seen as a founding figure in cultural studies. In this long-awaited translation of La Culture au Pluriel, de Certeau anticipates current debates surrounding multiculturalism and social diversity, providing a prescient critique of identity politics.

Culture in the Plural begins with a consideration of the idea of culture itself. De Certeau demonstrates how and why elitist notions of culture were produced in the nineteenth century, unveiling the specific political and social conflicts culture is designed to conceal. He then looks at culture from several methodological and theoretical points of view, positioning his ideal of culture in the plural in opposition to an exclusivist notion of culture as “the best that has been thought and said.”

De Certeau stresses that anyone attempting to understand contemporary societies in the West-societies that by their very nature reflect the multinational, multiethnic world economy-must integrate into analytical models the intense, already-existing diversity that outflanks exclusivist or elitist conceptions of the “national group.” Whatever the perceived analytical or political benefits such older ideas of social unity may have offered, de Certeau argues compellingly that they have no pertinence in the practical situation of societies today.

Resonating with the “culture wars” that currently occupy policymakers and intellectuals, Culture in the Plural sheds new light on the challenges facing societies in transition.

160 pages
Translation rights: Éditions du Seuil


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Michel de Certeau (1925-1986) wrote numerous books, including Heterologies (Minnesota, 1986) and The Practice of Everyday Life (1984). He taught at the University of California, San Diego, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Tom Conley is professor of French at Harvard University. He is the author of The Self-Made Map (Minnesota, 1996) and translator of The Writing of History (1992) by Michel de Certeau.

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Today Culture in the Plural seems astonishing by its prescience. Our nineties preoccupations with the difficult problems of multiculturalism are here anticipated and illuminated in work that is over twenty years old.

Richard Terdiman, University of California, Santa Cruz

“Originally published in 1974, Michel de Certeau’s La culture au pluriel is generally recognized as a seminal text of multiculturalist theory. Harvard professor Tom Conley’s recent translation, Culture in the Plural, for the first time brings to the English-speaking audience this collection of essays written in the wake of the May 1968 student rebellion in France and the social upheavals surrounding it. From today’s vantage point, Certeau’s book can certainly be read as prescient, particularly in its analysis of the poetics of power and its recommendations for disassembling the hegemonic structures that have long been in place to suppress difference for purposes of social control.” New Art Examiner