Strategies and Tactics
Michel de Certeau’s, The Practice of Everyday Life explores the everyday operating in society. He describes two concepts, “strategies” and “tactics” that identify behaviors in the everyday: strategies become a way for corporations, governments and big businesses to control people as well as the environment around them; tactics are ways that individuals, negotiate these worlds. Certeau claims that individuals employ strategies by “constantly manipulating events in order to turn them into ‘opportunities’” [xix].
The chasm between strategies and tactics
In Chapter VIII, Railway Navigation and Incarceration, Certeau describes the experience of riding the train. The train is a great example of the chasm between the strategy and the tactic: the train is a strategy—it is part of a larger system that incarcerates the passengers. The passengers however, use tactics to overcome this system, making each trip a mini vacation of sight and sound. According to Certeau “The unchanged traveler is pigeonholed, numbered, and regulated in the grid of the railway car, which is a perfect actualization of the rational utopia” .
Order in chaos
The train gives passengers order in their everyday world of chaos. The train is a place of transition between geographical locations as well as home and work. Travelers often overlook the transitions in the everyday; instead, they focus on their destinations. The train offers them a time to look out the window, reflecting, wondering, listening and dreaming. Without this incarceration these possibilities would not necessarily be available.
Glass and Iron
Certeau eloquently describes the literal and figurative separation of the train and the travelers as “…the iron rail whose straight line cuts through space and transforms the serene identities of the soil into the speed with which they slip away into the distance. The windowpane is what allows us to see, and the rail, what allows us to move through”. Travelers are incarcerated within a controlled system and at the same time they are set free by a sensorial experience.
Certeau describes the train sounds as “Only the partition makes noise. As it moves forward and creates two inverted silences, it taps out a rhythm, it whistles or moans. There is a beating of the rails, a vibrato of the windowpanes—a sort of rubbing together of spaces at the vanishing points of their frontier” .
Submission to the machine
As travelers are observing the everyday within this lens, they identify their independence within a system. Within everyday life there is so much to try and control individually; sometimes travelers could submit to the “machine” and take an “incarceration-vacation”.
Michel de Certeau’s, The Practice of Everyday Life, xix, 111, 112, 113.