Archives du mot-clé cultural operations

Culture in the Plural

Culture in the plural

1. Extract from Culture in the Plural by Michel de Certeau

2. Slam by Jean-Charles François inspired by Michel de Certeau’s text


Michel de Certeau (Culture in the Plural, trans. Tom Conley, Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 133-139) :

“A first impression, a persisting malaise: culture is soft. Analysis slips everywhere over the uncertainty that proliferates in the gaps of prediction as soon as the certainty of the illusory statistics of objective signs (behavior, images, etc.) slips away. Thus the styles or ways of practicing space flee the control of city planners. Able and ready to create a composition of places, of full and empty areas that allow or forbid passage, city planners are incapable of imposing the rationality of reinforced concrete on multiple and fluid cultural systems that organize the living space of inner areas (apartments, stairways, and the like) or public domains (streets, squares, etc.) and that innervate them with an infinite number of itineraries (…)

The same is true for ways of living time, reading texts, or seeing images. What a practice does with prefabricated signs, what the latter become for those who use or receive them – there is an essential point that still remains, for the most part, unknown. (…)

In fact this soft region is silently exploited by its opposite, the hard. Culture is the battlefield of a new colonialism; it is the colonized of the twentieth century. Contemporary technocracies install whole empires on it, in the same way that European nations occupied disarmed continents in the nineteenth century. Corporate trusts rationalize and turn the manufacture of signifiers into a profitable enterprise. They fill the immense, disarmed, and almost somnolent space of culture with their commodities. All forms of need, all the rifts of desire get “covered,” that is, inventoried, dealt with, and exploited by the media. (…)

From then on, culture appears as the field of a multiform battle between the forces of the soft and the hard. It is the outrageous cancerous symptom of a society divided between the technocratization of economic progress and the folklorization of civic expression. It makes manifest an inner dysfunction: the fact that the appropriation of productive power by privileged organisms has as a corollary a political disappropriation and regression of the country, that is, the disappearance of the democratic power to determine the organization and representation of the labors that a society exerts on itself. (…)

The theory and practice of culture accede to honesty when we cast away the pretention of overcoming, by way of generalities the rift that separates the places where an experience or an event can be uttered. From scientific knowledge (when it is exclusive), all the way up to indigent discourses on “values” or on “humanism”, countless ways of eliminating other existences can be named. The common trait is that of the drive to establish unity, that is, a totalizing vision. Culture in the singular always imposes the law of a power. A resistance needs to be directed against the expansion of a force that unifies by colonizing, and that denies at once its own limits and those of others. At stake is a necessary relation of every cultural production with death that limits it and with the battle that defends it. Culture in the plural endlessly calls for a need to struggle.”



Jean-Charles François, slam inspired by Michel de Certeau’s text:

Culture in the singular always imposes the law of a power

Culture in the singular always imposes the law of a power

Culture in the regular always imposes the flaw of a power

Culture in the best regularity always imposes the good coleslaw on a pauper

Sanctified culture always imposes its claw on some flower

Culture with the secular arm imposes its credo in a tower

Culture with the secular arm implodes its credo in a shower

A vulture with the regular arm Interpol its paw on some order

A sculpture with the angular arm interposes its blows against older laws

A scripture with the interfering arm exposes its gloves on polder lawns

The capture of the arm in her offering reposes in hundred days lost in lone Lombard

The structure of the Barthes-signified reposes straight out on syntagm and wombat

The suture of the farthest ignited bona fides imposes some turns “salsa and rumba”

The capture of the Roland-enrolled (modified-modifier, ratified-retriever,

falsified-salsify fryer, satisfied-sadist flyer, defied-deft ire, mystified-misty feel air, petrified-

petty fire, humidified-humiliated midfielder, simplified-sample amplifier) imposes facing the

exemplum, persuasive mode by induction, the group of modes by deduction: the argumenta.


The rupture of the tortured arm, exposed by Foucault, decomposition of the global gesture

The rapture of the spied out frolics, exported by Foucault, the right arm should be away from

the body by about three fingers, caramba!

The body, upright, should in three steps accomplish the act of the right arm

The boldly bright shoulder in three biceps accomplice to the fact of the tight arm

The boarding bored stiff dig the bock beer at the derby three times “diddlediddledee”

The upright body grips tightly the old bolshie bobby high alright bowing deep


Not so sure that Ferdinand, tongs on each foot, was semio-astigmatic


Note the sauce sour and sweet, colored tongue that labio-masticates

Know about the post future throng creating immediately labo-massive stakes

Know the posture of the wrong good guy

Know the posture of the trounced hard good cat in combat

Know the curly tune of the trembled cumquat

Now, the pure prude plump gal handles the mess of a crumbled quell

The sulfur tumbles out of the scar, and blesses us nonetheless with a grumble yell

The sepulture in the thunder al Dantesque (O hell!) scolds with a lurid gurgle

Crude failure in subliminal sudden slumber endlessly (Oh well!) calls for a bid to stumble

Cult texture in frugal lumps less friendly chokes on a bit of Strudel

Cruel lure in the rural dead end lastly in essence leads us all to a struggle

Culture in the plural endlessly calls for a need to struggle

Culture in the plural endlessly calls for a need to struggle

Return to the French version

Cultural Operations

Return to the French text

Episode 1 : operation, cultural operation

For an

This is not an embezzlement of definition.

Cultural operations are already, to begin with, an operation…

The choice of a feminist Latin etymology

Operation comes from the Latin word “operatio” (adding to it an “n” of love), meaning to work and a work.
A first origin can be found in “opus, operis”, a work and to work, but also as in work of art, a finished product. Or we could have the opos-opus of sap and juice, of sweat or sesterce, which one can get from working… PaaLabRes relies on a second origin, taken from the antique feminization (in the tactical feminist-action) of the first opus, operis: “opera”, to work and a work, but also activity; that is of a production in progress. In the framework of certain customs, an idea of providing service, with application and attention, with taking care and trouble, is associated with this word.

The verb operor (to work and making something, but also to practice, to exercise, to produce, to achieve) adds the meaning of to have some effect. It appears that the operative roots of the construction of all these words are:

  • ops, for power, strength, means, force including the idea of help, support and assistance.
  • op, radical that indicates the eye or the sight (as in optical matters for example), and by extension, analysis (as in biopsy, analysis of a living tissue), and also the prefix indicating “opposite” and “against” (to oppose, to be in opposition).

The “op” of hip hop, and the hype and the hop, of the oopsy daisy!
And the hit and the pot, of the horsy’s hops and of the seal’s seashore
Let’s stop our ding dongs
A   p o s t a l   s t a m p
No hip and no hope, no more dis-hope or sur-hope?
Suripo and syrup’s la la my don dingbat

[song in the process of being recorded]


Some previous (not yet cultural?) uses of operations ?)

An operation, “action done by some power, some force, which produces a physical or moral effect” [Cnrtl, A], is mysterious and magical. In the first traces of written texts we have, RELigion was not far: with the Holy Operation, old lips pear eat also in its operations.

As “action carried out according to some method, through the combination of an ensemble of means” [« action faite selon un méthode, par la combinaison d’un ensemble de moyens », Larousse French dictionary, opérer 1-opération 2], another religion grabs this term: l’ECONomics and BUSiness carry out speculative, financial, and monetary operations.
Les MATHématics themselves contributed by specifying an operation as “a process of a determinate nature that, starting with known elements, engenders a new one” [« processus de nature déterminée qui, à partir d’éléments connus, permet d’en engendrer un nouveau », Robert French dictionary, 3]. It is interesting to pay a short visit to “logic”: “examples of logical operations: identity, negation, conjunction, either exclusive or inclusive, non-disjunction, inclusion, non-conjunction” [« Les opérations logiques sont : l’identité, la négation, la conjonction, ou exclusif, ou inclusif, la non disjonction, l’inclusion, la non conjonction », Cnrtl B2b, Guilh. 1969].

And the MILITary (it is strange that, in dictionaries, “milit.” means military and not militant)… Look! They have not shown the tip of their nose under gasmasks. They annexed operation as an “ensemble of strategic movements or of tactical manœuvres of a deployed army, executed in order to attain a given objective” [Cntrl, C1]

Movement, manœuvre… strategy, tactic… all this evokes something… no, not in this context, actually mostly against this military / police context… the “lightning-raid operation” by Alpha Bondy of the Brigadier Sabari: the police violence (already more than 30 years ago!). And also another book with a revolutionary content… even an introduction? Ah yes: The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau (translated by Steven Rendall, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1984)… which has “the purpose (…) to make explicit the systems of operational combination [les combinatoires d’opérations] which also compose a ‘culture’ and to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society (a status that does not mean that they are either passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term “consumers.” Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others.” (p. xi-xii) And here you are: “operation” in its plural form, is not very far from the word “culture”. We will come back to it.

Another big domain of the use of the term is MEDicine. An operation is here a surgical procedure performed on “some part of the living body for the purpose of modifying it, of cutting it, of taking it out” [Robert dictionary, 4], “for therapeutic, preventive, aesthetic or experimental purposes.” [Cnrtl D]. A certain number, even indeed a considerable number, are undoubtedly necessary after a military operation…

The takatak and tikitik of the machine guns
tactic of gunners,
that’s a lot of deaths, that’s a lot of deaths!
The clataclak and clatterlet of shears,
catheters and curettes,
repair bodies, repair bodies!

[song in the process of being recorded (bis)]

It is worth noting that the relative frequency of the term (in the corpus of the Trésor de la Langue Française) more than doubles between the first part and the second part of the 2Oth Century: from 5103 to 11520 occurrences (applied to a 100 thousand words [Cntrl, Fréq. Rel. litter.]). Is it thanks to the progresses in medicine? Is it the fault of the multiplication of military deployments? Actually, it’s both, thank you captain (in an operetta)? Or else is it due to the fast pace of financialisation? It is certainly not the appearance of the phrase “cultural operation” in the conclusion of Culture in the Plural by Michel de Certeau [(trans. Tom Conley, Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press, 1997) p.133-147] that was the cause of an “operation” runaway…

A cultural operation?

At first, it is necessary to clarify the words culture and cultural. We could multiply the definitions that do not limit the so-called cultural field to the arts and artists. They are numerous, and it is fundamental to constantly recall them in order to fight against the confiscation of the process of conceptualizations by recognized artists. Michel de Certeau writes in Culture in the Plural:

“Surely if it is true that any human activity can be cultural, it is not necessarily the case or is not yet inevitably recognized as such. If culture is really going to exist, it is not enough to be the author of social practices; these social practices need to have meaning for those who effectuate them.” [p. 67]

And in this framework, what can be an operation?

For Michel de Certeau, “the cultural expression is foremost an operation”. Concerning this idea, he indicates three instances: “(1) To do something with something; (2) to do something with someone; (3) to change everyday reality and modify one’s life style to the point of risking existence itself.” [Ibid. p. 143] For him the operation is the meeting point of a particular trajectory that goes across a place, a “practice of a space that is already constructed”. Here, the spaces are “determined and differentiated places” organized by the economic system, social hierarchies, the manners of expressing oneself, the traditions, etc. [p. 145] The trajectory modifies through particular actions the conditions of the instituted places:

“Thus, cultural operations are movements. They inscribe creations in coherences that are both legal and contractual. They stipple and trace them with trajectories that are not indeterminate but that are unsuspected, that deform, erode and slowly change the equilibrium of social constellations.” [p. 145-146]

A zebra [“They stipple and trace them” is used here as a translation for “Elles les zèbrent”, and the verb “zèbrer” comes from the animal “zèbre”] is “the wild donkey” [“l’âne sauvage”, Larousse French Dictionary] “with a very fast gallop” [“au gallop très rapide”, Robert French Dictionary], it is an “ordinary individual” [“individu quelconque”, Cnrtl], a “strange individual” [“individu bizarre”, Robert]… Striped like a zebra, a walker makes the cars listen to reason… To streak like a zebra is to scratch and jam the system, is to striate and “to mark with sinuous lines” [Larousse], with the signature “Zorro”…

For all the zebras who zig and zag
social constellations, star-type societies
For all the other Zadigs and other Zidanes
who dance with no ceremonial and fly in the nets
with zazou’s zedoary of zipped zany
And some hot pepper! Some erosions, movements, alterations,
And some hot pepper! Some collusions, changes, transformations.

[song in the process of being recorded (ter)]

In addition to all this, let’s keep in mind a few ideas from the early definitions above: production as process rather than as finished product, attention and application, strength with help and support, facing up to something, engendering something new, intervention (to come in between, to emerge during something, to stand in-between, to interrupt, to mingle with, etc., a term that the military and medicine use also a lot!); likewise the notion of actions done together, or series of actions.

In the next episode, we will continue to work with the elements developed by Michel de Certeau. His book, The Practice of Everyday Life (op.cit.) begins with: “This essay is part of a continuing investigation of the operations, the ways in which users – commonly assumed to be passive and guided by established rules – operate.” (p. xi). This is the first phrase: the plural is there and the expressions linked to “operation” are very present in this general introduction….

An affair to be followed!

Nicolas Sidoroff – February 2016
Translation Jean-Charles and Nancy François

List of the dictionaries used…

Listed in the order of edition.

  • [Larousse] : Dictionnaire de la langue française, Lexis. (1992). Jean Dubois. Paris : ed. Larousse. (original edition, 1979).
  • [Robert] : Le nouveau Petit Robert (dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française). Text by Paul Robert, revised et amplified under the direction of Josette Rey-Debove and Alain Rey. (2008). Paris : Dictionnaires Le Robert (new ed. millesime, first edition of Petit Robert, 1967, of nouveau Petite Robert in 1993).
  • [Cnrtl] : Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales. [consulted on line:ération , February 11, 2016]

For the etymology:

  • Dictionnaire Latin-Français. Félix Gaffiot. (1934). Paris : Hachette [consulted on line:, February 11, 2016]
  • Les racines latines du vocabulaire français. Jacques Cellard. (2007). Bruxelles : De Boeck, ed. Duculot 4e édition.
  • Dictionnaire étymologique et historique du français. Jean Dubois, Henri Mitterand, Albert Dauzat. (2011). Paris : Larousse, ‘Les grands dictionnaires’.
  • Dictionnaire d’étymologie du français. Jacqueline Picoche, with the collaboration of Jean-Claude Rolland. (2015). Paris : Le Robert, coll. ‘Les usuels’. (new ed., first ed., 1992)


 For an itinerary-song towards…


Discipline (English version)

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For an

The notion of discipline seems at first sight foreign to concepts used by PaaLabRes. In our collective, the emphasis is on the concepts of nomad and transversal. In what way is discipline pertinent to our approach?

In the founding text of PaalabRes, the term “discipline” is employed in the two most commonly used definitions, the first one as domain or field of knowledge and practice, separated from other domains, the second one as personal mastery or obedience:

  1. “Our society is characterized in all domains by the instability, the precarity and the erasure of the limits between disciplines.” “Technologies are at the centers of transverse approaches linking disciplines that were until now far apart.” “This does not exclude, in fact, the presence of external observers and the collaboration with non artistic disciplines (notably social sciences and humanities).”
  2. “This book is ‘a questioning on the operations of users, supposedly destined to passivity and discipline’ ”. [quote from Michel de Certeau L’invention du quotidien, I. Arts de faire, Paris, Union Générale d’Éditions, Coll. 10/18, 1980]

These two uses of “discipline” are most often distinct from one another in common language (an “artistic discipline” versus an “iron discipline”), even when this double use appears in the same domain: a teacher should impose discipline in her/his class – rules of conduct and of obedience – in order to teach his/her discipline – ensemble of knowledge of a specific subject matter. If the use of the one thus does not call spontaneously for the use of the other, we can nevertheless think that the two meanings in this last case are perhaps not very far apart.

The origin of the word discipline can be found in effect in discipulus, which means “pupil” in Latin, thus relating discipline to the idea of learning. The history of the word reveals also a kinship between the two definitions and the proximity of a link to the body:

“The ancient meaning of “massacre, carnage, havoc, calamity”, proper to old French, is to be understood as an extension of the idea of “punishment”, an accepted sense during the 12th Century (ca. 1170), especially applied to a cleric’s corporal mortification (1174) and giving way, by metonymy, to the concrete meaning of “instrument used for flogging” (before 1549) in religious circles. However, as soon as mid-12th century, the word is also employed with the modern definitions of “rule of life, of conduct” (ca. 1120) and “education, teaching”. By metonymy, a discipline refers to a subject matter being taught, a branch of knowledge.” [“Discipline” Le RobertDictionnaire historique de la langue française, Alain Rey (dir.) p. 1095]

Discipline as working on the body, was described by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish. He showed the development during the 18th century of discipline in different institutions through an ensemble of meticulous techniques, methods and practices, which aims, through the corporal inscription, at the fabrication of docile bodies combining usefulness and obedience. Discipline as working on the body through specific practices, evidently constitutes the explicit techniques and goals of an institution like the army, but the “body techniques”, as Marcel Mauss calls them, are equally operational in any teaching practice, including those which are the most “theoretical”. A discipline, by its teaching, constitutes an ensemble of regulated knowledge, techniques and practices, which are inscribed indiscriminately in body and mind. One could say then that discipline is, in the same movement, matter and manner. There is no “matter” (knowledge, understanding, etc.) without “manner” (rules, procedures, etc.).

A discipline, considered as “branch of knowledge”, is only, as indicated by the wording, part of a tree which would represent world knowledge. Following this definition, it is an element of a global knowledge, with a possible doubt as to its effective existence in itself, and which would certainly be only situated historically, culturally, etc., a discipline is thus necessarily partial and excluding. It delimits a perimeter of validity of a culture, that is some ways of thinking and of acting, outside which what it defines no longer applies and is no longer valid. A discipline is obliged to turn inward on itself in order to exist in relation with other disciplines and carries in this way an exclusive logic. However it is because a discipline elaborates its own instruments of contemplating and measuring the world, fragmented but specific instruments, that it can often produce unique knowledge capable of enlightening the world in new ways. Nevertheless, knowledge cannot be unlinked from power, there is a great temptation to preserve in the teaching of a discipline only an ensemble of techniques with no relationships to the knowledge intended to be conveyed, and therefore to the power that this knowledge secures. Michel Foucault showed that the functional role to which a body is subjected, was inversely proportional to the political role it was able to play.

Finally, defined in this way, discipline is thus what at the same time allows and impedes a practice.

For us, reflection on the notion of discipline does not aim to suppress discipline or to multiply the inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinary rationales, nor to harden it in repositioning it on exclusive “fundamentals”. What is at stake is rather to try not to dissociate, within one discipline, the entwined rationales often presented in the form of disjointed elements, as for example “theoretical” and “practical” levels. This supposes that one should imagine a “whole” dimension of discipline, which contains its epistemological, historical, cultural, social (etc.) conditions of construction. However, this position goes against the economic model of division of labor elaborated in the 19th century, that Western art music represents through the hyper-specialization of diverging points of view on music: that of the composer, musicologist, audience, performer, teacher, etc., not to mention the instrumental “enforced discipline” [disciplinarisation] of these last two.

Between a call for a mandatory mixing of disciplines, softening their specific concepts in which everything would be in everything, and the extreme fragmentation of one discipline causing it to explode in as many tightly closed specialties as there are practitioners/researchers, we advocate the importation of foreign elements that shake up and introduce other considerations, allowing a provisional reconfiguration of space and of disciplinary practices.

Samuel Chagnard — 2016

Translation Samuel Chagnard, Jean-Charles and Nancy François

For further studies:

Astolfi, J.-P. (2010). La saveur des savoirs disciplines et plaisir d’apprendre. Issy-les-Moulineaux : ESF.

Chervel, A. (1998). « L’histoire des disciplines scolaires », in La culture scolaire une approche historique. Paris : Belin.

Forquin, J. C., (2005) « Disciplines scolaires », in Dictionnaire encyclopédique de l’éducation et de la formation (sous la direction de Philippe Champy et Christiane Étévé), 3e édition, Paris, Retz, p. 275-279.

Foucault, M. (1993). Surveiller et punir : naissance de la prison. Paris : Gallimard.

Lahire, B. (2012) « Des effets délétères de la division scientifique du travail sur l’évolution de la sociologie », SociologieS [On line], Débats, La situation actuelle de la sociologie, on line, January 27, 2012, consultation on February 10, 2016.


Mauss, M. (1934) Les techniques du corps,, consultation on February 11, 2016.


 For an itinerary-song towards…