Apr 17, 2011

strategies, tactics

michel de certeau, in the practice of everyday life (an unfairly neglected book), makes a useful distinction between strategies and tactics as ways of acting.

a strategy is "the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power … can be isolated from an 'environment.' A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it." these opposing ways of acting, strategy and tactics, are ideal types and there is a combination of strategy and tactic in every action; the issue here is that tactics become a much more significant part of action under conditions of diffusion. In this, certeau's definition of strategy makes reference to a situation marked by coherence and clarity in one key respect—a "place" is a domain of clearly-defined activity, and strategy can be the dominant strategy only possible in such a domain where there are clear means to ends. a tactic, on the other hand "has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances … it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized 'on the wing' … the intellectual synthesis of these given elements takes the form, however, not of a discourse, but of the decision itself, the act and manner in which the opportunity is 'seized'"—tactics are contextual in the most profound way and are dominant where the domain is not clearly-defined.

implicit in the actor's creation of a membership-seeking line based on the context in which it will be deployed is the belief that the line constitutes an argument that certain affiliations and characteristics—his story about himself—justify a relative position in the group. again, this activity is not unilaterally undertaken by the individual seeking a position in the group; rather, the argument and bargaining process is one undertaken as mutually-conducted negotiation. for the individual, the uncertainty inherent in the process of negotiating a valid group identity introduces the need for tactical behavior.

bricolage, the art of making-do exemplified by odysseus (the many-sided), is what individuals do on a daily basis, and certeau discusses the nature of use or consumption (the act of choice and decision-making) as a particular case of bricolage. In a more conscious way, individuals who seek to negotiate membership in a group also engage in a form of bricolage—action conditioned by contingency and constantly in flux. this same lens can be turned on the nature of identity construction. returning to the idea that tactics are decisions and actions, it is important to bear in mind that the construction by individuals of stories about themselves is a sequence of decisions and actions—tactics—contingent on an understanding sense of the group to which entry is being sought: "a tactic boldly juxtaposes diverse elements in order suddenly to produce a flash shedding a different light on the language of a place and to strike the hearer." agents construct themselves through this mix of strategies and tactics; their design to disrupt the target group's definition and change it in their favor.

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