[iDC] A Reflection on the Activist Strategies in the Web 2.0 Era

Lucia Sommer sommerlucia at gmail.com
Fri Jan 23 20:37:14 UTC 2009

Thanks Curt and Ryan and everyone for this discussion. I appreciate the
important distinction you're suggesting between tactical media production
and a more-passive (although de Certeau would say more-"dominated" rather
than "passive") use/consumption here, Curt. I would only disagree that even
this production would still not be strategic, according to de Certeau. He
was very clear that to produce strategy requires the luxury of having
colonized space -- something reserved for proprietary power. The rest of us
only ever have access to the tactical, which instead takes advantage of the
medium of time. Quoting de Certeau:

"I call a strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships
that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business,
an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a
place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which
relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or
competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and
objects or research, etc.) can be managed."

For de Certeau, strategy is exclusive to institutional proprietary power.
This is contrasted with tacticality:

"... a tactic is a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper
locus ...The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play
on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign
power. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a
position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection: it is a maneuver
"within the enemy's field of vision,"... and within enemy territory. It does
not, therefore, have the option of planning, general strategy and viewing
the adversary as a whole within a distinct, visable and objectifiable space.
It operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of
opportunities and depends on them, being without any base where it could
stockpile its winnings, build up its own position, and plan raids ... This
nowhere gives a tactic mobility, to be sure, but a mobility that must accept
the chance offerings of the moment, and seize on the wing the possibilities
that offer themselves at any given moment. It must vigilantly make use of
the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of
proprietary powers. It poaches them. It creates surprises in them. It can be
where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse... In short, a tactic is
the art of the weak."

What better definition of tactical media could we find? We could say,
following your important insight here, that there is something like a
gradual continuum between tactical production and tactical use/consumption,
and that the tactical media artist is a tactical producer -- to distinguish
this activity from a more-dominated, or more-passive use/consumption.


On Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 8:44 PM, Curt Cloninger <curt at lab404.com> wrote:

> Thanks Ryan,
> I don't mean that de Certeau's own applications are metaphorical or
> analogical. Of course he means them to be exactly the opposite. I'm
> saying that a lot of "tactical media" theory and work has applied his
> ideas by way of analogy rather than directly (although I admit that's
> a pretty broad generalization).
> Let's say there is a gradual continuum between strategic production
> and tactical use (de Certeau prefers "use" but I'm not afraid to say
> "consumption"). A tactical media artist who uses tactics to make
> something that she calls "art" is by definition no longer de
> Certeau's tactical user/consumer. She is a producer (she has moved
> further down the continuum toward strategic production). I'm not
> saying there's anything ethically wrong with this. I'm just saying,
> it's less like an artistic approach to the practice of life and more
> like analogically adapting de Certeau's tactical approaches to life
> as a means of making art. In pointing out this distinction, I'm
> uninterested in the old ontological differences between art and life.
> I'm really interested in the efficacy of a practice.
> I will check out Hall and Williams.
> This resonates with me:
> "Artists who call their own bluffs - and dissolve, at the crisis
> point, into the vortex of a social movement."
> It makes me think of negative theology (Eckhart, Marion, even Beckett).
> But it's tricky to perform.
> Here is the full Thompson essay (2006):
> http://journalofaestheticsandprotest.org/3/thompson.htm
> +++++++++
> Latour changed my mind about "political" art (particularly "We Have
> Never Been Modern" and "Making Things Public"). To understand
> politics in terms of shared matters of concern, gathered in and
> inextricable from things (not just Heideggerean bridges and jugs; but
> light, sound, language, even "networks") -- "politics" thus
> understood finally begins to matter to me as an artist.
> Best,
> Curt
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Lucia Sommer
60 College Street
Buffalo, NY 14201
(716) 359-3061
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