Thinking engaging tactics 2

Now it is my turn: engaging tactics? What do I get out of this topic – or what could I put into it?

First of all, why engaging? Engaging, because (a) Sociology finds itself rendered irrelevant and wants to come out of its crisis by critically (oh, how critical we are) moving forward, or (b) because I/we as researchers have a political, cultural or what ever agenda and this agenda happens to have to do something with ‘the people out there’?

I guess, in my case – and in a very personal way – it is both. The current situation of the critical social sciences in the UK landscape of higher education calls for the same question I am asking me on a personal level every day, too: Why Sociology? My research interest is the city; my theoretical lens is pretty fragmented and thus draws in light from  angles such as spatial theory, urban planing, architecture, geography and anthropology. And now I am doing my PhD and somehow I thought (and still think) that Sociology might help me to bring it all together? So in order to make this happen, I need Sociology to be able to engage with all the bits and pieces of my research setting: with city life as well as with city form. With the social as well as with the material ground in which this social is taking action… With the walker and with the dusty street he/she is walking on.

And once Sociology does open up a path into my/our understanding of the city, than I have to engage even more with ‘what is out there’ because I do have a political agenda, too. I am interested in how people live urban form not only for interest’s sake alone but because I would like to participate in finding alternative ways of ‘making’ city (starting at alternative ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘thinking’ city). So I want the outputs of my research to engage with (insurgent) residents, policy makers and planners, too – all of them people who, almost by definition, either do not have or do not want to take the time to read a 400 page PhD manuscript.

Therefore I need several, and complementary ways to engage with ‘the urban’ during and as an extension of my research. So I come to the second question inherent in our conference title: why tactics?

De Certeau (1988: xix) distinguishes between tactics and strategies: while the later, the strategy, operates out of a clearly cut institutional or otherwise defined place (and thus sustaining this place against ‘the other’), the former, the tactic, is a way of operating that does not rely on a stable ‘proper’ with its inherent power relations, visibility and spatial differentiation. It is a flexible mode of operating, one that navigates through (social) space in stead of fixing it in concrete categories (see Vigh, 2009). The notion of tactics allows to think both research and dissemination as a way of constantly engaging back and forth, sideways and up and down with the social (in my case with the socio-spatial urban as well as with urban political and planning practice).


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