La perruque is the workers own work disguised as work for his employer. — Michel de Certeau
De Certeau’s conception of la perruque was to envision society as something other than a mindless hoard of passive consumers. De Certeau saw citizens as creators. Even when passivity is seemingly apparent (imagine an individual doing nothing but sitting on the couch but watching television), De Certeau’s paradigm was to assume that consumers are creators by nature. From The Practice of Everyday Life:
Once the images have been broadcast by television and time spent in front of the TV set have been analyzed, it remains to be asked what the consumer makes of these images and during these hours. The thousands of people who buy a health magazine, the customers at the supermarket, the practitioners of urban space, the consumers of newspaper stories and legends—what do they make of what the “absorb,” receive, and pay for? What do they do with it?
La perruque means “the wig,” a headdress used for formal or ritualistic purposes. While working day-to-day jobs, while consuming day-to-day culture, while going about day-to-day life, de Certeau imagined that underneath the formal headdressing of ordered society, the individuals are consciously (and constantly) creating (and therefore thinking).
Thus la perrueque is practiced by the guy who write personal blogs on “company time” and the factory worker who makes a personal appliance with materials from the shop. While some would raise an eyebrow as to the ethics of these kinds of practices, de Certeau thought otherwise. In fact, he called for more of it. Why?
As an anthropologist, de Certeau was fascinated by the idea of the potlatch, practiced by various indigenous peoples, ceremonies wherein gift-giving were assumed, integrated practices of culture; “an interplay of voluntary allowances that counts on the reciprocity and organizes a social network articulated by the ‘obligation to give.'” Herein is my interpretation (which should be read as such) of de Certeau: what he saw in the fruits of industrialization was the opposite of the “obligation to give.” The response? Usurp the system and take back from the modalities of industrialization the power to create and give. In his words,
Let us try to make a perruque in the economic system whose rules and hierarchies are repeated, as always, in scientific institutions. In the area of scientific research (which defines the current order of knowledge), working with its machines and making use of its scraps, we can divert the time owed to the institution; we can make textual objects that signify an art and solidarities; we can play the game of free exchange, even if it is penalized by bosses and colleagues when they are not willing to “turn a blind eye” on it; we can create networks of connivances and sleights of hand; we can exchange gifts; and in these ways we can subvert the law that, in the scientific factory, puts work at the service of the machine and, by a similar logic, progressively destroys the requirement of creation and the “obligation to give.” I know of investigators experienced in this art of diversion, which is a return of the ethical, of pleasure and of invention within the scientific institution. Realizing no profit (profit is produced by work done for the factory), and often at a loss, they take something from the order of knowledge in order to inscribe “artistic achievements” on it and to carve on it the graffiti of their debts of honor. To deal with everyday tactics in this way would be to practice and “ordinary” art, to find oneself in the common situation, and to make a kind of perruque of writing itself.
La perrueque was therefore not “cheating,” but reclaiming humanity from the apparatus of the machine. Subversive, yes, but appealing to a far different ethical formula than the typical charge of “cheating” would imply. If it was cheating, it was to cheat a system of economic and creative enslavement that de Certeau saw as a vehicle of oppression in the first place.
In summary, all this has nothing to do with being lazy or unproductive at work, but rather viewing the resources to which you have immediate access as leverage for a greater, common good. In the modern vernacular we are using terms like open data and generativity which bank on the idea that people do in fact share things with each other. To apply de Certeau’s thesis here: this act of sharing must happen within the systems — in fact, we take from the systems’ resources and share with each other, and in this way all members of society are creators and contributors.