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evoL PsychogeogrAphix 2003
evoL PsychogeogrAphix 2003
evoL PsychogeogrAphix 2004
evoL PsychogeogrAphix 2005

Psychogeography is an approach to [1] Another definition is "a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities... just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape."[2]


  • Development 1
  • Dérive 2
  • Contemporary psychogeography 3
  • Groups involved in psychogeography 4
  • Noted psychogeographers 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Psychogeography was originally developed by the avant-garde movement Lettrist International in the journal Potlach. The originator of what became known as unitary urbanism, psychogeography, and the dérive was Ivan Chtcheglov, in his highly influential 1953 essay "Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau" ("Formulary for a New Urbanism").[3] The Lettrists' reimagining of the city has its precursors in aspects of Dadism and Surrealism. The idea of urban wandering relates to the older concept of the flâneur, theorized by Charles Baudelaire. Following Chtcheglov's exclusion from the Lettrists in 1954, Guy Debord and others worked to clarify the concept of unitary urbanism, in a bid to demand a revolutionary approach to architecture. At a conference in Cosio di Arroscia, Italy in 1956, the Lettrists joined the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus to set a proper definition for the idea announced by Gil J. Wolman: "Unitary Urbanism - the synthesis of art and technology that we call for — must be constructed according to certain new values of life, values which now need to be distinguished and disseminated."[4] It demanded the rejection of functional, Euclidean values in architecture, as well as the separation between art and its surroundings. The implication of combining these two negations is that by creating abstraction, one creates art, which, in turn, creates a point of distinction that unitary urbanism insists must be nullified. This confusion is also fundamental to the execution of unitary urbanism as it corrupts one's ability to identify where "function" ends and "play" (the "ludic") begins, resulting in what the Lettrist International and Situationist International believed to be a utopia where one was constantly exploring, free of determining factors.

In "Formulary for a New Urbanism", Chtcheglov had written "Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams".[5] Similarly, the Situationists found contemporary architecture both physically and ideologically restrictive, combining with outside cultural influence, effectively creating an undertow, and forcing oneself into a certain system of interaction with their environment: "[C]ities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones".[6]

The Situationists' response was to create designs of new urbanized space, promising better opportunities for experimenting through mundane expression. Their intentions remained completely as abstractions. Guy Debord's truest intention was to unify two different factors of "ambiance" that, he felt, determined the values of the urban landscape: the soft ambiance — light, sound, time, the association of ideas — with the hard, the actual physical constructions. Debord's vision was a combination of the two realms of opposing ambiance, where the play of the soft ambiance was actively considered in the rendering of the hard. The new space creates a possibility for activity not formerly determined by one besides the individual.

However, the Situationist International may have been tongue-in-cheek about some parts of psychogeography. "This apparently serious term 'psychogeography'", writes Debord biographer Vincent Kaufman, "comprises an art of conversation and drunkenness, and everything leads us to believe that Debord excelled at both."[7]

Eventually, Debord and Asger Jorn resigned themselves to the fate of "urban relativity". Debord readily admits in his 1961 film A Critique of Separation, "The sectors of a city…are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents". Despite the ambiguity of the theory, Debord committed himself firmly to its practical basis in reality, even as he later confesses, "none of this is very clear. It is a completely typical drunken monologue…with its vain phrases that do not await response and its overbearing explanations. And its silences."[8]

Before settling on the impossibility of true psychogeography, Debord made another film, On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time (1959), the title of which suggests its own subject matter. The film's narrated content concerns itself with the evolution of a generally passive group of unnamed people into a fully aware, anarchistic assemblage, and might be perceived as a biography of the situationists themselves. Among the rants which construct the film (regarding art, ignorance, consumerism, militarism) is a desperate call for psychogeographic action:

Moments later, Debord elaborates on the important goals of unitary urbanism in contemporary society:

Quoting Karl Marx, Debord says:

While a reading of the texts included in the journal Internationale Situationniste may lead to an understanding of psychogeography as dictated by Guy Debord, a more comprehensive elucidation of the term would come from research into those who have put its techniques into a more developed practise. While Debord's influence in bringing Chtchglov's text to an international audience is undoubted, his skill with the 'praxis' of unitary urbanism has been placed into question by almost all of the subsequent protagonists of the Formulary's directives. Debord was indeed a notorious drunk (see his Panegyrique, Gallimard 1995) and this altered state of consciousness must be considered along with assertions he made regarding his attempts at psychogeographical activities such as dérive and constructed situation. The researches undertaken by WNLA, AAA and the London Psychogeographical Association during the 1990s support the contention of Asger Jorn and the Scandinavian Situationniste (Drakagygett 1962 - 1998) that the psychogeographical is a concept only known through practise of its techniques. Without undertaking the programme expounded by Chtchglov, and the resultant submission to the urban unknown, comprehension of the Formulary is not possible. As Debord himself suggested, an understanding of the 'beautiful language' of situationist urbanism necessitates its practice.


By definition, psychogeography combines subjective and objective knowledge and studies. Debord struggled to stipulate the finer points of this theoretical paradox, ultimately producing "Theory of the Dérive" in 1958, a document which essentially serves as an instruction manual for the psychogeographic procedure, executed through the act of dérive ("drift").

In the SI's 6th issue, Raoul Vaneigem writes in a manifesto of unitary urbanism, "All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops — the geometry".[9] Dérive, as a previously conceptualized tactic in the French military, was "a calculated action determined by the absence of a greater locus", and "a maneuver within the enemy's field of vision".[10] To the SI, whose interest was inhabiting space, the dérive brought appeal in this sense of taking the "fight" to the streets and truly indulging in a determined operation. The dérive was a course of preparation, reconnaissance, a means of shaping situationist psychology among urban explorers for the eventuality of the situationist city.

Contemporary psychogeography

Since the 1990s, as situationist theory became popular in artistic and academic circles, avant-garde, neoist, and revolutionary groups emerged, developing psychogeographical praxis in various ways. Influenced primarily through the re-emergence of the London Psychogeographical Association and the foundation of The Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture, these groups have assisted in the development of a contemporary psychogeography.

Between 1992 and 1996 The Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture undertook an extensive programme of practical research into classic (situationist) psychogeography in both Glasgow and London. The discoveries made during this period, documented in the group's journal Viscosity, expanded the terrain of the psychogeographic into that of urban design and architectural performance.

The journal Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration (which appears to have ceased publication sometime in 2000) collated and developed a number of post-avant-garde revolutionary psychogeographical themes. The journal also contributed to the use and development of psychogeographical maps[11] which have, since 2000, been used in political actions, drifts and projections, distributed as flyers. Since 2003 in the United States, separate events known as Provflux and Psy-Geo-conflux have been dedicated to action-based participatory experiments, under the academic umbrella of psychogeography.

Psychogeography also become a device used in Edgar Allan Poe, Daniel Defoe, and Charles Baudelaire, they had a shared tradition. Psychogeography, as a term and a concept, now reaches more British eyes than ever before, as novelist Will Self had a column of that name which started out in the British Airways Inflight magazine and then appeared weekly in the Saturday magazine of The Independent newspaper until October 2008.

The concepts and themes seen in popular comics writers such as Alan Moore in works like From Hell are also now seen as significant works of psychogeography. Other key figures in this version of the idea are Walter Benjamin, J. G. Ballard, and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Part of this development saw increasing use of ideas and terminology by some psychogeographers from Fortean and occult areas like earth mysteries, ley lines, and chaos magic, a course pioneered by Sinclair. A core element in virtually all these developments remains a dissatisfaction with the nature and design of the modern environment and a desire to make the everyday world more interesting.

After a few years of practicing, the psychogeography group that gravitates around the Urban Squares Initiative and Aleksandar Janicijevic,[12][13] the initiator of, and main figure in organizing and leading this group, came up with the working definition of this procedure as: "The subjective analysis–mental reaction, to neighbourhood behaviours related to geographic location. A chronological process based on the order of appearance of observed topics, with the time delayed inclusion of other relevant instances".[14]

To facilitate making dérives, a number of applications for mobile devices have been created over the last few years. Most notably, Dérive app,[15] Serendipitor,[16] Drift,[17] and Random GPS[18]

Groups involved in psychogeography

Psychogeography is practiced both experimentally and formally in groups or associations, which sometimes consist of just one member. Known groups, some of whom are still operating, include:

Noted psychogeographers

See also


  1. ^ Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955
  2. ^ Hart, Joseph (July/August 2004). "A New Way of Walking". Utne Reader.
  3. ^ Chtcheglov, Ivan. "Formulary for a New Urbanism". Full text at
  4. ^ Wolman, Gil (1956). Address by the Lettrist International Delegate to the Alba Conference of September 1956 ALba: Lettrist International.
  5. ^ Chtcheglov, Ivan (1953). "Formulary for a New Urbanism".
  6. ^ a b Knabb 1995, p. 50.
  7. ^ Kaufman 2006, p. 114.
  8. ^ A Critique of Separation (1961). Complete Cinematic Works (AK Press, 2003, Trans. Knabb. K)
  9. ^ Gray, Christopher, ed. (1998). Leaving the 20th Century: the Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, London: Rebel Pub.. p. 26.
  10. ^ McDonough 2004, p. 259.
  11. ^ "The production of psychogeographical maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but total insubordination to habitual influences (influences generally categorized as tourism, that popular drug as repugnant as sports or buying on credit)." from Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, Debord 55
  12. ^ [3] Archived March 27, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ [4] Archived March 30, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "psychogeography now – window to the urban future | ……". Retrieved 2013-04-18. 
  15. ^ Dérive app
  16. ^ Serendipitor
  17. ^ Drift
  18. ^ Random GPS
  • Kaufman, Vincent (2006). Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 
  • Knabb, Ken, ed. (1995). Situationist International Anthology. Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets. 
  • McDonough, Tom, ed. (2004). Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents. Boston: October Press. 

Further reading

  • Balsebre, Gianluigi (September 1995). Della critica radicale. Bibliografia ragionata sul'internazionale situazionista con testi inediti in italiano (in Italian). Bologna: Grafton.
  • Balsebre, Gianluigi (1997). Il territorio dello spettacolo (in Italian). Bologna: Potlatch.
  • Coverley, Merlin (2006). Psychogeography. London: Pocket Essentials.
  • Debord, Guy, ed. (1996). Guy Debord presente Potlatch. Paris: Folio.
  • Ford, Simon (2005). The Situationist International: A User's Guide. London: Black Dog Publishing.
  • Home, Stewart (1997). Mind Invaders: A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage and Semiotic Terrorism. London: Serpent's Tail.
  • Janicijevic, Aleksandar (June 2008). "Psychogeography Now - Window to the Urban Future". (Toronto) (International Journal for Neighbourhood Renewal, Liverpool, UK)
  • Law, Larry; Chris Gray, editors (1998). Leaving the 20th Century: the Incomplete Work of the Situationist International. London: Rebel P.
  • Sadler, Simon (1998). The Situationist City. Cambridge: MIT P.
  • Smith, Phil. Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways
  • Vazquez, Daniele (2010). Manuale di Psicogeografia. Cuneo: Nerosubianco edizioni.
  • Wark, McKenzie (2008). 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International. New York, Princeton Architectural.

External links

  • Guide psychogeographique de Paris. Guy Debord's famous map of Paris
  • Interview with Merlin Coverley

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