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Keep the (urban-walking) faith!

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Guest blog by Tina Richardson, University of Leeds

This blog will provide basic instructions how to carry out a dérive, while at the same time attempting to keep within the theme of your blog. So, in between a guide on how to do a bit of psychogeography, there will be some images of Leeds taken on my own dérives, along with their relevant postcodes.

LS4 Kirkstall Electricity Substation

In The Theory of the Dérive the Situationist Guy Debord provides extensive instructions on how to partake in a dérive (drift). The dérive involves moving through the city in a new way by creating different paths by chance. There are a number of methods of doing this, and new ones can be invented, for example drawing a map of one city on top of another and attempting to follow that route. In terms of the philosophy behind it, Debord says: “Progress is nothing other than breaking through a field where chance holds sway by creating new conditions more favorable to our purposes.” (1996: 23). This purpose being to challenge capital as it appears in the form of the spectacle: “The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” (Debord 2005: 4).

LS6 Arndale Centre, Headingley

Abdelhafid Khatib, described the dérive, thus: “At the same time as being a form of action, it is a means of knowledge […]” (1996: 73). For the Situationists it was important that these walks could not be considered a “journey” or a “stroll”. Despite the fact that a playful element was deemed essential, those taking part were expected to be conscious of the environment, especially in the way it tied in with a critique of capitalism. Urban walkers were encouraged to be aware of “fissures in the urban network, […] microclimates, […] administrative districts, and above all the dominating action of centers of attraction” (Debord 1996: 22). It was the domineering appropriation of space by capitalism that troubled the Situationists so much, they believed that people did not live in the city but in the hierarchy formed through the urban environment.

LS11 Subway in Holbeck

The Situationists attempted to rearrange the material matter that appeared as urban décor, and even if they could not do this in concrete space, they had every intention of changing the psychic space of urbanism. These dérives became ‘moments’, or situations: “The ‘moment’ is mainly temporal, forming part of a zone of temporality, not pure but dominant. Articulated in relation to a given place, the situation is completely spatio-temporal […]” (Situationist International 1996: 101). The Situationists project directed at urbanism was about seizing a moment in time and space and attempting to change its aesthetics for a short time. They were conscious of the effects that the environment have on the individual, and wanted those on the dérives to be both aware of this and at the same time attempt to let notions of the dominance of the capitalist city be temporarily stemmed. The dérives were considered a process of surveying space and consequently enabling a new narrative to arise from it.

LS18 Empty Shop in Horsforth

Situationist Psychogeography Methodology

  • Chance, randomness
  • Playful but constructive
  • Need to let-go and be conscious at the same time
  • Spatial field: single city, neighbourhood, or defined region
  • Be aware of: liminal (threshold, edge) spaces and interstitial (in-between) spaces
  • Recommendation: 5 people max
  • Usually limit number of hours and define that as a single derive

Examples for planning a route…

  • Turn left, then left, then right
  • Throw dice (attach criteria to numbers)
  • Draw the outline of one city over another (Situationists)
  • Follow subconscious urges, free from the voice of reason (Surrealists)
  • In pairs: one blindfolded (enables other senses to operate better)
  • In a group: one person writes a place of aesthetic interest on a piece of paper, folds over, and hands to the next person, etc. Plot the places on a map and visit them in turn.

LS12 Bridge and Pipes in Armley

In 2011 I took a group of design students at the University of Leeds on a psychogeographical trip to Armley in Leeds. In preparation for the walks I created these two blogs, which you might find interesting/useful:

Armed for Armley – Part 1:

Leeds Industrial Museum Reconnaissance

Armed for Armley – Part 2:

A Psychogeographer’s Aesthetic Response to the Leeds Industrial Museum Grounds

Thank you for inviting me to write a guest blog.

Keep the (urban-walking) faith!


Tina’s website: schizocartography

Particulations: psychogeography blog


Debord, Guy. 2005. The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red).

Situationist International. 1996. Theory of the Dérive and Other Situationist Writings on the City, ed. by Libero Andreotti and Xavier Costa (Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona).

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