Saturday, 10 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – Practicing Psychogeography…

This is the third of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Practicing Psychogeography/Psychogeographical Practices’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the other extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’, ‘Outsider Psychogeography’ and ‘Power and Place’. 

Guy Debord wrote The Theory of the Dérive in 1959, setting out instructions on how to drift through the city in such a way where the participants are in tension between a relaxed state of being open to what may arise on the walk, and a conscious awareness in regard to the controlling force of urban décor. Recommending it as a group practice (even specifying the number of participants), suggesting the duration of the walk and discussing the logistics of the area under observation, we can see the genesis of a methodology unfolding in Debord’s text. He tentatively describes psychogeography as a methodology under development at the time of writing his essay and tells the reader how the dérive can be used as a springboard to further the purposes of the Situationists’ wider project, later laid out in Basic Programme of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism (1961).

Formulating a methodology for philosophical (or scientific) inquiry is often necessary for an academic in order to propose potential work and to validate the results of findings. There are a number of situations where this might be required, for instance: when presenting one’s work to a particular body (such as an ethics committee) in order to validate a prospective research proposal. The three essays in this section represent the academic work of three individuals from three different fields: performance, urban planning and cultural studies. The authors have developed a methodology for their walking-based practices and named the methodology in order to distinguish their form of walking from other psychogeographical practices. These essays show the development and evolution of a methodology over time, the fleshing out of a process for a specific project, and the practical aspects of applying a methodology to walking-based research.

Psychogeography and Mythogeography: Currents in Radical Walking
by Phil Smith

The mythogeography project was not planned. It emerged from particular circumstances that still mark it; a transition within artists’ collective Wrights & Sites (Stephen Hodge, Simon Persighetti, Cathy Turner and myself) from making site-specific performances to making interventions in everyday life. What it then became is more a result of emerging opportunities for dispersal than of any coherent strategy; an interwoven set of terms, theory-tales and praxis-narratives made available as far as resources allow to that assemblage of ambulatory and ‘resistant’ practitioners who escape the more popular and literary summaries of psychogeography (Coverley 2006).

‘Mythogeography’ is a theorization of multiplicity and mobility that hangs on the texture, grit, sweat and emotion of individual journeys. Its promotion of its own ideas stems partly from a painful awareness of how quickly actions can melt into air, and partly from a grudging admiration for those, like postmodern performers Forced Entertainment (Etchells, 1999), who have created a critical-theoretical scaffolding around their own activities (getting their retaliation in first).

Developing Schizocartography: Formulating a Theoretical Methodology for a Walking Practice
by Tina Richardson

My interest in psychogeography began in 2009 on a Masters module that included the work of the Situationist International (SI). At the same time I set up Leeds Psychogeography Group and also decided to develop my own specific form of psychogeography as a critical method of urban walking. This was because I wanted to differentiate the urban walking I did from that of others, and at the same time to add nuance to a seemingly vague term. Also I needed to think through my own type of critical walking as a more formulated methodology that could stand up to critique, to the extent it would be credible as part of a PhD.

By applying Félix Guattari’s theoretical critique to the practice of psychogeography, I formulated the term ‘schizocartography’ from his terms “schizoanalysis” and “schizoanalytic cartography”. In its combining with psychogeography, what schizoanalysis does is enable alternative existential modes for individuals in order to challenge dominant representations and power structures as they appear in urban space. This provides an opportunity for multiple ways of operating in and reading the environment; it critiques the conventional ways of viewing, interpreting and mapping space. In this essay I will detail the theoretical aspect of schizocartography, explaining the comparisons with Guattari’s work and that of the walking practices of the SI, describing the methodology of schizocartography by providing examples.

Route Planning a Sensory Walk: Sniffing Out the Issues
by Victoria Henshaw

Sensory walks have emerged since the late 1960s as one form of psychogeography with a focus upon environmental characteristics, experiences and perceptions gained through one or more of the senses. Their emergence as a research method was as a consequence of the coming together of a range of philosophical and theoretical thought and debate, influenced predominantly by feminist and ecological movements where the investigation and analysis of everyday experiences are argued important and necessary in gaining insights into the physical and social environment…

Despite the increasing use of sensory walks as a research method, little has been written about the practical considerations and decisions to be made by the researcher during their planning and implementation. In order to promote and inform the continued use of sensory walks as a method, further debate and discussions are therefore required. In this chapter, I seek specifically to examine the decisions faced in selecting the environments through which a sensory walk might travel and in doing so, to highlight the implications of research site selection on factors such as the nature of the data collected and participant reflections upon the research design.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – Power and Place

This is the third of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Power and Place’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the other extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’ and ‘Outsider Psychogeography'.

The psychogeographical project, as it was for the Situationists, was to tear down the spectacle and reorder space so as to express the needs and desires of the community. They did this in a number of ways, such as through their Unitary Urbanism project which involved redesigning city architecture. But in a practical way this was carried out through their dérives. By formulating chance routes through the city, the Situationists challenged the domineering nature of urban décor and offered a new approach to the city. By, literally, chopping out the areas of the city they disliked – for instance, areas dominated by the spectacle or under redevelopment – they reformed sections of existing city maps into quarters of their own choosing. These quarters reflected their own urban preferences and they added ambiances to them to express what they would represent in their new city, for example, Happy Quarter. The new maps, the Guides Psychogeographiques or the Naked City maps, suggested a new way of moving through urban space that was counter to the capitalist dominated city and encouraged people to reconnect with a city they were increasingly being pushed out of through bureaucracy and urban planning.

For many contemporary psychogeographers, even those who would not consider themselves to be activists, the imposed boundaries that appear in urban space represent power structures that are critiqued as part of their practice. It is the critical act of walking in urban space that enables one to understand first-hand how power operates on the body-politic in subtle and enduring ways. While there have been a number of psychogeographical movements since the disbandment of the Situationists in 1972, as there still are today, it is the SI that holds a prominent place in our memory when discussing political urban walking practices. The chapters here offer a historical overview of the activist project of the SI in relation to psychogeography, alongside a subjective account of running an urban walking group in the 21st century. These essays are very different to each other in form and writing style and reflect the heterogeneity of psychogeographic writing today.

Psychogeography Adrift: Negotiating Critical Inheritance in a Changed Context
by Christopher Collier

‘Psychogeography’ was codified in the mid-20th century to explore the effects of spatiotemporal situations on subjectivity and enjoyed a resurgence in the UK during the 1990s. It has seen further renewal within contemporary culture, particularly in conjunction with the development of its own tentative canon as a literary subgenre. Debate on the ‘recuperation’ of psychogeography has occurred between various practitioners, partially coloured by the polemical approach of the practice’s early avant-garde propagators.

I propose that both sides of such a debate are somewhat problematic: firstly, the ‘literary’ conception of psychogeography, as an artistic tradition, not only tends to disavow its radical Marxist heritage, but also fails to account for the conditions of its 1990s re-emergence, fundamentally based as they were in social praxis and politicised material culture.

Secondly however, to decry psychogeography’s fundamentally ‘literary’ or ‘artistic’ dimension as recuperation is also unsatisfactory, implying a fall, or troubling deviation from definitive, political origins. Such notions of recuperation deploy a neat, stagist narrative, at odds with the manner of psychogeography’s emergence and proliferation. Focusing on psychogeography as a primarily critical practice that has been recuperated potentially fails to acknowledge its immanent, open and pre-figurative dimensions. It also glosses over a number of developments since the 1950s and thus risks trapping psychogeography in the ideology critiques of a former age.

By briefly re-examining the conditions of psychogeography’s renewal in the 1990s, looking at its embeddedness in contemporaneous social praxis, I argue that psychogeography is literary, but in an iterative, excessive sense - as what one might tentatively call ‘infra-literary’, that is ‘literature’ as a material, social activity and a condition of possibility for collective subjectivation and resistance. By using this term ‘infra-literary’, I mean to imply the submerged, amorphous, material basis of communication networks and everyday resistance that as Stevphen Shukaitis notes, is already apparent in former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem’s description of “an infra-language”, around which “declarations of power dance wildly” when they cannot grasp or define its contents (Shukaitis 2009, 194; Vaneigem n.d., 24). This, Shukaitis implies, corresponds with the conception of ‘infrapolitics’ articulated by James Scott (Scott 1990) and Robin D.G. Kelly (Kelley 2002): “[T]he partially hidden public sphere […] a space that is somewhat encoded or otherwise made less comprehensible and legible to the view of those in power” (Shukaitis 2009, 209). What I intend is not literature in the sense of a necessarily individualised, commercially or academically published discourse, but something more akin to a literary ‘dark matter’, to appropriate Gregory Sholette’s metaphor, an underground potentiality, an undercommons, related to what Stewart Home—deploying the Russian term for clandestine, self-published literature—labels ‘samizdat’ (Sholette 2011; Home 1991, 102). I propose this practice has functioned as the material cultural and social basis that nourishes psychogeography’s more visible literary or artistic ‘tradition’.

Confessions of an Anarcho-Flâneuse or Psychogeography the Mancunian Way
by Morag Rose

This chapter explores my experiences as a founder member, and continued participant in, The Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM) a Manchester based psychogeographical collective. The first time I heard the word 'psychogeography' I had a minor epiphany, because it seemed to me to give a shape (albeit an amorphous one) to something I could feel on the streets but not quite define. It was 2006 and I was involved in running an autonomous, anarchist social centre which we constructed in a disused warehouse in Manchester, as an attempt to create a non-commercial alternative space in the rapidly expanding neo-liberal city. Around this time I drew a Venn diagram to explain my conception of psychogeography.

I still believe this to be a good illustration of contemporary psychogeography’s seductive interdisciplinary qualities, although it misses the vital all-encompassing circle of embodied experience. By this I mean the multi-sensual interaction produced through walking and its capacity to generate a relationship between self, space and left-behind traces; the reason why I believe walking has terrific power as a kinaesthetic learning tool. At the time The LRM was founded I was somewhat disillusioned and burnt out from conventional activism, and frustrated by what I felt was the limited impact of shouting (and indeed writing) about spatial justice and inequality. I wanted to explore the use of psychogeography as a participatory tool to disseminate radical theories and stimulate critical debate. It was crucial to me that Loitering was a form of stealth politics that hid its intention under ludic joy, inspired in part by the imperfect avant-garde neo-Marxism of the Situationists. It is important to acknowledge here other Loiterers have different influences, motivations and memories. Early members included artists, activists, academics and a heterogeneous treasury of moochers who were curious about their environment. We wanted to be as open and welcoming as possible and our fluid structure still reflects this; people float in and out and define their own level of commitment. Some see Loitering purely as an aesthetic or social activity and indeed the convivial atmosphere during the post-dérive debrief, almost always in the pub amidst a cacophony of shared experiences, is very enticing. Many new, enduring and often unexpected alliances have formed during our walks. For me, psychogeography primarily offered a form of public engagement with radical theory that was fun, irreverent and active, a praxis developed out of a desire to find appealing methods to critique the hegemonic view of the city.

Monday, 28 September 2015

SCRIB 'Social City: Reinscribe - Involve - Belong'

The SCRIB Project (working title) is about engaging heterogeneous communities within the process of urban regeneration. SCRIB stands for Social City: Reinscribe – Involve – Belong. It aims to produce a model of how local communities can work with property developers, architects and masterplanners to build a more engaging and inclusive vision of the future for cities.

While the pilot project concentrates on an area within Leeds, the broader project will look to build on the pilot in order to engage developers and relevant agencies with communities. It will effectively utilise business networks, project management methodologies, social networking and marketing to raise the profile of academic-based projects. And it offers up a model which can be adopted by other cities who have the desire to engage a diversity of ‘stakeholders’, from grassroots level through to corporations, in order to effect social change.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

October Book Talk in Huddersfield – Walking Inside Out

Date/Time: Friday 9th October 4.15-6.15
Venue: University of Huddersfield (please see below for full venue details)

Talk/reading abstract:
Tina Richardson’s new edited volume Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography is the first text that attempts to merge the work of literary and artist practitioners with academics to critically explore the state of psychogeography today. The collection explores contemporary psychogeographical practices, shows how a critical form of walking can highlight easily overlooked urban phenomenon, and examines the impact that everyday life in the city has on the individual. However, it is also a celebration of urban walking and in her talk Tina will be discussing its value in the complex space of the 21st century city. This book talk also includes readings from two of the contributing authors, Alexander John Bridger and Phil Wood. There will be time for questions, and wine and nibbles will also be provided. Please click here for further info and for (free) booking. The outline of the talk can be viewed on the above image.

Tina Richardson is an independent scholar and psychogeographer. She became interested in psychogeography in 2009 when researching the Situationist International and set up Leeds Psychogeography Group that year, running it at the university till 2013. She is now a writer/editor and guest lecturer. Walking Inside Out is her new edited volume following Concrete, Crows and Calluses, which she self-published in 2013. Tina is also the editor of STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine. The pilot edition was published this summer. Both Walking Inside Out and STEPZ are appearing on university syllabuses this upcoming semester, in the UK and abroad.

Venue details/directions:
Harold Wilson building, ground floor, room 3 (HWG/03).
Click here for location of University of Huddersfield and maps.
Click here for pedestrian map showing Harold Wilson building (while it is building 02 on the map you can also enter through 01, University Reception).

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out - Outsider Psychogeography

This is the second of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Outsider Psychogeography’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the first extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’.

Psychogeography has always had to deal with its detractors, from the criticisms aimed at the Situationist International’s hankering for a lost past to the contemporary disapproval levelled at it in its current incarnations. This is especially prevalent today with the proliferation of online forums, blogs and zines. For example a post entitled ‘How Could Psychogeography Come to This’ appeared in June 2012 on the blog Cosmopolitan Scum which criticised the psychogeography carried out on the London Olympic site in 2012.

Some disciplines can be very welcoming to psychogeography, but this is not necessarily the case in all academic fields. When attempting to justify one’s own practice in what may be a somewhat ‘hostile’ environment, it is easy to come across as apologetic or overly defensive. While the vagueness of the term ‘psychogeography’ enables it to be an inter/transdisciplinary tool, as a field in itself (if we choose to call it that) it is considered unscientific, even if some of the practices employed within it might be used in a scientific way elsewhere and might appear under a different label. For instance, the Recitoire project run by the Grenoble Computer Science Lab, looks at qualitative surveys which involve citizens in their local urban planning projects. While this is not labelled as psychogeography at all, nor is the term used in their documentation, the comparisons are apparent.

The two essays which represent this section reflect the work of two academics who use psychogeography in their own field. They both draw on walking-based literature and philosophy and demonstrate how psychogeography can be used as an interdisciplinary tool which can be incorporated in a discipline in which it might not usually be considered.

Psychogeography, Anti-Psychologies and the Question of Social Change
by Alexander John Bridger

Psychogeographical work doesn’t get much mention in the discipline of psychology. Indeed, the ‘high status’, mainstream and funded psychology research focuses on the measurement of peoples’ minds, attitudes and behaviour. However, in the past 30 years, psychologists have begun to conduct research, which has shifted from laboratory research to fieldwork studies with the aims to use interviews and observations to study peoples’ language and experiences in context. In terms of psychological studies about environments, much of that work has tended to be based in environmental psychology and social psychology where researchers have either attempted to study the effects of environments on peoples’ behaviour or they have attempted to discern how people construct identities in places. Whilst there is some value to that previous work, what I want to outline here is a quite different approach to studying environments, which doesn’t fit neatly into the existing mainstream paradigm of psychology. What I want to do is explain why a psychogeographical approach in psychology is needed and how psychogeographical research should be entwined with political and activist practice to be part of a progressive agenda of radical social change. Clearly, these aims are in opposition to the mainstream scientific orientation of psychology research but there are important reasons why this needs to be done.

Generally speaking, psychology work tends to be disconnected from social change except for instances where governments, the media and other corporations use psychology to back up their agendas and where typically, psychological knowledge is used to uphold the status quo. Earlier on in this book, Tina Richardson (2015) discussed how it continues to be a challenge in academia to introduce literature-based psychogeography into academic arenas, unless it was within literature-based courses. This is even more of a challenge in typically scientific and positivist enterprises such as psychology. In this chapter, I want to outline a distinctively radical, political orientation to psychology, which draws on psychogeographical techniques to consider the spatialisation of environments. This chapter outlines a rationale for why a psychogeographical analysis of environments in and against psychology is important and I will explain how such work can be done...

Re-Walking the City: People with Dementia Remember
by Andrea Capstick

Within the dominant biomedical discourse, late-life dementia is regarded as a pathological condition characterised by short-term memory loss, word finding difficulties and ‘problem behaviours’ such as ‘wandering and ‘repetitive questioning’. As its title suggests, one of the main purposes of this chapter is to shift the focus from what people with late-life dementia forget to what they remember, particularly as this relates to places they have known much earlier in life. A central part of my argument is that dementia, often somewhat crudely represented as wholesale memory loss, might better be regarded as a form of spatio-temporal disruption; a disruption which intersects with the theoretical territory of psychogeography.

People with dementia are often regarded as unreliable narrators, and I first became interested in psychogeography when searching for archival and historical evidence that the places people with dementia referred to in stories they told about their lives actually existed. Or, at least, that they once had done, since the changes that have taken place in the outer built environment during a lifetime of 80 or 90 years are often extreme. The first section of the chapter, ‘Locating narratives’, therefore discusses narrative biographical work carried out with people with dementia as part of the Trebus Projects ( Many of the narrators were people whom staff in the care homes where they now lived believed could no longer communicate meaningfully and often their stories were dismissed as mere invention or attention seeking. It was noticeable, however, that very often they appeared to use quite precise geographical markers to ‘signpost’ memories from earlier life. I found that although many of these places had either disappeared or altered beyond recognition in the intervening decades, the references themselves were almost always accurate and verifiable. In one care home, for example, two women both referred independently in conversation to “black cat”. While this could easily have been taken as a reference to a former pet or a superstitious belief, it emerged that in fact both women had worked at the Black Cat cigarette factory in Camden.

In working with people with dementia there is often therefore a need to suspend our disbelief, and to resist what Russell Jacoby (1996) has described as “social amnesia”; the societal tendency to undervalue, and therefore to forget, the past. This resistance is, in itself a form of psychogeographical détournement (Debord and Wolman 1956) in that an existing concept - that of the amnesiac - is ‘liberated’ from its usual meaning and relocated in wider society. The destruction of memory lies as much in the outer world with its demolition sites, road-widening schemes, bomb damage, slum clearance and gentrification, as it does in the ‘damaged’ brain of the person with dementia. The tendency for people with dementia to ‘wander’, get lost, or become anxious in places that have changed significantly is better understood when we consider it as a correlate of change in the external world as well as internal cognitive impairment.

Friday, 18 September 2015

What does SCRIB stand for?

Scribe - Dictionary Definition


1. To write
2. To mark with a pointed instrument

The SCRIB Project is about rewriting the city by acknowledging the social history that is geographically contained within the terrain. It is concerned with leaving a recognisable trace of the past in the form of an inscription...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Why the dislike button adds nothing to Facebook!

At his Townhall Q and A on 15th September, Mark Zuckerberg did not announce for certain a ‘dislike’ button, despite all the reporting focusing on this as if it is an imminent future additional feature. What he actually said was that Facebook are considering another feature that goes alongside the ‘like’ button, such as a ‘dislike’ button that could be used for ‘expressing empathy’. This post will explain why I think including a ‘dislike’ button does not add anything to the dynamics of the scenario of the already existing ‘like’ button.

The singular ‘like’ option allows users to select ‘like’ for any number of reasons, here are some examples. It might be for liking the content of a positive post, or for when a friend has achieved something (such as completing their dissertation), or it may be they have reached an anniversary of some kind. It also allows you to agree with the contents of a post – this could be something to do with a shared political opinion, or showing approval for an event that a friend may be attending, for example. There are many reasons why you would click ‘like’ to express an actual (genuine) liking of a post’s content.

One of the problem arises, as acknowledged by Zuckerberg, when you don’t like the content of the post, even if you may like the sentiment behind why someone has posted it. Zuckerberg’s example is the current refugee crisis. Sometimes people qualify this in their comments when they are liking a post the contents of which are upsetting or of which they have sympathy. It can sometimes feel ‘wrong’ to ‘like’ posts if you feel clicking ‘like’ does not reflect the complete response you have towards that post. So let’s use this as our example, since Zuckerberg used this is in his Q and A session.

Zuckerberg says that a ‘dislike’ button in this instance would allow people to show their empathy in a given situation. But does it really do this? Say you don’t want to ‘like’ a post on the refugee crisis because it does not express your feelings about it, and not clicking anything clearly doesn’t show the opposite since it does not recognise your acknowledgement of the post in any way at all (unless you write a comment). Also, you may be worried that if you do click ‘like’, it may seem you are liking that there is a crisis, rather than showing your empathy towards the refugees. So there appears to be a ‘lack’ in Facebook in providing you the scope to express yourself in this particular scenario. So, how would ‘dislike’ make up for this lack?

In the way that the ‘like’ button works, the ‘dislike’ button works the same way but in reverse, actually adding nothing to the overall Facebook experience, except for further confusion and the need for people to continue to qualify their use of it. This is why: if you click ‘dislike’ on a post about the refugee crisis, what are you saying ‘dislike’ to? Are you actually saying you dislike the fact there are refugees suffering in this crisis? Possibly, in this situation, that may be the assumed response. But actually you could be saying that you dislike the post for a number of reasons. For instance, you may be someone who is totally unsympathetic to the crisis and has empathy for those countries staunchly protecting their borders. This is empathy, but not that described by Zuckerberg in his example.

Let’s take another more ambiguous example and assume that almost everyone would be sympathetic to the refugees and in that instance we would read the use of ‘dislike’ in meaning that. Let’s say a friend of yours is a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and they put up a link to an online newspaper about him being voted the new Labour leader, but upon reading the post it then appears to be from a right-wing newspaper criticising Corbyn’s new appointment. You may be a Corbyn supporter and are happy to hear about his new position, but unhappy to read the criticisms about him in the newspapers. What do you click on then?

Many posts are of this nature. A lot of the time our opinion of something is not completely ‘black and white’ and our empathy may be directed at some of the content of the post, but not all of it. Buttons denoting ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ simply reinforce the existing dynamic. I would suggest adding a ‘dislike’ button is worse than simply having a ‘like’ one, in that it adds another layer of ambiguity. Having a ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ appears to allow you take one of two positions on a post, but in fact these two positions are just the reverse of each other, forcing you into complete commitment in one direction or other, both choices being of the same dialectical structure. While it may work successfully in some scenarios, as is the case with the ‘like’ button, does it really improve the quality of our user experience, or does it just provide more usable data for Facebook?

NB: I originally thought about doing a deconstruction of the like/dislike feature since it lends itself well to Jacques Derrida’s themes of ‘the trace’ and ‘lack’. It would certainly suit an analysis using his concept of ‘the supplement’, which is an addition that is attached to something original to improve it. However, I wanted this post to be accessible. Despite this I will sign-off with a Derrida taster: ‘the supplement…adds only to replace [and] is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness’ (Of Grammatology).

Related Links:
Thank an aging audience for Facebook’s proposed ‘dislike’ button