“As we can only be aware of our perceptions, psychogeography is the only geography we can inhabit”. (Alan Moore)According to Guy Debord, key member of the Lettriste and Situationist Internationals, psychogeography is 'the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.'
The Situationists used a method (first developed by the Lettristes) called the derive or drift as an attempt to explore and research cities like Paris. They thought that drifting could challenge the ways human bodies were controlled by urban architecture and corporate agendas in the city by creating a new kind of everyday life, where you act on your desires in an unpredictable and instinctive way that defied the hierarchical, rational, behaviourist view of post-war urban planners.
The idea was to drop your usual motivations for movement and action (like going to and from work, or going to shops) and just drift through the streets. Drifting was wandering with no plan, responding to the built environment encountered –you step off of the normal path to explore even familiar territory from a new perspective. For the Situationists, drifting was ‘a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the condition of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances’.
Ambiance is the feeling or mood associated with a place, its character, tone, effect or appeal. For the Situationists places were ‘unities of ambience’, neighbourhoods with a particular powerful atmosphere. Sometimes ambiances changed or shifted - they might change suddenly. So drifting involved picking up on subtle moods and nuances of different areas and trying to draw out the qualitative experience of urban space – smells, tones, rhythms,ruins, foggy views, menace and mayhem.
They studied the materials gathered from their drift research to make new emotional maps of the city. These maps showed ‘psychogeographic slopes of drift’, the forces exerted on drifters by the areas they moved through: ‘From a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones’. These maps were images of play, eccentricity, secret rebellion, refusal, nihilism. The idea was to provide a subjective street level drifter’s view of the city rather than the homogenising bird’s eye view of the urban planners, that saw everything as neutral, equivalent, quantifiable space.
Since the 1990s there has been a renewed interest in psychogeography. Much of this has come from writers, looking back to even earlier precedents of walking and urban exploration as an imaginative practice - figures like William Blake, Charles Baudelaire, and the Surrealists (who took up Baudelaire's figure of the flâneur). Writers like Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Will Self and Alan Moore have helped popularise the term, which has been embraced by a range of artists and designers to explore the emotional and psychic resonances of places, and draw out their hidden or forgotten histories.See: Pinder, D. (2009). psychogeography. In D. Gregory, The dictionary of human geography. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.kingston.ac.uk/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/bkhumgeo/psychogeography/0