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The study of the specific effects (and affects) of the built environment (intended or not) on the emotions and actions of individuals. Although generally associated with the Situationists, it actually dates back to the days before Situationism when its originator Guy Debord was still involved with the Lettrist International. The term first appeared in an essay by Debord, in the short-lived Lettrist organ Potlatch, entitled ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’ (1955). Debord claims the term was suggested to him by an illiterate Kabyle as a general term for a variety of phenomena the group was investigating in 1953. Put very simply the aim of psychogeography was to see the urban space in the light of desire rather than habit. In order to do that, it experimented with different ways of getting lost, such as hiking through the Harz region in Germany using a London map as a guide. But it also implies a project to reform or re-imagine the city, to make it more desirable by making it less a product of and service agent for capitalism. Psychogeography was, and is, very far from an exact science and it is perhaps best to think of it more as a set of practices designed to escape the imperatives of the city than a precise concept or methodology. Having said that, it was not meant to be simply playful either—its purpose was always serious, even when its methods were not. Psychogeography did not come to an end with the Situationist movement, but continues to be developed today. Novelists and cultural historians such as Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Stewart Home, and Will Self, also consider much of their writing about the secret or inner life of cities to be exercises in psychogeography. It has also been suggested that the dark and mysterious tales of the city found in the work of William Blake, Thomas de Quincy, Charles Baudelaire, and Walter Benjamin should be considered as providing templates for what would become psychogeography. See also cognitive mapping; dérive; détournement; deterritorialization; flâneur.

Further Reading:

M. Coverley Psychogeography (2006).K. Knabb (ed.)Situationist International Anthology (2007).R. Solnit Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2001).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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