Psychogeography

Psychogeography informs and inspires many of my creative pursuits. I am also admin for the East Midlands Psychogeography Group on Facebook.

The term Psychogeography first appeared in a work by Guy Debord in 1955, in which he defined it as, ‘The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.

In The View from the Train, Patrick Keiller comments, ‘This [psychogeography], and the dérive*, were techniques to explore and extend the imaginative, experiential qualities of urban and other landscapes, as part of a wider attempt to achieve a revolutionary transformation of everyday life.

However, as Merlin Coverley puts it in his book Psychogeography, published in 2010, ‘…the term has become so widely appropriated and been used in support of such a bewildering array of ideas that it has lost much of its original significance.‘ Coverley himself notes the main characteristics of psychogeographical ideas as being, ‘…urban wandering, the imaginative reworking of the city, the otherworldly sense of spirit of place, the unexpected insights and juxtapositions created by aimless drifting, the new ways of experiencing familiar surroundings…

While using different methods to achieve a new awareness and appreciation of the city and other environments, contemporary psychogeographers, as The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel notes, often, ‘…seek to record, celebrate and reclaim the forgotten, neglected and overlooked environments of the city.’

Alongside all of this, a more subversive, political element to psychogeography has endured, as a response to the ways in which walkers are often controlled, disenfranchised and treated with suspicion in urban spaces.

Contemporary psychogeography also often concerns itself with the exploration of liminal spaces and edgelands, while some psychogeographers are also interested in how folklore and the occult can play into our concept of spatial identity. While developing his own psychogeographical methodologies, writer and film-maker John Rogers found that, ‘The work became a kind of “archaeology of the present”, sifting through the various layers of everyday life to discover what lies beneath, to re-imagine a familiar landscape, to question the use and ownership of the land, to elevate neglected neighbourhoods and derelict industrial sites to the same level of importance as accepted notions of “heritage”’. ‘

On a more light-hearted note, Will Self, in his piece Walking to New York, mentions that his friend Nick Papadimitriou, ‘…points out that most of the psychogeographic fraternity… are really only local historians with an attitude problem.

As can be seen, psychogeography is a broad church, which lends itself to many different approaches and interpretations.

*The term Dérive is defined in its Wikipedia page as ‘…an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relations and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.


Shown below are some books that are either mentioned in (or by authors mentioned in) this article, or that are otherwise relevant to it. Clicking on any of the links will take you through to the relevant product page on Amazon.