Monday, 13 October 2014

The New Psychogeography

At the beginning of October I was kindly invited by Dr. Rowan Bailey to give a lecture to the Art, Design and Architecture MA students at the University of Huddersfield. My spec involved incorporating psychogeography into theoretical approaches to the postmodern city and, in particular, my own research in this area. So I got to thinking more about a section in the upcoming edited volume that I’m working on – Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography – that I had entitled ‘The New Psychogeography’ and decided to include that in the title of the lecture: ‘Postmodern Urbanism and the New Psychogeography’ (if you want to see the lecture slides properly, it is better to download them than scroll through due to the animation).

This got me thinking a bit more about what I think ‘the new psychogeography’ might look like, so following discussions with two other interested contemporary psychogeographers (Phil Smith and Alex Bridger), one of whom is also working on something similar, I came up with the following slide as part of the lecture:

I realise this slide might seem prescriptive – hence my caveat – but it is difficult, in a deconstructionist way, to say what something is without saying what it isn’t, and vice versa. So I have tried not to set these themes up in a dialectical way i.e. not against each other in the table. Also, during the actual lecture I was able to qualify what these motifs represent more fully, which I intend to address in future blogs. So what I am actual doing here, rather, is throwing this out in order to spark some discussion, while working on this more fully in my ‘spare time’. I plan to turn this into a fully fleshed-out article at some point in the future.

I’d just like to add, I don’t see this as a distinct break in any way, more a turn, a gentle movement towards something else. Also, my use of the term ‘post-Sinclairian’ is based on an email conversation I had with Iain Sinclair, so it is not a pejorative term levelled at him. I have a lot of respect for him and in the upcoming volume I describe as “the Godfather of contemporary psychogeography”. In our email exchange Sinclair said, and I paraphrase, ‘it is time for a young group of urban walkers to pick up the mantel of psychogeography and do something new with it’.

This is not intended as a pretentious exercise that reflects the overblown aspirations of a ‘new psychogeographer’. It is meant as a way of reflecting a moment in time where some sort of cultural – and politically reflected (maybe) – shift is occurring in the field. This is based on many conversations I have had with people over the past few years who believe there is a current resurgence of psychogeography – some were psychogeographers and some were not. And, since I am originally a cultural theorist, I understand that these ‘moments’ have reasons for coming into being when they do and this means they can be analysed contextually. In order to do that we need to recognise it and label it in some way so that we can discuss it, even if that labelling sits uncomfortably within psychogeography itself.

I do appreciate I am being a bit cheeky by attempting to name it: ‘Who do you think you are?’, you might be thinking. But, I am approaching it in both a serious and light-hearted way, as my opening words to the students at Huddersfield reflect: “I’d just like you all to know that you are the first people in the world to be introduced officially to the term ‘the new psychogeography’. When I am famous, or dead, you can all say ‘I was there the first time the phrase was officially mentioned!’”

Please feel free to join the discussion. As well as the motifs that appear on the slide above, in future blogs I will be exploring the following issues/themes:

Why the name ‘the new psychogeography’?
Does naming it go against what psychogeography is?
What about the issue of the academicisation of psychogeography?

Related links:
Psychogeography and Feminist Methodology


  1. I found your blog today courtesy of @ramblanista via Twitter. In fact, I have to say that I'd never heard the term psychogeography prior to my wading into the Tweetosphere. I've visited the UK a couple times mainly for work related things - and I've since tried to keep up with the happenings there re: landscape, sustainability, etc etc.

    The whole idea is intriguing, but I will admit that I haven't yet been able to clearly define psychogeography in my own mind. I was excited when I rec'd Merlin Coverly's book, but that didn't exactly clarify matters (no fault of his, I should add).

    I'm not sure I can add an opinion to what the new psychogeography is when I haven't quite grasped the old one yet! I guess in my mind, I think an artist like Richard Long sums up what I feel like the word should mean. Tim Robinson is one of my favorite writers, and I guess I would add him to my list too. (Please feel free to point me in the direction of others, by the way)

    The whole discipline seems very much rooted in the UK & Europe. I want to add quickly that the handful of psychogeographers that I follow on social media have been unfailingly kind and interesting. I'll be looking forward to more.......


    1. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your detailed comment. I don't think it matters that you can't pin down psychogeography - it's 'the nature of the beast' - and I think that is one of its positive qualities, although not everyone feels that way.

      Coverley’s book is a brilliant introduction to the field. You might also like his ‘The Art of Urban Wandering’ if you are interested in literature and urban walking. I think Richard Long is a great example of art/psychogeography. Have you heard of the Walking Artists’ network, btw? I haven’t heard of Tim Robinson, so I will check him out right away. Thanks.

      One of the great things about psychogeography is its interdisciplinarity, so if you let me know what your other interests are, I may be able to point you in the direction of a psychogeographer who crosses into that field.

      All the best, Tina

    2. Hi Tina,

      Lucky for me that The Art of Urban Wandering is available via my library.

      Well, my other interests are many, but I think what gets me thinking about this is that sense that we (humans) are increasingly forced - urban living, and all - straying from the life we've evolved for.

      I love to walk, ride my bike. There shouldn't be anything mystical about that. We've (USA, Chicago, etc) constructed this world that is so car centered that the act of walking in many places feels like an act of eccentricity!

      My truck has been in the shop - so more than ever I have been relying on feet, bike and trains to work, etc. I'm going to write about these past couple weeks when I can clear my desk : )

      Oh, and here's something I wrote in 2013:


    3. Hi Dave,

      I did some psychogeography in LA once, it was a bizarre, but exciting, experience, so I understand what you mean about the dominance of cars in US urban space.

      I really liked the blog you linked me too above. The psychogeography of this guy may interest you as it looks at geographical space in general and orients it in a very different way to the Situationists:

      All the best, T

  2. You (in your quote from Sinclair) specifically mention 'urban walkers'. Do you see the New Psychogeography as being exclusively urban?

    1. Hello Joe,

      I was just thinking of this very issue last night as I realised I hadn’t addressed it at all in my slide or blog. So, thanks for bringing it up. It is a tricky one, since psychogeography (usually, and at least in relation to the Situationists) has been a response to the spectacle, which is more apparent in urban than rural space. However, there was a type of psychogeography, which may have even preceded the SI, that looked at any geographical space, rural included (see Niederland and Stein).

      Some psychogeographers do counter-tourist activities, which obviously stray into more rural areas. Also, one may do a walk that crosses urban/suburban/rural boundaries, so can we fairly say that are not doing psychogeography at the point they cross those nebulous lines?

      I don’t really have an answer. I can only say that historically walking in obvious rural spaces has not been classified under psychogeography. However, I prefer to be generous in my use of the term, rather than exclusive. There is little nature left anymore. Most of what we call nature is actually second-nature, so the land has already been worked on (e.g. rural ‘beauty spots’ that have public access but may also be used for sheep grazing). So, we could comment on that land in relation to certain power structures that are also in play there. And we could certainly comment on them in a subjective aesthetic/affective way.

      I would tend towards using the term psychogeography generally for urbania, since that is why it was created, in order to provide a critique of urban space that was different from that of the walker of the countryside, but I’m open to discussion on the matter.


      All the best, Tina