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 (trebusprojects.org). 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 d├ętournement (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.

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