Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Psychogeography Franchise

The British psychogeographer and writer Iain Sinclair is known for highlighting the problems of psychogeography, at one time calling it "psychotic" geography and describing it as a type of "franchise". (Fortean Times 2002) Historically it has often been considered to be the pursuit of middle-aged men, fortunate enough to have the luxury of time and money, who wander through urban space formulating a commentary on it, as was the case with the flaneur. However, in contemporary times, and perhaps in part because it has become a method and practice for art, there are many more women who partake in it and could perhaps classify themselves as psychogeographers. Probably the most high profile female psychogeographer in recent history is the Situationist Michèle Bernstein.

British psychogeography, in particular, has been criticised for being nostalgic, with Sinclair being cited as one of the main proponents of an approach where "loss and redemption are explored and negotiated". (Bonnett 2009: 54) Alistair Bonnett's recent article 'The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography' explores these notions alongside a consideration that this strand often sits next to a radical activist lineage of psychogeography in Britain.

For the purposes of my own project I mostly use the definition of psychogeography as it is set out by the Situationists. Psychogeography is: “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (Situationist International 1996: 69) However, I think it is pertinent to note that another form of psychogeography was given the same name by Howard F. Stein. In his book Developmental Time, Cultural Space: Studies in Psychogeography (1987) Stein does not see psychogeography as a nebulous or cryptic response to space at all, but something that is ever-present in the individual. Approaching it from a psychoanalytical angle, Stein sees psychogeography as referring to "people's shared psychological representation or 'map' of the natural and social world". (1987: 3) In his edited text with William G. Niederland Maps from the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography (1989) it is described thus:
Psychogeography is the study of how issues, experiences, and processes that result from growing up in a male or female body [...] become symbolized and played out in the wider social and natural worlds, which serve as 'screens' for these inner dramas. (1989: xvii)

Psychogeography for Stein and Niederland takes a Freudian look at space, in considering the inner life of the individual and, therefore, their gender. This form of psychogeographic study aims to look at what connects someone to place and how geography makes a person who they are. It is possible that this form of psychogeography pre-dates that of the Situationists, as the introduction to Maps from the Mind states that Niederland developed it in the 1950s when looking at river symbolism. (1989: xxix) Joel Greenberg uses Niederland's definition of psychogeography in his oedipally named essay 'Psychogeography: A Freudian Look at the Search for Mother Earth...or, How I loved My Mother, Hated My Father and Discovered America' (1978) which looks at exploration and cartography. Greenberg looks at "the unconscious libidinal components linked to geographical pursuits", why the ego projects imagery onto the outside world and how geography appears in representative form. (1978: 90) This type of psychogeography is not the direction I take. I include it here to show the 'grey areas' in the different types of psychogeography. Also because the work of Niederland and Stein has authority in its own field in academia, and to not acknowledge it would be to provide an incomplete picture of what psychogeography is considered to be.

Merlin Coverley talks about how psychogeography resists definitions, and while this could be considered its downfall, it could also be part of its enduring nature: it can be picked up like a flexible tool and re-shaped to suit the individual practitioner. The downside of it is that practically anyone on a causal stroll through town could describe themselves as a psychogeographer, and while this is not really a problem for many individuals involved in this field, it is another criticism levelled at it. In order for psychogeography not to be an elitist pursuit, I prefer to be generous in the use of the term. However, one urban walk does not a psychogeographer make and I would also attach the premise that the walk needs to have certain qualities for it to be of a psychogeographic nature, for example, it needs to be an intentional act that elicits an aesthetic response of some sort in its critique of that space. Coverley describes it as "cutting across established routes and exploring those marginal and forgotten areas often overlooked by the city's inhabitants" (2006: 12) and I think this would be a good way of describing what many contemporary psychogeographers do, including the Situationists (it is also true of the psychogeography I carry out, on my own and with Leeds Psychogeography Group). It would be at least partly correct to say psychogeographers "seek to reveal the true nature that lies beneath the flux of the every day" (Coverley 2006: 13); however, this sentiment is problematic, as it implies that there is a truth underlying postmodern space that can be revealed, and this is not the case; there is no single truth present under the surface, nevertheless, the act itself does allow one to reveal social histories which might otherwise remain hidden.

Not only are there different definitions of psychogeography, some of which have been discussed, but there are alternative names for different forms of psychogeography, and some of the differences are quite subtle. Papadimitriou calls his own type of urban walking "deep topography":
What is deep topography? It's not a programme. It's an acknowledgement of the magnitude of response to landscape. Something that I don't see in most accounts that I read of landscape. I find there's two ways that descriptions of landscape go. One of them puts the person who is experiencing at the centre; and it always seems a little narcissistic to me: 'I respond to this', 'I spotted that'. It's more about them than about the landscape. And the other way it goes, it tends to be greened or touristed, one of the two. So there's either an attempt to place the landscape within the framework of mainstream green philosophy, or else it goes the other way, which is it just becomes touristic: 'The field are really nice in April'. That sort of thing. (Papadimitriou 2009)
The London Perambulator is predominantly about Papadimitriou and his deep topography. There is also a well known form of walking known as mythogeography, subscribed to by a number of artists, writers and academics who are part of a fluid collective. On the Mythogeography website there is a page which differentiates mythogeography from psychogeography. It says:
In the UK the concept of psychogeography was detached from activist meaning and reconfigured as a literary practice in the work of writers like Iain Sinclair and also gathered some occult trappings during this time from Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd and others.
Mythogeography describes a way of thinking about and visiting places where multiple meanings have been squeezed into a single and restricted meaning (for example, heritage, tourist or leisure sites tend to be presented as just that, when they may also have been homes, jam factories, battlegrounds, lovers' lanes, farms, cemeteries and madhouses). Mythogeography emphasises the multiple nature of places and suggests multiple ways of celebrating, expressing and weaving those places and their multiple meanings.
Mythogeography is influenced by, and draws on, psychogeography – seeking to reconnect with some of its original political edge as well as with its more recent additions. (Mythogeography 2011)
This definition of mythogeography attempts to return to the more activist form of psychogeography proposed by the Situationists, while at the same time allowing for multiple meanings to reveal themselves through those spaces.

Psychogeophysics analyses the effects of geography and place on the individual. Walking is one of the means for carrying out this semi-scientific-based research. Mostly examining the city from an ecological perspective, it uses measuring and mapping devices when creating 'situations'.

Because of the historic problems attached to the term psychogeography, and in order to differentiate my own style of psychogeography from the many other existing forms, I have formulated my own term: schizocartography.

I have developed schizocartography from Félix Guattari's terms “schizoanalysis” and "schizoanalytic cartography". While the term “schizoanalysis” is derived from “schizophrenia” (as discussed in depth in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia collaborative series of Guattari and Gilles Deleuze), it does not promote mental illness; rather, “schizo” is used as a way of offering up the possibility of multiple voices, and alternative world-views, amongst other factors. Schizocartography enables alternative existential modes for individuals in order to challenge dominant representations and power structures. This provides an opportunity for multiple ways of operating in space and reading the environment; it critiques the conventional ways of viewing, interpreting and mapping space. This is my definition of 'schizocartography':
Schizocartography offers a method of cartography that both questions dominant power structures while at the same time enabling subjective voices to appear from underlying postmodern topography. Schizocartography is at once the process and output of a psychogeography of particular spaces that have been co-opted by various capitalist-oriented operations, routines or procedures. It attempts to reveal the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. Schizocartography challenges anti-production, the homogenizing character of overriding forms that work towards silencing heterogeneous voices.


Bonnett, Alistair. 'The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography', Theory, Culture and Society, 26, 1 (2009), 45-70.
Coverley, Merlin. 2006. Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials).
Greenberg, Joel. 'Psychogeography: A Freudian Look at the Search for Mother Earth...or, How I loved My Mother, Hated My Father and Discovered America', Science News, 113, 6 (1978), 90-91.
Mythogeography, 'Not Psychogeography', Mythogeography, (2011), [accessed 08 July 2011]
Sinclair, Iain, 'City Brain: A Meeting With the Pioneer Psychogeographer', Fortean Times, (2002), [accessed 08 July 2011]
Situationist International. 1996. Theory of the Dérive and Other Situationist Writings on the City, ed. by Libero Andreotti and Xavier Costa (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona).
Stein, Howard F. 1987. Developmental Time, Cultural Space: Studies in Psychogeography (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press).
Stein, Howard F. and William G. Niederland. 1989. 'Editors' Introduction', Maps from the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography, ed. by Howard F. Stein and William G. Niederland (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press) pp. xvii-xxix.


  1. I walk everywhere, I'm male, middle aged ... and totally broke. In fact I'm utterly unemployable. when I walk the voices that would destroy me are mediated through distance, space, slope and air and are changed. They become rooted in some way. I am the king of disused sports hutss. I become premoulded lintalls and the history of an arterial road. I am an impromptu car-wash and a dead hedgehog in the traffic streams.

  2. Hi Nick(?). This is a great postscript to my blog, thanks...quite poignant...

  3. I am thinking about the possibility of a 'psychogeography without adjectives', inspired by the concept of 'anarchism without adjectives': an approach that recognises the fluidity of praxis and theory and seeks to acknowledge the diversity of and common threads between different interpretations.

  4. You should come up with a brand for it, Jim. Something like mythogeography or schizocartography. Then you can claim it and then you can write a book on it! ; )