29: Psychogeography and Maps

Given that the Situationists were a movement of artists they produced few iconic images. One that has emerged is Guy Debord’s Psychogeographic Guide of Paris, showing the city as a series of disconnected neighbourhoods with arrows showing the flow between them.


Psychogeography was, in part a mapping project. As Debord writes in Theory of the Derive:

With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs and experimental dérives, one can draw up hitherto lacking maps of influences, maps whose inevitable imprecision at this early stage is no worse than that of the earliest navigational charts. The only difference is that it is no longer a matter of precisely delineating stable continents, but of changing architecture and urbanism.

Debord was also inspired by a map produced by the French sociologist Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe, charting the movements made by a student over the space of a year, which shows ““the narrowness of the real Paris in which each individual lives”.


(This work is echoed by the news in 2012 that an algorithm produced by the University of Birmingham could predict where someone would be in 24 hours “even if it’s a major change from their usual routine”)

Maps in psychogeography has been neglected in favour of the derive, possible because a clearer method was developed for drifting, possibly because drifting requires less work. But even the Derive is linked to mapping, with the common methods being to draw arbitrary shapes on a map and take those as routes on the ground. Another technique, suggested by Debord, is to use a map of one place to navigate another: “A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London.”

The Situationist obsession with maps and territory uncovers a contradiction at the heart of the group. Merlin Coverley has quoted Simon Sadler: “Like the imperialist powers that they officially opposed, it was as if the situationists felt that the exploration of alien quarters (of the city rather than the globe) would advance civilisation”

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