What exactly is psychogeography?

From what I understand, the term has its origins with Guy Debord and the Situationists in mid-20th century Paris. Psychogeography for the Situationists was political. They believed that modern society had increasingly become machine-like, where the common person essentially existed in a pre-defined circuit, a predictable path that directly lead to serving the interests of the powerful. Increased Consumerism was directly connected to this: for many, life was, and still is, a cycle of sleeping, travelling to work to make money, spending that money by shopping for things not needed, and returning home to begin the cycle again. The city, for the circuit-fixed labourer becomes a predictable and well defined path leading from work to shopping to home, along major transit corridors and mass transit routes.

Guy Debord and the Situationists advocated for psychogeography to rock this circuit life. Breaking the routine of the work day and exploring a city for its own sake is an activity in direct opposition to the  predictable and well defined-Consumer world. Exploring the city for its own sake is an opportunity to relish the pleasures of life itself, breaking  the chain of a life of idle Consumerism.

Toronto Urbanist Shawn Micallef has described psychogeography as “getting excited about a place”. His definition is decidedly less political than the Situationists, though fundamentally related. My contribution to Micallef’s version of psychogeography would be that it involves walking around a place, and thinking about and discussing everything that inspires you from the landscape you are traversing. A psychogeographic walk would involve talking about the history, politics, economics, physical geography, architecture, urban design, personal and public memories, philosophy — anything, that layered on top of each other makes the place you are in entirely unique.

Exploring the activity of psychogeography historically and presently has made me realize that my father and I have been engaged in psychogeography for a very long time. We walk the city — and talk about it — all of it, while at the same time inscribing our own memories onto Toronto the place, as we meander and consider the finer points of a development, the changing neighbourhood, bicycle rides of last summer.

For some reason, psychgeography has emerged from Paris in the 60s, and is becoming very popular in the world of geography, art, design and Urbanism. Why? I relate it to the increasing dominance of GPS based smart phone technology, and our increasingly inward focused internet lives. We are aching for adventure, something to break our circuit of computer use and Google Map navigation. And we are finding that adventure in the very cities that surround us everyday, excited about the randomness and beauty real life can offer.

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