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A running dérive through psychogeography

G.-E. Debord, The Naked City: Illustration de l’hypothe´ se [sic] des plaques tournantes en psychogeographique [sic] (1957), originally bound into Asger Jorn, Pour la Forme (Paris: Internationale situationniste, 1958) (Map: RKD, The Hague.

This article is meant to set the historical context for what will follow–a series of articles about running a dérive, today.

This article is about running. This article is also about adding a Relationally Antagonistic Aesthetic twist to running. And finally this article is about running an alternative version of the Situationist International’s concept of the dérive .

The dérive or drift is an activity related to exploring the Psychogeography of the urban environment.

…avoid the consumeristic mood, by running away from it, along side of it–run unmediated–immediately in any direction–towards the free solicitation of desire.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Situationist International, or the terms psychogeography, dérive or drift or with Guy Debord’s phrase Society of the Spectacle (or simply the Spectacle), I begin this article with paraphrased and copied excerpts  from various articles, essays and books, in my collection to preface a background history for you on the subject of this article: Running as an relational alternative to analyzing Psychogeography.

Let’s cut to the chase (pun intended).

“Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

Another definition has to do with the metaphorical “toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.”

“Psychogeography was originally developed by the *Lettrist International in the journal Potlach– the originator of what became known as Unitary Urbanism. Psychogeography, and the term ** dérive was first used by Ivan Chtcheglov, in his highly influential 1953 essay “Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau”  (“Formulary for a New Urbanism”). The Lettrists‘ reimagining of the city has connections to predecessors like the Dadaist and Surrealists, while the idea of urban wandering relates to the older concept of the flâneur, theorized by Charles Baudelaire.”

*Both, members of the Lettrist International and the Situationist International who participated in the psychogeographical practice known as the dérive are referred to as Unitary Urbanist. Also, members of the Lettrist International would eventually split off to form the International Situationist

**The term dérive translates into English as drift or drifting

The Unitary Urbanist, superseded Charles Baudelair’s “gentleman stroller of city streets” who walked the streets to taste and experience the mood of the city, as gentleman critic and reflecting consumer.

The Unitary Urbanist’s approach sought to intensify its critique of the city beyond the mere consuming peripatetic stroller. “It demanded the rejection of functional, euclidean values in architecture,” such as “form follows function” as well rejected the separation between art and its surroundings, or art from daily life. The implication of these two negations attempts to nullify the strategic power of modern urban design, and its seemlier fixation with maintaining strategic hold on alienating flows of commerce or perpetuating a continuous flow of alienating social relations.

So it goes today, still, that like the Unitary Urbanist we too seek to intervene and “corrupt one’s ability to identify where “function” ends and “play” (the “ludic“) begins, resulting in what the Lettrist International and the Situationist International believed to be the utopian foundation–where one is spontaneously free to constantly explore free of determining factors.

“Cities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones”–such as Gated communities, barricades, boundaries, territories, easements or walls that segregate or contain.

Railroad track split at NE 71st Street, Miami.

“Rooted in Urban sociology– “This is the city has been explored by scholars like Georg Simmel (1997 [1903]), Walter Benjamin (1999) and many others….As well Henri Lefebvre (1991), and Michel de Certeau (1984), along with other “theorists and artists who have been inspired by the concept of psychogeography — have all asked in their different ways, how are social forces and relations crystallized in the fabric, institutions, and encounters of the city? And how is that external reality then transcribed onto the interiority of modern experience? The history of the word suggests that, if anywhere, it is between the two that the city exists.”

Linked to Psychogeography is the Spectacle:

Spectacle: “The spectacle is not a collection of images,” Debord writes. “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” [commodified social relationships]

The commodity can only be understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole.” – Georg Lukacs

The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. The relation to the commodity is not only visible, but one no longer sees anything but it: the world one sees is its world. Modern economic production extends its dictatorship extensively and intensively.” – Guy Debord

“Stairway to the spectacular,” demolition on NW 71st Street, Miami.

Running a Dérive / Drifting in the Psychogeographical:

The Situationist International attempted to analyze the totality of everyday life through the use of the dérive. Debord and his comrades, made enthusiastic use of the dérive (drift), to discover how the psyche is influenced or affected by urban geography and its material milieu–an analogy to this study of environmental influences is the study of how language affects the psyche through psychoanalysis. Various districts in Paris became the laboratory for this new form of theoretical psychic analysis–its place for praxis.

Graffiti Canyon, on the railroad easement starting below NE 79th Street, Miami.

By reading beyond the limited scope of this article one will find in the Situationist archive  [ ] that the dérive was practiced concurrently, along side other critical art practices such as Detourning maps, paintings, photo imagery, film and so on. As well the Situationist also staged other artful in situ political interventions.

Complimenting the Situationist critique of urban psychogeography was the lesser known Situationist International practice of creating uniquely ludic (playful) situations. This practice attempted to create alternative situations that would invoke inchoate and ambiguous experimental social Situations as tactical reactions to the strategic power of urban design and its powerful tendency to maintain the self-perpetuating urbanization of petrified life. These creative practices were limited only by the temporal nature of constructing micro utopian “situations” in already existing urban spaces.  [intentionally, examples of these constructed situations were left to survive only as oral history...little written record exist in the archive of the successes or failures of these created situations]…

The idea of undocumented work still survives as a strategy to avoid the inevitable recreation of works that lead to re-presentation which in turn leads to the commodification of art and to the commodification of social relations. This being antithetical to the theory of creating unique situations, which in theory is antithetical to consumerism–which is pretty much the corner stone of Situationist critique.

“Towering Triangular Absence”

The International Situationist idea of creating situations have inspired many contemporary artist–Dave Mckenzie and Tino Sehgal come to mind. McKenzie sometimes plays with the idea of not documenting work as does Tino Sehgal…as well both artist practice a similar project inspired by the Situationist and other avant-garde groups such as the Fluxus whose program works at the manipulation of existential psychic phenomenon — ambiance and mood.

In the spirit of the Situationist International, Tino Sehgal’s practice entails what he calls the making of “constructed situations”…such is an example of the desire to create alternatives to the existing urbanization of ‘petrified life’…even if the ‘petrified lifers’ happen to be the one’s asked to question the institutionalization of spacial and social relations as passive drifters through the Guggenheim Museum (which Sehgal managed to drain in 2010–replacing its static volumes with temporalizing forms of performative dialogue and desire to create new and undocumentable improv in place of the existing so called ‘petrified life(r)’ Museum.

From this theoretical analysis of existing urbanization to the creation of alternative situations emerged the greater urgency and perspective, that the study of existential affections such as mood and ambiance, are what better informs the totality of urbanization…. This promised a more intensive chase to the heart of the matter. Rather than the traditional seemlier attraction of architectural academia, a much larger totality was in view as it seemed more fecund to study the relational totality in the Heideggerian sense, than the limited relational encounters of occupied, enclosed space. The study of urban mood and ambience, would unfold and mutate into unpredictable views of temporal formations fixed in spontaneity and ludic conviviality–the goal being the examination of existing social relations that might lead to the creation of positively charged ambient situations–antithetical to their previously described methodical analysis of existing urban ambiance or atmosphere. Nicolas Bourriaud references these situationally inspired temporal manipulations in his anthology titled: Relational Aesthetics, pages: 9, 12,19, 85, 95, 113.

“Not The Concept House Again”

For this group of radicals, exploring Parisʼs psychogeography, was the study of changing ambiance (which I have argued on the Situationist list blog, similar to Heideggerian moods); ambiance = moods of the city. The City has moods that are akin to weather. This weather is the expression of various nuanced social factors as well as its edifying architectural and artefactual support. These micro climates are the neighborhoods, the business districts, the industrial centers, the entertainment centers, the railroad easements, deserted areas, fractured localized space, the overlapping of each, etc or the borders and interstices where social and cultural marginalization flourish. The degree to which this local totality varies has to do with the accumulation of personalities, cultural capital and economic capital or lack there of–whether by accident or by strategic design. Discovering all this is to experience the totality of tacit knowing–and to feasibly articulate and share this knowledge would be at best the explicit sharing of representational fragments of archival trace as one comes to the realization of how limiting explicit knowledge really is.

“7th Avenue Mega Pawning”

This Ambiance or mood divides the city into zones with different psychic atmospheres affect consciously or unconsciously the wandererʼs emotions and perceptions-thus the affect of urban mood effects the body or social bodies psychically as well as psychically those participants in the dérive

Human geography and urban sociology:

Running solo or in a group is to take this notion of the dérive or drift and delineate it as an act that people can do alone or in groups without much experience–we are also capable of performing across cultural or class divides rather than remaining focused on the performative rituals and traits that bind us culturally or collectively, seeking identity. It is for the sake of maintaining critical distance that we must be careful not to slip back into the discourses of collective identity or the fixed community that is bound to the geography we explore–lest we loose that critical gaze and return to the experience of every day life (petrified life).

“The discovery of hidden or blatant power relations is at the heart of psychogeographical practices.” Yet the intention is not simply to be able to describe our environment in different ways, instead it is to release our real desires and aspirations upon the environment.” Running gives us this edge, partly because we are already forced to carefully articulate every step along the way.

Underlying the study of psychogeography is a project to uncover underlying desires that are blocked from gaining real expression by commerce and the representations of  suppressive strategies that leverage freedom. These strategies source the fountain head of alienation which intern focus our desires toward fetishized (or commodified) desirables–to remedy this consumeristic influence we need to rediscover needs that directly tie us to reality by reinvesting natural desires into places where we consider the artificial relationship between the social and the personal to be unsustainable–between the visible and the emotional, limiting–and to avoid the capitalistic narcissistic guilt of never enough or not good enough.

Iain Sinclair wrote about London’s psychogeography: “Walking has been the normal way to explore and exploit the city; the changes, shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, tramping asphalted earth in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself [...] noticing everything. Alignments of telephone kiosks, maps made from the moss on the slopes of Victorian sepulchres, collections of prostitutes’ cards, torn and defaced promotional bills for cancelled events at York Hall, visits to the homes of dead writers, bronze casts on war memorials, plaster dogs, beer mats, concentrations of used condoms, the crystalline patterns of glass shards surrounding an imploded BMW quarter-light window [...] Walking, moving across a retreating townscape, stitches it all together: the illicit cocktail of bodily exhaustion and a raging carbon monoxide high.” (1997, page 4)

“Ian’s Dandy Flâneur”

Another way to investigate urban psychogeography is just to mosey around while running with no pre-planned expectations. However, a map can add a birds eye view to an area or territory and its borders so that a territory and its distance can safely be estimated [a runner needs a sense of distance to be traveled to avoid the possibility of injury--from overdoing it]. I sometimes look at Google Earth on my computer before I begin so that I can get a better idea of how far I want to go–or which neighborhood or part of the city borders where…For instance if you are new to running, you don’t want to go too far at first because you may injure your knees, feet, tendons etc, if not in good enough shape.

By using Google Earth you can zoom in to see what obstacles may be in the way. Once you have viewed an area from a bird’s eye view or from “Google street view” the actual real ground view becomes a bit like Déjà vu–once you are actually running, holding the memory in mind–if the terrain has not changed from the time that the images were taken, as often happens.

This is running a dérive, or running an urban drift. Let yourself be delighted by running the terrain as something new! Get to know a place in a different way than you did before, and remember that the difference is running not walking.

As you run you will have unusual encounters with signs, architecture, artifacts, debris on the street or empty spaces etc. Alley ways, dogs, clouds, underpasses, storefronts, bus stands, puddles, sea walls or canals, bad drivers…all that come before you will be seen anew. Rivers, lakes, streams or the ocean will solicit as well as other pedestrians, and runners will all seem oddly estranged and you will likely imbue them with new significance.

Running is stepping outside the mediation of the spectacle. Running confirms a quick escape from commodified routes and more importantly running is an exercise in pre-capitalistic intrigue–its primitivism in the 21st century.

“High Voltage Oven By the Tracks”

Look at each image attached to this article and imagine it in relation to you running alone or with others. A large disconnected electrical box next to rail road tracks becomes an oven; a homeless persons accommodations might not look so uncomfortable and advertisement signage may look pointless as will a blank bill board look a lot more wonderfully post-consumerist.

“Student of Life, Savannah Rules” NW 79th street underpass at 7th Avenue, Miami.

Running causes the cardiovascular system to quicken and as a result, the body to breathe quicker. Like a kind of fast paced meditation, this breathing (or panting) is a key to letting go of outside influences–letting go of that which a moment ago may have informed you. The quickened body tells you directly what it needs and feels. As the body’s metabolism quickens, so quicken the senses. You see quicker, you step quicker, and you experience yourself and the environment quicker, more intensely as you go….

An activity as simple as running or jogging is as old as humanity itself. It is pre-capital, hence pre-spectacle. Running is running down something or running is running in fear. Running for the sake of running is surely running toward good health. Also most important to our resolute act of running is that running is running after chance. For it’s the chance encounter that I find most interesting and serendipitous.

Lately I have been running at least 6 miles a day in the heat of Miami. Let me tell you from experience that an unmediated gain comes quickly from the immediate experience of heat…dehydration comes quickly too. At the end of my run I have a large glass of Ice water waiting at my studio right along side the garden hose. When I run up the last short bit of driveway and grab that ice cold glass of water, the furthest thing from my thoughts is the desire for a branded substitute… No corporate swill at this point, only a clear clean glistening glass of cool unadulterated water please.

The dérive: Its not a competition…it is rather a call to run if you can, walk if have to, or role into a drift in a wheel chair if that’s what gets you around (an all terrain chair would be most versatile) Age shouldn’t matter either, if it does then a bicycle or an adult tricycle will work…an auto will do so will a boat, or kayak if you want to travel in the canals– a dérive(ing) or drifting Imagination will ultimately do fine too.

1.  Our dérive begins at a predetermined location and will proceed through a predetermined area of the city for an estimate-able amount of time or distance (depending of course on the physical endurance of the group (or its lesser member if necessary)

2.   We are encouraged to bring along a camera, note paper and pencil as well as water if you think you might need it. (Watering holes can be found en route too)

3.  To begin the dérive we run or jog a pace that suits the group and if necessary smaller groups can break off from the main group in case some participants want to speed up or slow down the drift.

4.  Everyone is encouraged to discover things along the way that can be photographed or discussed. Recording and documenting is encouraged.

5.  When one wants to photograph something then that persons group can stop or keep going.

6.  When someone stops to photograph or examine a curiosity, without stopping the group then that person will catch back up to the group.

7.  If during the dérive people get separated then a final meeting place can be arranged for all to reunite at the end of the run.

8.  At the conclusion of the event everyone will join up at a predetermined location or the group may choose another destination while running in the dérive. At the end everyone will share experiences, notes and digital imagery.

9.  It is advised to read other articles about training oneself for running especially if running is new to you.

Please feel free to add suggestions to the list above, nothing is set in stone and the dérive will be as flexible and vary as much as necessary in order to expand the concept of the dérive.

Miami, Psychogeographical society.

Richard Haden.



1. Various unlisted paraphrased expropriations…from my collection.

2.  Real Cities Modernity, Space and the Phantasmagorias of City Life, Steve Pile.

3. Actual Running.


“Chlorine Station by the Way”


“Oh Lazarus”

“Welcome to Little River and Little Haiti”

“Cement Crop Circle”

“Private Property”

“Church For Lease”

“Coming Soon”

“Running Drifter Passing Through”

This post was contributed by Richard Haden.



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A running dérive through psychogeography