Psychogeography – History, Derive, The Situationist International, Amsterdam

Psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals” (Debord, 1955 cited by Kurzynski, 2014: 148). The thing about psychogeography is that it is meant to be fun and you have to be involved in diverse activities to feel like you are learning about the environment around you. It can be related to politics and the understanding of the existing affairs (‘Psychogeography’. 2009). This was definitely seen whilst being in Amsterdam. The idea of free exploring and going wherever your mind takes you creates a sense of mind development. Exploring and taking that extra time to let your senses take over.

Psychogeography is about the exploration of urban spaces but the definition could change over time by its practitioners. Guy Debord explains that psychogeoraphy lets you explore the behavioural impact of what is happening in an urban space. But of course the term has been slightly changed since the 1950s (Coverley, 2012:3-4). It all started with the Situationist International (SI). It involved Guy Debord and he believed that the world should be changed. That there has to be liberation and that the ‘culture’ in which people live in organizes their lives in a certain way. The ideology that the SI group wanted to create was artistic and the idea of the construction of situations to create momentary ambiances of each and every day had to be completed with quality (Deborg, 1957 translated by Knabb, K.).

The SI led to the Unitary Urbanism. At the end of 50s and start of 60s there was a certain urbanisation in the European cities. New urban models were created outside Paris and politicians and planners created ‘new cities’. The Unitary Urbanism was first established in Amsterdam in the 50s where artists, architects and sociologists wanted to create new situations and create unitary ambiances. They wanted there to be a separation from the already existent culture and they wanted to revolutionise (Chardonnet, 2003: 3-4). Whilst researching this, it was great to know that I was in the city of Amsterdam and that made me explore even more.

Derive also links in with psychogeography. Derive literally means drifting and this is done by going though different ambiances and being playful in the notion of a stroll. Derive lets people be attracted by the certain things they see and lets them guide them through the place they are walking through to lead them to a new place. It is to do with chance and wandering to lead you to an exit or a different thing to look at (Debord, 1956-58 translated by Knabb, K.). Derive can only be completed in the psychogeographical setting of a city and urbanism rather than a countryside because the feel would be completely different (Geronta, 2012).

Seeing and feeling these ideologies in Amsterdam was a way of exploring but in a fun and playful way, which is what psychogeography is. Even though the Situationists abandoned the theory of unitary urbanism because it had a precise meaning of only fitting in with historic cities such as Amsterdam (Chardonnet, 2003: 5), it was great to experience what Debord was talking about in his theories.


Chardronnet, E. (2003) The History of Unitary Urbanism and Psychogeography at the Turn of the Sixties. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).

Coverley, M. (2012) Psychogeography, Google Books. Oldcastle Books. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).

Debord, G. (1957) Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action . Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).

Debord, G. (1956) Theory of Derive. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).

Geronta, A. (2012) Gerontes, Antigone – Psychogeography Radical Movements and Contemporary Practices pdf. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).

Kurczynski, K. (2014) The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn: The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up, Google Books. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Available at:,+consciously+organized+or+not,+on+the+emotions+and+behavior+of+individuals.%E2%80%9D&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZWv4VMbIO43VasHOgng&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA (Accessed: 5 March 2015).

‘Psychogeography’ (2009) Mapping Weird Stuff. Mapping Weird Stuff, 14 June. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).


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