Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Walking Inside Out - Introduction



Introduction:A Wander through the Scene of British Urban Walking

by Tina Richardson


WHAT IS PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY?

Get a map of your local area and spread it out on the floor. Study the map, imagine the terrain, find your preferred route – perhaps a bridleway or a towpath – and trace it on the map. Grab your coat off the hook in the hallway and put on your sturdy shoes. Leave the house and dump the map in the wheelie bin. Forget the map. Go to the nearest bus stop and get on the first bus that comes along. Get off when you feel you are far enough away from home that the area is unfamiliar. Begin your walk here.

Psychogeography does not have to be complicated. Anyone can do it. You do not need a map, Gor-Tex, a rucksack or a companion. All you need is a curious nature and a comfortable pair of shoes. There are no rules to doing psychogeography - this is its beauty. However, it is this that makes it hard to pin down in any formalised way. It is also this ‘unruly’ character (disruptive, unsystematic, random) that makes for much discussion about its meaning and purpose - today more than at any other time.

This volume does not pretend to have a definitive answer to what psychogeography is, but it does propose to open up the space that can be defined as psychogeography, providing examples and encouraging debate. In his introduction to Psychogeography (2006) Merlin Coverley asks: “Are we talking about a predominantly literary movement or a political strategy, a series of new age ideas or a set of avant-garde practices?” and goes on to say that it is all the above (2006, 9-10). In just a couple of sentences we have opened up a can of nebulous worms on the ambulatory behemoth that psychogeography (or urban walking) is. What this selected volume of essays does is present the state of play as it is for psychogeography in the UK in the 21st century...

Click here to read a viewable online copy of the full introduction, or here to download a pdf.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Assembling the Assemblage: Developing Schizocartography in Support of an Urban Semiology


You can read this free/open access article, published in Humanities Journal  special edition, Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of 'Making Do', edited by Les Roberts. Here is the abstract, and below part of the introduction and a link to the rest of the article:

Abstract

This article looks at the formulation of a methodology that incorporates a walking-based practice and borrows from a variety of theories in order to create a flexible tool that is able to critique and express the multiplicities of experiences produced by moving about the built environment. Inherent in postmodernism is the availability of a multitude of objects (or texts) available for reuse, reinterpretation, and appropriation under the umbrella of bricolage. The author discusses her development of schizocartography (the conflation of a phrase belonging to Félix Guattari) and how she has incorporated elements from Situationist psychogeography, Marxist geography, and poststructural theory and placed them alongside theories that examine subjectivity. This toolbox enables multiple possibilities for interpretation which reflect the actual heterogeneity of place and also mirror the complexities that are integral in challenging the totalizing perspective of space that capitalism encourages.

Introduction

The ways that we develop methods to help us understand, critique, and express our responses to urban space are as dynamic and ever-changing as the geographical space is that we are presented with as our object of study. The built environment can often operate on our psyches in a subliminal fashion, such that its changes—even when this involves substantial developments—become incorporated into our spatial awareness quickly and subtly. This has the effect of creating a type of cultural forgetting whereby it becomes difficult to remember what was in that place prior to these transformations taking over. What these transformations may hide requires a form of revealing to take place that will not only expose the layers of history, but will also encourage discussion, engender creative responses, and give voice to what is under the veneer of our everyday urban spaces.

This article offers a discussion on the forming of a method of urban critique—schizocartography—which allows for a flexibility in regard to interpretation, and also borrows from differing theories and practices in order to create a flexible set of instruments. This toolbox can be applied to all stages of the process of analysis, from the physical field work, to the critique and research, through to the forms in which the outcomes may be presented. Schizocartography brings together psychogeographical practice and urbanism with theories that examine subjectivity, heterogeneity, and power in order to present an adaptable set of tools that assesses many of the components involved in being present in our towns and cities. Schizocartography “reveal[s] the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. [It] challenges the ossified symbols of hierarchical structures through the act of crossing the barriers (concrete or abstract) of a particular terrain.” (Richardson 2015, p. 182). It acknowledges the need for a subjective mapping of place, one that can respond to the fluidity of physical space as much as it does to the flexibility of us as individuals. Cont...

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Paul's Walk, London Drift 1/7/17 – Part 2


By Paul Hazlehurst

Continued from Part 1

We passed Lords Cricket Ground, with its futuristic pavilion hovering above the brick wall, and came to Abbey Road zebra crossing. A small crowd was on either side of the pavement. As soon as there was a gap in the traffic, they would walk across whilst others took photos. It looked like a never ending loop. I wondered, would this be going on in fifty years’ time, how many were pilgrims performing a kind of religious ritual and how many tourists? I could not name a track from the Beatles Abbey road album myself. It is hard not to become a tourist in London, the city seems designed for tourism. Cross the zebra, peer through the railings at the recording studio, sign the wall, then visit the shop. Abbey Road had become a brand: "the most famous recording studio in the world". I took a photo of John and Brian as they crossed the zebra. They were enjoying themselves again after the hustle and bustle of Camden.

We were back on the tube again heading for Westminster, the pace picking up again. I was starting to miss drifting: travelling on the tube was like being blindfolded, there was no in - between, no sense of distance covered. It felt a bit restricting, but was a fast way to move through the city. Westminster station is a futuristic concrete bunker with beams everywhere, a marvel. I tried to get a photo, but was too slow. Outside an austerity demonstration was ending as tourists posed for selfies with the London Eye as a backdrop. Blair's footprint with a ‘fast track’ option. Crossing over the river the smell of cooking food and the voices of street entertainers filled the air. My jaw dropped as we came to the South Bank Centre.


It is described in Barnabas Calder's book Raw Concrete as one of the most gloriously irresponsibly, expressive pieces of architecture ever designed: a shouting spitting punk - architecture for those who do not fear architecture. For me it is also an amazing building, a psychogeographical puzzle box waiting to be solved. It challenges you to explore it and find a way in.

John and Brian started talking about carbuncles and car parks: they liked the shiny new steel and glass structures. We moved on to the National Theatre, described in Raw Concrete as Denys Lasdun's masterpiece of abstract architecture. They looked puzzled as I got my camera out and started to photograph the theatre, as walked towards an outside staircase.


They were now so used to a world of security cameras and guards that they were genuinely amazed by the fact that you could just walk around the building. I was bemused as I walked around the terraces, photographing from every angle, before finding some seats for a break. John wandered into the BFI shop, coming out smiling, with a keyring. Christopher Lee as Dracula, fangs bared with blood smeared around his lips, it tied in perfectly with our earlier visit to Highgate Cemetery. The theatre had a utopian feel: the future seemed hopeful.

It was late afternoon/early evening, the bars and restaurants were filling with fresh-faced people getting ready for the night ahead. We crossed the Thames and began our journey home. The day had been an interesting blend of psychogeography and tourism...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Paul's Walk, London Drift 1/7/17 – Part 1


By Paul Hazlehurst

As the train passed the goods yards and graffiti covered walls approaching Euston Station, I again felt the joyous excitement that a visit to a city brings to me. The beginning of a new adventure, wandering around with no set plan, seeing what will happen and where I would end up.

I was travelling with my twin brother John and his friend Brian. They were not psychogeographers, but both enjoy walking and were looking forward to visiting London. We picked up our rucksacks and exited the train. Standing in the station foyer, Brian started to tap his mobile phone, conjuring maps and data from his fingertips, whilst I checked my camera settings. We decided to get the tube to Archway and explore Highgate.

We picked up tube navigation easily enough, but on leaving the station at Archway soon got lost. Brian's phone map started to mess up and he lost direction at a crossroads, walking about with his phone in front of him like a Geiger counter. I was about to suggest that we just wandered, but after five minutes John asked a passer-by for directions.

Climbing up Highgate Hill, a flyer on the pavement advertised the Freud Museum, ahead was the Whittington Stone, a monument marking the point where Dick Whittington heard the Bow bells chime: "Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London". Cutting through Waterlow Park, the area was leafy and luxurious - oozing wealth. Toned bodies in Lycra were all around. More pulled up on racer bikes outside a gated community which was the size of a small village. A man pushed a pram down Parliament Hill, as a woman lifted weights on top. The voices of personal trainers filled Hampstead Heath. The city looked far away again, a spiky graph line.


We decided to go on the cemetery tour, which gave a history of the city and how it buried the dead. The tour was enjoyable, with a mix of Hammer Horror, dark catacombs, poisoned Russian spies, the Highgate Vampire, and celebrities from Karl Marx to Jeremy Beadle. Funnelling out of Camden Town tube station like grains of sand in an hour glass, the relaxing pace was broken. John looked panic stricken: "stay together, don't get lost", he said as the barriers were opened and the crowd of passengers swarmed onto Camden High Street.


The street was a riot of noise and colour - people flowing in every direction - it was impossible to take it all in at once. John ducked into a souvenir shop looking for a key ring - he needed something solid to hold onto to calm his nerves, after years of weekly shopping at the local supermarket this was a shock for him. Brian was looking for an escape route but the sun was shining on his phone screen rendering it useless. The market looked too crowded, so we headed along the Regents Canal towpath, passing a floating Chinese restaurant and an art deco narrow-boat. Street art and tags adorned the walls. The crowds of people started to thin, passing the London Zoo. Brian examined his phone under the shade of an iron bridge, picking Abbey Road as our next place to head for.

Click here for Part 2

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Anywhere in 'Anywhere': An Unconventional Look at Cecile Oak's New Book


"Please feel free to read Anywhere in any way you want and take away from Anywhere whatever you wish; read it as a novel, as a failed conference report, as travel writing, as a meandering guidebook, as a textbook written by a drunken geographer. Or all of these. I hope that everyone, whether on the ground or in their imaginations, will use this book as a guide to making their own journeys in their own 'South Devon'"

This is how Cecile Oak prepares us with her author's note at the beginning of Anywhere: A mythogeography of South Devon and how to walk it (Triarchy Press 2017). So, rather than present a formal review of her new book, I will be taking her literally and choosing some extracts from 'anywhere' in the book as a way of offering an introduction to the text. I would however like to begin with an introduction to the characters in the book and make a comparison with this particular approach to writing with the film Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov 2002).

This mythogeography of South Devon is explicated through the discussion between Cecile Oak (known as the stranger) and her companion A. J. Salmon (known as the guide). While we are all familiar with Oak's academic lineage and her doctoral thesis, Salmon may not be so familiar to readers. Seemingly, he is both a thief of poetry books and a provider of poetry education - one of these leading him to jail and the other providing him with a distraction while incarcerated in 2009. These characters are comparable to the Narrator and the European in Russian Ark (which also uses this dual narrative technique). In Russian Ark the narrator tells the story, but also has a guide (the European), who acts as a sounding board but also introduces the narrator to Russian works of art, and historical facts and characters, of interest in the film.

Below are some of the urban characters that caught my interest in the book - some living, some inanimate - with images sourced elsewhere. The text is Oak’s...

St Luke’s Church by Derek Harper

“There are a lot of hypnotic objects to be dealt with in Buckfastleigh before we can get out. The brutalist church with a chain running out of a gutter and down the back of the building and through the grilled of a large drain. We decide it isn’t mechanical, but there simply to guide the stream of water into the drain, A thin drizzle is starting to fall, we watch how the water flows from link to link…” (page 300)

Guide Psychogeographique de Paris by Guy Debord

“Frustratingly – or maybe this is why it serves everyone so well! – there is very little documentation on these situationist wanders. And [Andrea] Gibbons has the reason. It’s directly attributable to the failure of the Situationists to defend their Algerian comrade Abdhelhafid Khatib after his psychogeographic survey of Les Halles was cut short by arrest (in the context of the Algerian War this constituted an existential threat to Khatib); instead the Situationists seem to have closed down the whole project.” (page 199)

Snails Overlapping by Tina Richardson

“There are two kinds of patterns in the water. The reflection that transports a here to a there, reproduces itself, but also replaces somewhere else with itself. When that kind of reflection is the main metaphor for comparing and connecting things, it reinforces analogy, homogeneity and conformity…[The] second pattern: diffraction is a kind of dynamism in the matter of the world. It is what the theorist Donna Haraway calls a 'metaphor for the effort to make a difference in the world'. This works all the way down, so at a certain level, incredibly small things overlap, interfere, and make a difference all on their own.” (page 79)

Rosy Cross of the Golden Dawn

“On the bricked floor of the parking space are symbols set around a Kabbalah ‘tree of life’…When I put the images up on Facebook later a ‘friend’ comments that the combination of symbols is characteristic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Hmm… Someone else posts that these are symbols of a spirituality of light generated from an “electrical pivotal point”, not the sun, not the centre. Could we be talking about diffraction here? My correspondent guides me to a Plymouth University astronomer called Percy Seymour. When I look him up he seems to have been a fairly conventional academic, studying magnetic fields around planetary objects, until he suddenly ‘flipped’ and began to interpret everything, including human personality, as subject to the magnetic and gravitational fields of the sun and the planets.” (page 160).

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Assembling the Assemblage: Developing Schizocartography in Support of an Urban Semiology


You can access this Humanities Journal open access article here. Below is the abstract:

This article looks at the formulation of a methodology that incorporates a walking-based practice and borrows from a variety of theories in order to create a flexible tool that is able to critique and express the multiplicities of experiences produced by moving about the built environment. Inherent in postmodernism is the availability of a multitude of objects (or texts) available for reuse, reinterpretation, and appropriation under the umbrella of bricolage. The author discusses her development of schizocartography (the conflation of a phrase belonging to Félix Guattari) and how she has incorporated elements from Situationist psychogeography, Marxist geography, and poststructural theory and placed them alongside theories that examine subjectivity. This toolbox enables multiple possibilities for interpretation which reflect the actual heterogeneity of place and also mirror the complexities that are integral in challenging the totalizing perspective of space that capitalism encourages.

This article is part of a special edition edited by Les Roberts: Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of 'Making Do' and focuses on the concept of bricolage:

This is a proposal for a Special Issue of the journal Humanities, on the theme of ‘Spatial Bricolage’: the art and poetics of ‘making do’ (de Certeau 1984: xv) in spatial humanities research. Expanding on themes explored in an earlier Humanities Special Issue on ‘Deep Mapping’ (Roberts 2015/16), this follow-up collection places firmer emphasis on questions of method: the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ that variously informs the doing of deep mapping and spatial anthropology. Provisionally organized around the twin concepts of cultural bricolage and the researcher/practitioner as bricoleur, this Special Issue aims to collate and provoke critical discussion trained on spatial bricolage as an interdisciplinary (or ‘undisciplined’) nexus of practices and pick-and-mix methods. Claude Lévi-Strauss described bricolage as ‘[the making] do with “whatever is at hand”… [; to address oneself] to a collection of oddments left over from human endeavours’ (2004: 17, 19). If eclecticism informs a deep mapping practice increasingly oriented around the embodied and embedded researcher, then it is one that correspondingly finds its creative expression in the art and poetics of ‘making do’. As a ‘maker of quilts’, or, as in filmmaking, ‘a person who assembles images into montages’ (Denzin and Lincoln 2011: 4), the researcher-as-bricoleur makes do insofar as what it is she or he is ‘mapping’ is recast as a representational and affective assemblage. In the same way that calls for a ‘more artful and crafty’ sociology are underwritten by a push towards more ‘open methods’ in the social sciences (Back and Puwar 2012: 9), approaches in the interdisciplinary field of spatial and geo-humanities strive to embrace a methodological eclecticism adaptable to the qualitative dynamics of experiential, performative or ‘non-representational’ (Vannini 2015) geographies of place. Engaging with deep mapping ‘in all its messy, inclusive glory’ (Scherf 2015: 343), contributions for this Spatial Bricolage Special Issue are therefore sought from a wide range of fields that address questions that speak to issues of methodological eclecticism in spatial/geo-humanities research. Papers are especially welcome that examine the role of autoethnographic methods and practices, performance and gonzo ethnography, digital methods, or which address some of the ethical questions and constraints thrown up in relation to urban cultural bricolage as a mode of critical spatial research within the academy.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Ruined Institution: The Production of ‘Excellence’ in Higher Education – Part 3


By Fenella Brandenburg

Continued from Part 2

(this is the final part of this series of posts)

Since the Enlightenment the university’s relationship with industry has grown out of a direct response to an economic need. This meant the university reacted to the demands for a certain type of knowledge requirement. In postmodernity the university has acquired the mantle of a business-oriented philosophy in its own right, meaning that attempting to demarcate commerce and HE as separate entities is far more complex. In order to compete in a globalised market the contemporary university is expected to think and operate as if it were a business: it has to take up the procedures and practices of commerce. As far back as 1990 academics were writing about the application of a commercial formula to every aspect of education. Cynthia Hardy says:
The tough choices advocated in business literature are likely to escalate the political conflict that surrounds declining resources, not resolve it. Draconian measures – terminations and program closures – can send shock waves through the university community. The more marketable individuals will leave to find less hostile surroundings; potential recruits will resort to political infighting, as they try to protect their departments. (1990: 317)
Hardy’s comments imply a potential move by many academics into other professions with those remaining having to become defensive in order to protect themselves and their future within the institution.

These illustrations are provided so as to emphasise that the current period of austerity is situated within the greater issue of how organisations operate under neoliberalism in general and their response to politico-economic events. While cuts to funding in HE are going to have an impact on those studying and working at the university, the effects of capitalist oriented processes on those at the university can be both subtle and furtive.

Mark Fisher makes direct reference to university bureaucracy, including providing an extensive list of documents a module leader is required to complete for each module they oversee (2009: 41). He says that the constant checking, monitoring and production of figures does not provide “a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output” (2009: 42). Mary Evans puts it succinctly: “Since God no longer exists, we have invented assessment” (2004: 34). Evans says of both the Jarratt Report (1985) and the Dearing Report (1997) that they imposed “upon universities a quasi-democratic ethos of collusion with the values of a market economy” (2004: 23). Consensus is all that is needed to enable bureaucracy’s seamless transition: “The ‘right’ process is established, the rules of the game set, and what is then required are cooperative and consenting players” (2004: 62).

Dissent becomes difficult in a system that sees the student as consumer, service and product of the system (Fisher 2009: 42), because the ability of students or staff to direct any grievance to a recognisable figurehead is difficult. Any challenge of/to the system simply points to another set of figures, attached to which are a set of further criteria. Or, instead, the result of the query may just appear as a re-framing and re-presentation of that data back to the enquirer: “the best performativity [...] comes rather from arranging the data in a new way” (Lyotard 2004: 51). Bureaucracy, as an instrument for measuring excellence in the corporatised university, as Fisher describes, “floats freely, independent of any external authority” (2009: 50). It produces a style of surveillance culture for academics that is rather like an invisible postmodern semblance of the time and motion study that constantly hovers over them in the form of a bureaucratic superego.

This constant checking is part of the everyday administration of the contemporary university which attempts to measure production in the same way that a factory would through the use of the nebulous term ‘excellence’. The use of the term ‘excellence’ has changed over time. For example, in the transcription of a lecture given in 1991 at The Centre for the Study of Theology at the University of Essex, David Jenkins (the Bishop of Durham), uses it quite differently. This lecture is entitled ‘Price, Cost, Excellence and Worth – Can the Idea of the University Survive the Force of the Market?’ While it offers a critique of the corporatised university, Jenkins uses the term ‘excellence’ in a similar way to how the term ‘mastery’ might be used: “everything is concerned with ‘price and cost’ and not with ‘excellence and worth’” (Jenkins 1991: 31). It is likely that the term ‘excellence’ has become appropriated by corporations (and the university) because of its convenient vagueness. The pervasive audit culture enables a form of micro-management without the manager appearing in bodily form. Richard Hill says that technology has enabled this ideology to proliferate, since administrators are often no longer needed to carry out many tasks on the behalf of academics, now measuring forms are often online and accessible by all through their desktop computer (2012: 172).

Hill highlights the common use of the word ‘excellence’ in taglines and slogans used by universities, providing examples from Australian HE institutions: “‘Integrity, Respect, Rational Enquiry, Personal Excellence’ (Edith Cowan University): ‘In the pursuit of excellence in teaching and research’ (Griffith University): and ‘Excellence, Innovation, Diversity’ (University of Wollongong)” (2012: 60). He describes this as “corporate-speak” and while he uses a flippant writing style to explain how these taglines operate on the unconscious, he nevertheless hits upon a significant point in regard to how language is linked to how we view the world: these “phrases [...] send certain images racing through the collective psyche of prospective students in the hope of instilling some sort of lasting semiotic effect” (ibid.). And this is apparent when Readings states: “the question of the University is only the question of relative value-for-money, the question posed to a student who is situated entirely as a consumer” (Readings 1999: 27).

Bibliography:
Evans, Mary. 2004. Killing Thinking: The Death of the Universities (London and New York: Continuum).
Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Winchester: Zero Books).
Hardy, Cynthia, ‘‘Hard’ Decisions and ‘Tough’ Choices: The Business Approach to University Decline’, HE, 20, 3 (1990), 301-321.
Hill, Richard. 2012. Whackademia: An Insider’s Account of the Troubled University (Sydney: New South Publishing).
Jenkins, David. 1991. Price, Cost, Excellence and Worth – Can the idea of the University survive the force of the Market? (Colchester: The University of Essex).
Lyotard, Jean-François. 2004. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).