Sunday, 6 December 2015

Hyperreality Flux - Twenty Six Psychogeography Stations – Review


Twentysix Psychogeography Stations is a playfully complicated reincarnation of Ed Ruscha’s piece, Twentsix Gasoline Stations. Where his images are a desolate yet romantic record of a single journey, a drift of the automotive rather than ambulatory kind, simultaneously a literal and toneless reproduction of mass culture imagery and a downbeat celebration of Americana, Hinisco’s collection of images spans several decades and two continents, and problematises artistic representation….There is another significant difference – or rather I should say différance – between the two books. Gasoline Stations constructs a syntagm of images that support each other in the production of meaning. The observer feels that these pictures are representations of a physical reality out there somewhere, even though the photographs are clearly arranged for artistic purposes – indeed because they are arranged. Meaning is presented as more or less stable. Psychogeography Stations is the supplement to it, upsetting its ontological stability, usurping its ‘reality’ by functioning as its binary in a representation/simulacrum opposition. Psychogeography Stations, by destabilising interpretation, presents a simulacrum of its predecessor (this is reinforced by the identical cover design), making uncertain the concept of journey by reflecting the underlying form of Gasoline Stations, and subverts its own representation of ‘reality’ via the precession of signs.” Jim Lawrence


You can read Lawrence’s full review here: Hyperreality Flux

For further Information:
For more information about the book: click here for Hinisco’s book launch announcement and here for sample photographs. The 50 page book costs £4.99 plus postage at 63p to UK (for international postage, please enquire). You can pay by paypal or cheque. Please use the contact page here to message the Editor of Urban Gerbil Publications, Tina Richardson, for address details and other queries. Thank you.

Related links:
STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A Psychogeography of Lofthouse – Part 2

For the ‘Ruhleben - Lofthouse Park Civilian Internment Project’



Please click here for Part 1 of the blog.

The above image is of the new estate, which according to the developers is actually called Lofthouse Park, which is interesting since that was also the name of the internment camp, so maybe not thought through too well (the roads in the new estate mostly begin with ‘Springfield’ so this may have been a better name). However, from our calculations it is possible that the new estate does overlap the old camp to a very small degree, although it is the older estate to the south that seems to cover the ground that was the camp, along with the Peter Duffy field mentioned in the last blog. The older estate looks, predominantly, interwar and has a variety of different housing, quite a lot of which looks like ex-public housing.



The above images are on either side of the road that separates the two estates. There were a couple of telegraph poles on this road, but none on the new estate, since they are not needed any more. Opposite one of the telegraph poles (the one further on from the disturbing UKIP one shown above) there was the junction box, which you can just see in the other image. Tim Waters was interested in this infrastructure in relation to the old camp. I tried to find some information about the telegraph system that may have existed at that time, and interestingly came across this document, from The Rothwell Courier and Times, that discusses the escape of prisoners from the camp on July 3rd 1915: ‘How Two Men Got Away’.


I’m afraid I didn’t take enough photos of the old estate, as we didn’t know during the walk itself that this was the area that would have been the camp itself. However, I did get a picture of this lovely old shed. It’s pretty dilapidated (and made of corrugated metal, like the Nissan huts would have been) and we wondered if it could possible date back to the time of the camp.


The image above, while not on the camp site, is not too far away in the area called Lofthouse Gate and is a memorial for the Lofthouse Colliery There was a mining disaster there in 1973, although the memorial does not mention that. There is a memorial that does honour the dead in Wrenthorpe, which is not far from Lofthouse. The colliery would have also been there in WWI since the dates on the stone say 1871-1981. The border for the administrative districts of Leeds and Wakefield are in this area somewhere between Lofthouse Park and Lofthouse Gate.


Above I have included a super map by Tim Waters, which overlays the old camp on the current space. This map shows the area of the camp as an amusement park, which is what is was before it became the internment camp. You can just see there is a slight overlap at the north of what was the camp on what is now the new estate (see Springfield Rd and Springfield Ave). The area on the south-west of the new estate is the old estate (see Park Ave – maybe referring to the previous amusement park) and the field to the east of that is the scrubland owned by Peter Duffy.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Twenty Six Psychogeography Stations – Sample Photographs


Below are some of the photos included in Darrant Hinisco’s Twenty Six Psychogeography Stations. The book is a détournement of the famous artists book by Ed Ruscha: Twenty Six Gasoline Stations.

You can read the preface here and also Darrant’s launch announcement. The book is edited by Tina Richardson, author of Walking Inside Out. It is published by Urban Gerbil. Please, scroll down below the images for purchasing information.

STATIONS OF THE ANGRY, THE NORTH 2010

THE PERSISTENCE OF TREES, LONDON 2010

How To Purchase
The 50 page book costs £4.99 plus postage at 63p to UK (for international postage, please enquire). You can pay by cheque or paypal. Please use the contact page here to reach Tina Richardson, to purchase the book and for other queries. Thank you.

Related links:
STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine

Friday, 27 November 2015

A Psychogeography of Lofthouse – Part 1

For the ‘Ruhleben - Lofthouse Park Civilian Internment Project’



On November 25th 2015 Tim Waters and I carried out a drift around what had been, in the First World War, a prisoner of war internment camp in Lofthouse, Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The particular area that was the camp, is adjacent to a modern housing estate located opposite the golf course.


The image below is taken from Wakefield Libraries Collection and I found it on 'The Neglected Books Page' which discusses a book called Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918, by Paul Cohen-Portheim. The book is about a German civilian who was interned at Lofthouse. The overview of the book (linked above) is worth reading as it gives you an insight into life there from one person’s perspective:
“The past was dead, the future, if there should be a future, was a blank, there was nothing left but the present, and my present was the life of a prisoner.” (Paul Cohen-Portheim).

The objective of our walk was psychogeographical to the extent that a) we were looking for material archaeology in the terrain that may lead to clues of the area’s past and b) we wanted to get as sense of the aesthetics of the space as it is today.


A good example of material archaeology are drain covers, inspection covers, manhole covers and infrastructure grills of various kinds. They can often tell you about the industrial (and social) history of an area. Sometimes you are able to date the object itself, which then indicates infrastructure work during a particular period in the area’s history. The above cover is for Yorkshire Water Authority and is on the north of the area that would have been the original camp. Yorkshire Water no longer use the ‘authority’ part of the name, so this dates it prior to the privatisation of water authorities in the UK under the Water Act of 1989. The company name is Brickhouse Dudley, and as this article in Black Country Bugle explains, the company used this name prior to 1967. So we can be sure that this part of the water system was either installed, extended or updated at some point prior to that time.


The above image is on the large set of flats on the entrance to the estate. Tim and I thought it very odd that windows on a new building had been filled in. It is reminiscent of the window tax of the 18C and 19C.


While we did walk around the new estate, we felt the periphery of it would lead us to more 'concrete' clues. This blob of concrete, with a smudge of yellow road-marking paint on it, was quite near the water and electricity infrastructure hub, which was surrounded by bollards in a most striking way, placed to prevent any temptation of the will to park!


While we were at this above spot a woman pulled out of the estate in her BMW, which indicated to me that this was probably a ‘middle-class’ housing estate, although Tim thought that the empty jar of olives was a better indication. I had to agree.


This fenced-off ‘scrubland’ to the south of the new estate probably partly covers the area that was the original camp. It would have been interesting in term of signs on the ground if we could have accessed it. Peter Duffy dominated this side of the estate. When we came across this sign we were unsure what the company did. But it later became apparent, when co-incidentally our different route back to the station took us past their HQ. They are civil engineers.



The picture below is both a random image of a psychogeographer in action, but also it is the gateway from the new estate onto a public footpath that takes you into a nearby field.


We went to the edge of this agricultural field and tried to look on the ground for any old bricks or stones that led to any clues.


I later read that the site used to be Roper’s Brickworks. From what I can tell Roper’s seems to be related to this quarry which dominated the Lofthouse Gate area at one time: Lofthouse Gate Brickworks. In the book Welcome to my World the author, Charlie Walker, says:
“I had obtained a job at a local brick yard: Roper's Brickworks at Lofthouse Gate near Wakefield. It was owned by Aberford Quarries and managed by a great bloke called Cliff Farrar. Cliff lived in a big house nearby and had become the manager after marrying the previous owner’s daughter. Yes, Cliff’s wife was old man Roper’s daughter.”

Part 2 of the blog is available here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Twenty Six Psychogeography Stations – Launch


TWENTYSIX PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY STATIONS by Darrant Hinisco is now available for purchase. It is based on the famous artist’s book by Ed Ruscha TWENTYSIX GASOLINE STATIONS (a truly psychogeographical artist’s book), and faithfully follows its format and style. This is what Darrant Hinisco and Tina Richardson say in the preface:
This artist’s book is a collaboration with my publisher, Tina Richardson. Between us we have curated this set of photographs from my own collection, mostly from my travels in the United Kingdom and United States. The photos included herein are a response to the psychogeographical phenomena known as ‘perambulatory hinges’ or, how I have termed them here, psychogeography stations. I would like to thank Tina for all her help during the making of this book and for producing it as an Urban Gerbil Publication. 
Darrant Hinisco 2015
In August 2015 Darrant approached me to produce his first artist’s book after coming across a copy of STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine in a second-hand bookshop in Lisbon. Darrant had already begun working on a collection of his urban landscape images and on discovering STEPZ decided he would like his images to be published under the rubric of psychogeography. I would like to thank Darrant for trusting me with his first publication and I feel honoured to have worked with him on putting this collection together.
Tina Richardson 2015

TWENTYSIX PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY STATIONS is an Urban Gerbil Publication and you can read Darrant’s pre-launch announcement here. Photographs are reproduced in black and white and the cover is red and white as shown. The 50 page, A5 size book costs £4.99 plus postage at 63p to UK (for international postage, please enquire). You can pay by cheque or paypal. Please use the contact page here to reach Tina Richardson, to purchase the book and for other queries. Thank you.


Related links:
STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Darrant Hinisco: ‘I have never called myself a psychogeographer…’


The following is an announcement from Darrant, pre-launch of his new book, which should be available from next week!

I have never called myself a psychogeographer and didn’t know much about it until recently. Although I had considered my own practice to be one that engages with urban space in a critical way, I didn’t realise that, in a very fundamental sense, this is what psychogeographers do. While I understood that walking is a key part of some artist’s practice (take for instance the Walking Artist’s Network), it wasn’t until I came across Tina’s grassroots psychogeography zine that I realised I had actually been undertaking psychogeography.

It was by chance that I found STEPZ in a second-hand bookshop. It had somehow made its way to Lisbon where I was staying, rather like a message in a bottle winding its way to me from England. I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments when you suddenly make a discovery and in that instance the world opens up for you. So, in August I contacted Tina to ask if she would help me put my first artist’s book together and publish it with Urban Gerbil.

Tina and I selected the images together. The form of the book itself follows a very specific retro format: those of you who know about the history of the artist’s book will probably recognise it (I won’t provide the spoiler here). As for the relationship of the images with each other, and their labels, I allowed Tina to guide me on these as I wanted her influence to go beyond that of just the editor of the book (hence the philosophical and cultural references). While the book states it is by me (Tina insisted), it is really by both of us. As Deleuze and Guattari said: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd”...

Darrant Hinisco November 2015

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Announcement: Urban Gerbil Publications

Urban Gerbil Publications is a small production, not-for-profit organisation that specialises in the field of urban aesthetics/semiology, psychogeography, walking practices, space and place, the city and urban living. Formats and types of publications include: zines, artist’s books, poetry, fiction/non-fiction/creative non-fiction, grassroots academic journals, newsletters, magazines and maps.

Professional services: editing, publishing and production.

Publications:
TwentySix Psychogeography Stations by Darrant Hinisco, our first 'official' Urban Gerbil Publication, will be available soon.
STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine is a Particulations/Urban Gerbil publication and is now on the syllabus of an undergraduate module in the US.
Concrete, Crows and Calluses (2013) is a Particulations Press book.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Places of the Heart – Psychogeography for Architects!


Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life by Colin Ellard (2015)

This is a short review of/commentary on Colin Ellard’s new book. Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo. Here's a quick summary of what he does (from his own website):
I work at the intersection of psychology and architectural and urban design, conducting experiments that measure how your brain and body respond to different kinds of settings. I also write accessible books and articles based on my scientific work, and travel the world trying to figure out how to build better places.
And this is the summary of the book from the blurb on the back cover:
In Places of the Heart, Colin Ellard explores how our homes, workplaces, cities, and nature – places we escape to and can’t escape from – have influenced us throughout history, and how our brains and bodies respond to different types of real and virtual space. As he describes the insight he and other scientists have gained from new technologies, he assesses the influence these technologies will have on our evolving environment and asks what kind of world we are, and should be, creating.
I came across Places of the Heart on twitter by simply searching for the term #psychogeography, which I do on a regular basis, since it is my academic field. While I was waiting for it to arrive in the mail, I posted on my Facebook page a link to the book. While the general consensus was that it might be ‘too sciencey’ to be psychogeography, I am generous with the use of the term and also wanted to reserve judgement till I had read the book. Having now read it, I think it deserves a place within the contemporary canon of psychogeography, even though it does take a scientific approach, which some people may think goes against the subjective aspect of ‘classical’ psychogeography and might be considered reductive. The book has chapter headings such as: ‘Places of Lust’, ‘Boring Places’ and ‘Places of Affection’, so it is clear from this that we are still talking about how people ‘feel’ about place – and what is wrong with backing that up with some neuroscience! While I could write more about this side of the book, what I would like to do is provide an anecdote which actually helps situate the book within a specific field of study (and practice) which may be of interest to people who might only tangentially be connected to psychogeography: architects and architecture students.

In October I was invited to the Canterbury School of Architecture to talk about schizocartography (my own version of psychogeography) and at the end of the lecture I wanted to recommend some books to them that were at the intersection of psychogeography and architecture. I took with me Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (obviously, since this is my own edited volume and also came out this year, so is very current), The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture by David Prescott-Steed (2013) (also very recent, and the title is a clue to how it might interest my audience) and Ellard’s new Places of the Heart.

These three texts are very different from each other in content and style, yet they all use the term ‘psychogeography’ in the title. Walking Inside Out, as the subtitle suggests, includes chapters that represent British psychogeography today. While architecture does appear in the content (it even has its own section in the index), it is more broadly related to urban space in general. A number of the index references to architecture cite the Situationists critique of architecture under the rubric of their unitary urbanism project, although there are other references. The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture, while very psychogeographical in that it includes many of psychogeography’s common themes - subjective responses to urban space, walking in the city, personal accounts, cultural/philosophical critique, etc – it does not directly discuss architecture, but in a way it is always talking about it. You cannot really separate architecture out of a critique of urban space. However, in the use of the word as it pertains to architects, the title may be misleading to those not from a psychogeography background. Rather, the book is not about architecture per se, even though it is a super book in many other ways.

Out of the three books I took to Canterbury, the book I actually recommended to the architects (the lecturers) and the architects-in waiting (the students) was Ellard’s book. The biggest section in the index is ‘architecture’! Ellard talks about Gothic and Malian architecture, he talks about public housing and retail architecture and he even discusses “cognitive science’s collision with architecture”:
It seems a risky course to so scientize design that the creative vision of architects is force-fed into a reductive sausage grinder that can only produce quasi-Corbusian designs of the kind that we’ve already tried and found wanting. Nevertheless, allowing architects to have unfettered access to fecund imagination untroubled by psychological realities of what seems to work in a building also seems unwise. (page 219-220)
Also, interestingly, this was the book out of the three that the students were most interested in, although I appreciate it may have been because I was recommending it in this specific setting. So…despite the fact I should be promoting my own book, I think that this would be a good book for architects who might be interested in how the field of psychogeography intersects with their own work. Then, once they have read that, they can read Walking Inside Out to find out what is going on at the cutting edge of British psychogeography!

Related Links:
Concrete, Crows and Calluses – Book Review
On Walking – Book Review

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Reading the Campus, Reading the City - Learning Resource


This blog is for lectures in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds w/b 01/11/2015.

This blog includes:
  • An overview of what to expect on the lecture/walk
  • Information on the architectural moments at the University of Leeds
  • A pre-lecture quiz
  • Links to other resources
  • A link to the slideshow from the lecture
  • Answer to the prize question (see below)

ANSWER TO QUESTION ON WALK

The prize for the question on the walk has now been won. The answer is that the image below is a Fire Point and states how far the wall is to the water hydrant in the street:





OVERVIEW OF LECTURE AND WALK



ARCHITECTURAL MOMENTS

You might find the following summary of architectural styles at the University of Leeds interesting. Please note, the time-frames shown in the images below the text are very rough, because: cultural epochs bleed into each other, they are different depending on what field of theory you are discussing, there are (often) many socio-political impacts on design styles (e.g. war) and all 'moments' need to be individually contextualised in their given setting:

This extract is from 'The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of the Redbrick University Campus' by Tina Richardson (2014):

"At the point the Yorkshire College became part of the Victoria University it was comprised of the Clothworkers’ Buildings, the Baines Wing, an engineering building and some administrative offices, which were set apart from each other (Shimmin 1954: 18). In 1894 the Great Hall and the Library were completed in the space between these sets of buildings, but Shimmin states that “No attention seems to have been given to planning; block after block rose in response to the pressure of successive needs and the architecture naturally lacked coherence” (ibid.). The university inherited these red brick buildings, although some of the college’s original buildings were located in the city centre, and no longer belong to the university. The university still continued to use the terracotta bricks on occasion, as can be seen in the Beaux-Arts style Brotherton Library, completed in 1936.

The campus site was redeveloped in the 1920s with Art Deco influenced buildings, often containing neo-classical elements like the Parkinson Building, and mostly made in Portland Stone (an interesting looking Jurassic stone which reveals fossils in its surface), although not exclusively. Portland Stone was often used in royal, religious and public buildings from the 11th the 20th century. As a material it makes a statement about public life and civic pride. Not only can this often be seen in buildings such as Buckingham Palace, but also in British Town Halls. While some of the previously planned buildings were not actually finished until after World War Two, it is clear from their style they emanate from the 1920s and 1930s, rather than their period of completion, sometimes the 1950s, as is the case with the Parkinson Building, the entrance to the Brotherton Library.

By the time the Brotherton Library was finished in 1936, the demand for book space had increased again and the new space was already fully utilised. Shimmin dedicates a whole chapter to the library: “An adequate library is not only the basis of all teaching and study; it is the essential condition of research, without which additions cannot be made to the sum of human knowledge” (1954: 117). The first library building for the university was opened in 1895. Today there exists alongside the Brotherton Library (a red brick building but with an entrance built later in Portland Stone), the Edward Boyle Library (from the 1960s concrete-based architectural period), the Health Sciences Library (located at the Worsley Building, 1960s built), the St James University Hospital Library (a very recent building near the hospital), the university archive which is located in the Baines Wing (red brick period) and the new library (under construction as of August 2013). It is clear from just introducing this one university function as an example (book provision), how university processes are actualised spatially – in this case architecturally – and how the aesthetics attached to these buildings is complex because of the differing architectural periods which have different ideologies attached to them.

Beresford states that it is the long-standing relationship that the university had with the city council that enabled the clearing of areas of terraces for both the campus buildings built in Portland Stone and the later concrete Brutalist buildings in the early 1960s, a significant period of development. The period of Portland Stone was associated with the Vice-Chancellor James Baillie in the time leading up to Work War Two. Portland Stone campus buildings include the Old Mining Building (opened in 1930) and the Chemistry Building (opened in 1934), located next to each other on the Woodhouse Lane side of the campus. Up until the 1960s, the campus development by CPB was the fourth of four main periods of development for the University of Leeds. Each period had different architects (both in-house and hired ones), with distinctly diverse architectural styles, both in design and often in the material used."

Here are the images that refer to the above text:





QUIZ - PRE-LECTURE

If you would like to test your campus knowledge pre-lecture, take a look at these campus phenomena:

What is this and where is it located?

Who is this sculpture by and where can you see it?

What road is this walking figure on? How long has it been there?

LEEDS LINKS
For more information on the University of Leeds campus and St George's Field you can click on my thesis here: The Unseen University.
You can also get access to Robert Frederick Fletcher's thesis in the library for further information on the cemetery:
Fletcher, Robert Frederick, ‘The History of the Leeds General Cemetery Company 1833-1965’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Leeds, 1975).

OTHER RESOURCES
Walking Inside Out: A textbook on contemporary British psychogeography.
A map showing the blue plaques on campus.
Blogs by other psychogeographers: Alex Bridger, John Rogers and Gareth Rees.
A free downloadable psychogeography zine: STEPZ.
Tom Vague: Psychogeography Reports.
Mapping the Campus by Paul Mullins.
A TED-Ed lesson on psychogeography: What is psychogeography?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Multistory Lecture Series - Tina Richardson - Schizocartographer

Please see the above venue details for my lecture at the Canterbury School of Architecture on Thursday 22nd October 2015 at 6.00pm. You can click here to find out more about the Multistory series of lectures.

I will be talking about the intersection of psychogeography, schizocartography and architecture, providing examples from my own research and introducing the SCRIB Project.

Please click here to view the handout and slides from the talk.




Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – The Walker and the Urban Landscape


This is the fifth and final of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘The Walker and the urban Landscape’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the other extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’, ‘Outsider Psychogeography’, ‘Power and Place’ and ‘Practicing Psychogeography.

The solitary walker situated within the landscape is not a modern phenomenon, even if the term psychogeography is. The cover of Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990) shows Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) (1818) by Caspar David Friederich. It depicts a man in a frock coat standing on a craggy rock with his back towards us, contemplating the buffeting sea below. He carries a walking stick, telling us that he is a walker and has not just pulled up in his Landau where his coachman awaits his return. The wanderer is elevated above the sea of which he looks down and is separated from. What this image depicts is the privileged position of this figure in the landscape. Not just because of his elevated position on the rocks, but because he is male, middle-class, Western and white (his red hair is blowing in the wind, the colour punctuating the image). Our protagonist represents both the 18th century coloniser and the stereotype of a classical psychogeographer.

However, in the 21st century psychogeography takes up multiple positions. From the perspective of the background, gender and age of the individual urban walker, to their relationship with urban space itself. Today the walker feels some sort of direct connection to the space s/he explores, even if that is from a critical position. It is no longer about the tourist’s gaze, but a reflexive response where both the walker and the space s/he moves about in is momentarily changed. This section looks at the different perspectives a walking critic might take and provides three different urban spaces in order to demonstrate the variety of places available for interpretation. Taking the perspective of two walkers, and providing one analysis of the writing of a walker, these essays draw upon the place of the contemporary psychogeographer in the everyday landscape.


Incongruous Steps Towards a Legal Psychogeography
by Luke Bennett

In Scarp: in search of London’s outer limits (2012), Nick Papadimitriou conjures with many dissonant ideas, images and registers. In this short essay I will dissect two of his strange conjunctions, and in doing so consider through them the prospects for extending contemporary British psychogeography’s embrace of the incongruous – the out of place, the absurd and the out of keeping – beyond psychogeography’s usually aesthetically inclined preoccupation with liminality, and into the mundane sphere of law’s everyday manifestations within the built environment. Papadimitriou takes us – early on in his traverse along the escarpment of what is now the lost county of Middlesex – to ‘Suicide Corner’, a stretch of the A41 snaking out its path North West of London. He recounts for us a succession of fatal car crashes, and of the people, creatures and other matter caught up in each event that occurred there. In doing so he draws forth isolated incidents, from the pages of long forgotten local newspapers and memory, activating these incidental archives in order to show a reverberation of these events within the landscape itself. At one point in his rumination Papadimitriou figures an anonymous “civil engineer working for the transport ministry” who “through eyeing the scraggy wood just to the north of the farmhouse, sees only camber, curve and how best to extend the planned M1 extension over this high ground from its present terminus” (Papadimitriou 2012, 20).

Papadimitriou captures in this passage how the task-orientated gaze of the engineer sees the topography as a set of logistical challenges, a puzzle to solve as he works through in his mind’s eye the most feasible path for his roadway. Papadimitriou’s description seeks to show how all other sensory inputs are blocked (or discarded) as irrelevant to this man’s purpose. He is standing there for a reason. He is harvesting the landscape for what he needs today.


Longshore Drift: Approaching Liverpool from Another Place
by Roy Bayfield

There was a single silver hair resting between the pages of the free Metro newspaper I found on the seat of the train to Waterloo (Merseyside) station, the starting point for the walk. It was quite early but the Northern Line train had already been back and forth a few times between the Lancashire market town of Ormskirk and the centre of Liverpool, an artery for a half-hour commute – the strand of hair, with its burden of time, could have belonged to anyone. The cover of the Metro that day was a wraparound advertisement for Merseyrail, asking the question: “want to know more about you and me?” (Metro, 2013). Inside, a short article stated that “ONE in six of us is so averse to walking that we rarely venture 500m (1,600ft) from the car” (ibid., 9). Signs were starting to manifest.

I changed trains at Sandhills and travelled to Waterloo, not quite reaching the city before heading out to its edge. At the station I had my first sighting of an image of Antony Gormley’s Another Place sculptures, aka the Iron Men, on a fading print over the stairs from the platform up to street level. It would be the first of many – sightings of two dimensional digital ghosts outnumbering the three-dimensional metal figures of the actual installation. As well as the Gormley image (a lone metal figure staring out to sea) there were other images of people sited around the stairs: pictograms depicting various ways to exit the station – climbing stairs, using the lift in a wheelchair, or pushing a pushchair. Outside the station, a map of the area included a sponsor logo based on a Gormley figure rendered into silhouetted pictogram form; I now knew that (wherever else I was) I was in the territory of the Crosby and Waterloo Business Village Partnership and that an Iron Man was their avatar. From pre-walk research I also knew myself to be in Merseyside...


Walking the dog. (For those who don’t know how to do it.)
by Ian Marchant

I’m a sort-of-travel writer. I’ve published three sort-of-travel books. Sort-of-travel books are usually shelved with the actual travel books. I get shelved in ‘travel’, and so does Iain Sinclair, the granddaddy of both British psychogeography and sort-of-travel writers, and so do Will Self’s psychogeographical writings. I am on the same shelves as the psychogeographers, but I’m not of their number. Psychogeography is not what I do. My stuff is too full of people, or too full of rambling anecdotes about my nocturial adventures. This would be forgivable maybe, if I was from a city. Or even interested in cities.

Whoever has tried to define what psychogeography is, however wildly they might disagree about everything else, they all agree that it is something that can only be done in cities, on foot, and with a pinch of Theory. Theory, fair enough, hands up, (or Theory Lite, anyway) but I don’t do cities.

I live in a little town called Presteigne. My wife and I go shopping in Hereford, our nearest city, 25 miles away. The Cathedral is worth a visit, and the best place for lunch is All Saints. Our engagement with Hereford is entirely bourgeois. I work two days in a week at Birmingham City University, in a respectably edgy part of the city, partway between Villa Park and The Hawthorns. It’s a two hour drive due east of Presteigne, and I never get out of the car until I’m in the University Car Park, and I never go off campus.

Other than Birmingham and Hereford, the main cities I go to are small French provincial ones, on holiday with my wife. We visit the cathedral and have lunch in a bistro. When I go to London I go to meetings, and afterwards I bimble around the bookshops and then maybe go to a show, or a talk. I have neither the time nor the inclination to go yomping round abandoned multi-storey car parks.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – Practicing Psychogeography…


This is the fourth of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Practicing Psychogeography/Psychogeographical Practices’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the other extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’, ‘Outsider Psychogeography’ and ‘Power and Place’. 

Guy Debord wrote The Theory of the Dérive in 1959, setting out instructions on how to drift through the city in such a way where the participants are in tension between a relaxed state of being open to what may arise on the walk, and a conscious awareness in regard to the controlling force of urban décor. Recommending it as a group practice (even specifying the number of participants), suggesting the duration of the walk and discussing the logistics of the area under observation, we can see the genesis of a methodology unfolding in Debord’s text. He tentatively describes psychogeography as a methodology under development at the time of writing his essay and tells the reader how the dérive can be used as a springboard to further the purposes of the Situationists’ wider project, later laid out in Basic Programme of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism (1961).

Formulating a methodology for philosophical (or scientific) inquiry is often necessary for an academic in order to propose potential work and to validate the results of findings. There are a number of situations where this might be required, for instance: when presenting one’s work to a particular body (such as an ethics committee) in order to validate a prospective research proposal. The three essays in this section represent the academic work of three individuals from three different fields: performance, urban planning and cultural studies. The authors have developed a methodology for their walking-based practices and named the methodology in order to distinguish their form of walking from other psychogeographical practices. These essays show the development and evolution of a methodology over time, the fleshing out of a process for a specific project, and the practical aspects of applying a methodology to walking-based research.


Psychogeography and Mythogeography: Currents in Radical Walking
by Phil Smith

The mythogeography project was not planned. It emerged from particular circumstances that still mark it; a transition within artists’ collective Wrights & Sites (Stephen Hodge, Simon Persighetti, Cathy Turner and myself) from making site-specific performances to making interventions in everyday life. What it then became is more a result of emerging opportunities for dispersal than of any coherent strategy; an interwoven set of terms, theory-tales and praxis-narratives made available as far as resources allow to that assemblage of ambulatory and ‘resistant’ practitioners who escape the more popular and literary summaries of psychogeography (Coverley 2006).

‘Mythogeography’ is a theorization of multiplicity and mobility that hangs on the texture, grit, sweat and emotion of individual journeys. Its promotion of its own ideas stems partly from a painful awareness of how quickly actions can melt into air, and partly from a grudging admiration for those, like postmodern performers Forced Entertainment (Etchells, 1999), who have created a critical-theoretical scaffolding around their own activities (getting their retaliation in first).


Developing Schizocartography: Formulating a Theoretical Methodology for a Walking Practice
by Tina Richardson

My interest in psychogeography began in 2009 on a Masters module that included the work of the Situationist International (SI). At the same time I set up Leeds Psychogeography Group and also decided to develop my own specific form of psychogeography as a critical method of urban walking. This was because I wanted to differentiate the urban walking I did from that of others, and at the same time to add nuance to a seemingly vague term. Also I needed to think through my own type of critical walking as a more formulated methodology that could stand up to critique, to the extent it would be credible as part of a PhD.

By applying Félix Guattari’s theoretical critique to the practice of psychogeography, I formulated the term ‘schizocartography’ from his terms “schizoanalysis” and “schizoanalytic cartography”. In its combining with psychogeography, what schizoanalysis does is enable alternative existential modes for individuals in order to challenge dominant representations and power structures as they appear in urban space. This provides an opportunity for multiple ways of operating in and reading the environment; it critiques the conventional ways of viewing, interpreting and mapping space. In this essay I will detail the theoretical aspect of schizocartography, explaining the comparisons with Guattari’s work and that of the walking practices of the SI, describing the methodology of schizocartography by providing examples.


Route Planning a Sensory Walk: Sniffing Out the Issues
by Victoria Henshaw

Sensory walks have emerged since the late 1960s as one form of psychogeography with a focus upon environmental characteristics, experiences and perceptions gained through one or more of the senses. Their emergence as a research method was as a consequence of the coming together of a range of philosophical and theoretical thought and debate, influenced predominantly by feminist and ecological movements where the investigation and analysis of everyday experiences are argued important and necessary in gaining insights into the physical and social environment…

Despite the increasing use of sensory walks as a research method, little has been written about the practical considerations and decisions to be made by the researcher during their planning and implementation. In order to promote and inform the continued use of sensory walks as a method, further debate and discussions are therefore required. In this chapter, I seek specifically to examine the decisions faced in selecting the environments through which a sensory walk might travel and in doing so, to highlight the implications of research site selection on factors such as the nature of the data collected and participant reflections upon the research design.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – Power and Place


This is the third of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Power and Place’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the other extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’ and ‘Outsider Psychogeography'.

The psychogeographical project, as it was for the Situationists, was to tear down the spectacle and reorder space so as to express the needs and desires of the community. They did this in a number of ways, such as through their Unitary Urbanism project which involved redesigning city architecture. But in a practical way this was carried out through their dérives. By formulating chance routes through the city, the Situationists challenged the domineering nature of urban décor and offered a new approach to the city. By, literally, chopping out the areas of the city they disliked – for instance, areas dominated by the spectacle or under redevelopment – they reformed sections of existing city maps into quarters of their own choosing. These quarters reflected their own urban preferences and they added ambiances to them to express what they would represent in their new city, for example, Happy Quarter. The new maps, the Guides Psychogeographiques or the Naked City maps, suggested a new way of moving through urban space that was counter to the capitalist dominated city and encouraged people to reconnect with a city they were increasingly being pushed out of through bureaucracy and urban planning.

For many contemporary psychogeographers, even those who would not consider themselves to be activists, the imposed boundaries that appear in urban space represent power structures that are critiqued as part of their practice. It is the critical act of walking in urban space that enables one to understand first-hand how power operates on the body-politic in subtle and enduring ways. While there have been a number of psychogeographical movements since the disbandment of the Situationists in 1972, as there still are today, it is the SI that holds a prominent place in our memory when discussing political urban walking practices. The chapters here offer a historical overview of the activist project of the SI in relation to psychogeography, alongside a subjective account of running an urban walking group in the 21st century. These essays are very different to each other in form and writing style and reflect the heterogeneity of psychogeographic writing today.


Psychogeography Adrift: Negotiating Critical Inheritance in a Changed Context
by Christopher Collier

‘Psychogeography’ was codified in the mid-20th century to explore the effects of spatiotemporal situations on subjectivity and enjoyed a resurgence in the UK during the 1990s. It has seen further renewal within contemporary culture, particularly in conjunction with the development of its own tentative canon as a literary subgenre. Debate on the ‘recuperation’ of psychogeography has occurred between various practitioners, partially coloured by the polemical approach of the practice’s early avant-garde propagators.

I propose that both sides of such a debate are somewhat problematic: firstly, the ‘literary’ conception of psychogeography, as an artistic tradition, not only tends to disavow its radical Marxist heritage, but also fails to account for the conditions of its 1990s re-emergence, fundamentally based as they were in social praxis and politicised material culture.

Secondly however, to decry psychogeography’s fundamentally ‘literary’ or ‘artistic’ dimension as recuperation is also unsatisfactory, implying a fall, or troubling deviation from definitive, political origins. Such notions of recuperation deploy a neat, stagist narrative, at odds with the manner of psychogeography’s emergence and proliferation. Focusing on psychogeography as a primarily critical practice that has been recuperated potentially fails to acknowledge its immanent, open and pre-figurative dimensions. It also glosses over a number of developments since the 1950s and thus risks trapping psychogeography in the ideology critiques of a former age.

By briefly re-examining the conditions of psychogeography’s renewal in the 1990s, looking at its embeddedness in contemporaneous social praxis, I argue that psychogeography is literary, but in an iterative, excessive sense - as what one might tentatively call ‘infra-literary’, that is ‘literature’ as a material, social activity and a condition of possibility for collective subjectivation and resistance. By using this term ‘infra-literary’, I mean to imply the submerged, amorphous, material basis of communication networks and everyday resistance that as Stevphen Shukaitis notes, is already apparent in former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem’s description of “an infra-language”, around which “declarations of power dance wildly” when they cannot grasp or define its contents (Shukaitis 2009, 194; Vaneigem n.d., 24). This, Shukaitis implies, corresponds with the conception of ‘infrapolitics’ articulated by James Scott (Scott 1990) and Robin D.G. Kelly (Kelley 2002): “[T]he partially hidden public sphere […] a space that is somewhat encoded or otherwise made less comprehensible and legible to the view of those in power” (Shukaitis 2009, 209). What I intend is not literature in the sense of a necessarily individualised, commercially or academically published discourse, but something more akin to a literary ‘dark matter’, to appropriate Gregory Sholette’s metaphor, an underground potentiality, an undercommons, related to what Stewart Home—deploying the Russian term for clandestine, self-published literature—labels ‘samizdat’ (Sholette 2011; Home 1991, 102). I propose this practice has functioned as the material cultural and social basis that nourishes psychogeography’s more visible literary or artistic ‘tradition’.


Confessions of an Anarcho-Flâneuse or Psychogeography the Mancunian Way
by Morag Rose

This chapter explores my experiences as a founder member, and continued participant in, The Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM) a Manchester based psychogeographical collective. The first time I heard the word 'psychogeography' I had a minor epiphany, because it seemed to me to give a shape (albeit an amorphous one) to something I could feel on the streets but not quite define. It was 2006 and I was involved in running an autonomous, anarchist social centre which we constructed in a disused warehouse in Manchester, as an attempt to create a non-commercial alternative space in the rapidly expanding neo-liberal city. Around this time I drew a Venn diagram to explain my conception of psychogeography.

I still believe this to be a good illustration of contemporary psychogeography’s seductive interdisciplinary qualities, although it misses the vital all-encompassing circle of embodied experience. By this I mean the multi-sensual interaction produced through walking and its capacity to generate a relationship between self, space and left-behind traces; the reason why I believe walking has terrific power as a kinaesthetic learning tool. At the time The LRM was founded I was somewhat disillusioned and burnt out from conventional activism, and frustrated by what I felt was the limited impact of shouting (and indeed writing) about spatial justice and inequality. I wanted to explore the use of psychogeography as a participatory tool to disseminate radical theories and stimulate critical debate. It was crucial to me that Loitering was a form of stealth politics that hid its intention under ludic joy, inspired in part by the imperfect avant-garde neo-Marxism of the Situationists. It is important to acknowledge here other Loiterers have different influences, motivations and memories. Early members included artists, activists, academics and a heterogeneous treasury of moochers who were curious about their environment. We wanted to be as open and welcoming as possible and our fluid structure still reflects this; people float in and out and define their own level of commitment. Some see Loitering purely as an aesthetic or social activity and indeed the convivial atmosphere during the post-dérive debrief, almost always in the pub amidst a cacophony of shared experiences, is very enticing. Many new, enduring and often unexpected alliances have formed during our walks. For me, psychogeography primarily offered a form of public engagement with radical theory that was fun, irreverent and active, a praxis developed out of a desire to find appealing methods to critique the hegemonic view of the city.

Monday, 28 September 2015

SCRIB 'Social City: Reinscribe - Involve - Belong'


The SCRIB Project (working title) is about engaging heterogeneous communities within the process of urban regeneration. SCRIB stands for Social City: Reinscribe – Involve – Belong. It aims to produce a model of how local communities can work with property developers, architects and masterplanners to build a more engaging and inclusive vision of the future for cities.

While the pilot project concentrates on an area within Leeds, the broader project will look to build on the pilot in order to engage developers and relevant agencies with communities. It will effectively utilise business networks, project management methodologies, social networking and marketing to raise the profile of academic-based projects. And it offers up a model which can be adopted by other cities who have the desire to engage a diversity of ‘stakeholders’, from grassroots level through to corporations, in order to effect social change.

What does SCRIB stand for?
What is the SCRIB Project?

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

October Book Talk in Huddersfield – Walking Inside Out



Date/Time: Friday 9th October 4.15-6.15
Venue: University of Huddersfield (please see below for full venue details)

Talk/reading abstract:
Tina Richardson’s new edited volume Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography is the first text that attempts to merge the work of literary and artist practitioners with academics to critically explore the state of psychogeography today. The collection explores contemporary psychogeographical practices, shows how a critical form of walking can highlight easily overlooked urban phenomenon, and examines the impact that everyday life in the city has on the individual. However, it is also a celebration of urban walking and in her talk Tina will be discussing its value in the complex space of the 21st century city. This book talk also includes readings from two of the contributing authors, Alexander John Bridger and Phil Wood. There will be time for questions, and wine and nibbles will also be provided. Please click here for further info and for (free) booking. The outline of the talk can be viewed on the above image.

Biography:
Tina Richardson is an independent scholar and psychogeographer. She became interested in psychogeography in 2009 when researching the Situationist International and set up Leeds Psychogeography Group that year, running it at the university till 2013. She is now a writer/editor and guest lecturer. Walking Inside Out is her new edited volume following Concrete, Crows and Calluses, which she self-published in 2013. Tina is also the editor of STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine. The pilot edition was published this summer. Both Walking Inside Out and STEPZ are appearing on university syllabuses this upcoming semester, in the UK and abroad.

Venue details/directions:
Harold Wilson building, ground floor, room 3 (HWG/03).
Click here for location of University of Huddersfield and maps.
Click here for pedestrian map showing Harold Wilson building (while it is building 02 on the map you can also enter through 01, University Reception).

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out - Outsider Psychogeography


This is the second of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Outsider Psychogeography’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the first extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’.

Psychogeography has always had to deal with its detractors, from the criticisms aimed at the Situationist International’s hankering for a lost past to the contemporary disapproval levelled at it in its current incarnations. This is especially prevalent today with the proliferation of online forums, blogs and zines. For example a post entitled ‘How Could Psychogeography Come to This’ appeared in June 2012 on the blog Cosmopolitan Scum which criticised the psychogeography carried out on the London Olympic site in 2012.

Some disciplines can be very welcoming to psychogeography, but this is not necessarily the case in all academic fields. When attempting to justify one’s own practice in what may be a somewhat ‘hostile’ environment, it is easy to come across as apologetic or overly defensive. While the vagueness of the term ‘psychogeography’ enables it to be an inter/transdisciplinary tool, as a field in itself (if we choose to call it that) it is considered unscientific, even if some of the practices employed within it might be used in a scientific way elsewhere and might appear under a different label. For instance, the Recitoire project run by the Grenoble Computer Science Lab, looks at qualitative surveys which involve citizens in their local urban planning projects. While this is not labelled as psychogeography at all, nor is the term used in their documentation, the comparisons are apparent.

The two essays which represent this section reflect the work of two academics who use psychogeography in their own field. They both draw on walking-based literature and philosophy and demonstrate how psychogeography can be used as an interdisciplinary tool which can be incorporated in a discipline in which it might not usually be considered.


Psychogeography, Anti-Psychologies and the Question of Social Change
by Alexander John Bridger


Psychogeographical work doesn’t get much mention in the discipline of psychology. Indeed, the ‘high status’, mainstream and funded psychology research focuses on the measurement of peoples’ minds, attitudes and behaviour. However, in the past 30 years, psychologists have begun to conduct research, which has shifted from laboratory research to fieldwork studies with the aims to use interviews and observations to study peoples’ language and experiences in context. In terms of psychological studies about environments, much of that work has tended to be based in environmental psychology and social psychology where researchers have either attempted to study the effects of environments on peoples’ behaviour or they have attempted to discern how people construct identities in places. Whilst there is some value to that previous work, what I want to outline here is a quite different approach to studying environments, which doesn’t fit neatly into the existing mainstream paradigm of psychology. What I want to do is explain why a psychogeographical approach in psychology is needed and how psychogeographical research should be entwined with political and activist practice to be part of a progressive agenda of radical social change. Clearly, these aims are in opposition to the mainstream scientific orientation of psychology research but there are important reasons why this needs to be done.

Generally speaking, psychology work tends to be disconnected from social change except for instances where governments, the media and other corporations use psychology to back up their agendas and where typically, psychological knowledge is used to uphold the status quo. Earlier on in this book, Tina Richardson (2015) discussed how it continues to be a challenge in academia to introduce literature-based psychogeography into academic arenas, unless it was within literature-based courses. This is even more of a challenge in typically scientific and positivist enterprises such as psychology. In this chapter, I want to outline a distinctively radical, political orientation to psychology, which draws on psychogeographical techniques to consider the spatialisation of environments. This chapter outlines a rationale for why a psychogeographical analysis of environments in and against psychology is important and I will explain how such work can be done...


Re-Walking the City: People with Dementia Remember
by Andrea Capstick


Within the dominant biomedical discourse, late-life dementia is regarded as a pathological condition characterised by short-term memory loss, word finding difficulties and ‘problem behaviours’ such as ‘wandering and ‘repetitive questioning’. As its title suggests, one of the main purposes of this chapter is to shift the focus from what people with late-life dementia forget to what they remember, particularly as this relates to places they have known much earlier in life. A central part of my argument is that dementia, often somewhat crudely represented as wholesale memory loss, might better be regarded as a form of spatio-temporal disruption; a disruption which intersects with the theoretical territory of psychogeography.

People with dementia are often regarded as unreliable narrators, and I first became interested in psychogeography when searching for archival and historical evidence that the places people with dementia referred to in stories they told about their lives actually existed. Or, at least, that they once had done, since the changes that have taken place in the outer built environment during a lifetime of 80 or 90 years are often extreme. The first section of the chapter, ‘Locating narratives’, therefore discusses narrative biographical work carried out with people with dementia as part of the Trebus Projects (trebusprojects.org). Many of the narrators were people whom staff in the care homes where they now lived believed could no longer communicate meaningfully and often their stories were dismissed as mere invention or attention seeking. It was noticeable, however, that very often they appeared to use quite precise geographical markers to ‘signpost’ memories from earlier life. I found that although many of these places had either disappeared or altered beyond recognition in the intervening decades, the references themselves were almost always accurate and verifiable. In one care home, for example, two women both referred independently in conversation to “black cat”. While this could easily have been taken as a reference to a former pet or a superstitious belief, it emerged that in fact both women had worked at the Black Cat cigarette factory in Camden.

In working with people with dementia there is often therefore a need to suspend our disbelief, and to resist what Russell Jacoby (1996) has described as “social amnesia”; the societal tendency to undervalue, and therefore to forget, the past. This resistance is, in itself a form of psychogeographical détournement (Debord and Wolman 1956) in that an existing concept - that of the amnesiac - is ‘liberated’ from its usual meaning and relocated in wider society. The destruction of memory lies as much in the outer world with its demolition sites, road-widening schemes, bomb damage, slum clearance and gentrification, as it does in the ‘damaged’ brain of the person with dementia. The tendency for people with dementia to ‘wander’, get lost, or become anxious in places that have changed significantly is better understood when we consider it as a correlate of change in the external world as well as internal cognitive impairment.

Friday, 18 September 2015

What does SCRIB stand for?


Scribe - Dictionary Definition

Verb

1. To write
2. To mark with a pointed instrument

The SCRIB Project is about rewriting the city by acknowledging the social history that is geographically contained within the terrain. It is concerned with leaving a recognisable trace of the past in the form of an inscription...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Why the dislike button adds nothing to Facebook!


At his Townhall Q and A on 15th September, Mark Zuckerberg did not announce for certain a ‘dislike’ button, despite all the reporting focusing on this as if it is an imminent future additional feature. What he actually said was that Facebook are considering another feature that goes alongside the ‘like’ button, such as a ‘dislike’ button that could be used for ‘expressing empathy’. This post will explain why I think including a ‘dislike’ button does not add anything to the dynamics of the scenario of the already existing ‘like’ button.

The singular ‘like’ option allows users to select ‘like’ for any number of reasons, here are some examples. It might be for liking the content of a positive post, or for when a friend has achieved something (such as completing their dissertation), or it may be they have reached an anniversary of some kind. It also allows you to agree with the contents of a post – this could be something to do with a shared political opinion, or showing approval for an event that a friend may be attending, for example. There are many reasons why you would click ‘like’ to express an actual (genuine) liking of a post’s content.

One of the problem arises, as acknowledged by Zuckerberg, when you don’t like the content of the post, even if you may like the sentiment behind why someone has posted it. Zuckerberg’s example is the current refugee crisis. Sometimes people qualify this in their comments when they are liking a post the contents of which are upsetting or of which they have sympathy. It can sometimes feel ‘wrong’ to ‘like’ posts if you feel clicking ‘like’ does not reflect the complete response you have towards that post. So let’s use this as our example, since Zuckerberg used this is in his Q and A session.

Zuckerberg says that a ‘dislike’ button in this instance would allow people to show their empathy in a given situation. But does it really do this? Say you don’t want to ‘like’ a post on the refugee crisis because it does not express your feelings about it, and not clicking anything clearly doesn’t show the opposite since it does not recognise your acknowledgement of the post in any way at all (unless you write a comment). Also, you may be worried that if you do click ‘like’, it may seem you are liking that there is a crisis, rather than showing your empathy towards the refugees. So there appears to be a ‘lack’ in Facebook in providing you the scope to express yourself in this particular scenario. So, how would ‘dislike’ make up for this lack?

In the way that the ‘like’ button works, the ‘dislike’ button works the same way but in reverse, actually adding nothing to the overall Facebook experience, except for further confusion and the need for people to continue to qualify their use of it. This is why: if you click ‘dislike’ on a post about the refugee crisis, what are you saying ‘dislike’ to? Are you actually saying you dislike the fact there are refugees suffering in this crisis? Possibly, in this situation, that may be the assumed response. But actually you could be saying that you dislike the post for a number of reasons. For instance, you may be someone who is totally unsympathetic to the crisis and has empathy for those countries staunchly protecting their borders. This is empathy, but not that described by Zuckerberg in his example.

Let’s take another more ambiguous example and assume that almost everyone would be sympathetic to the refugees and in that instance we would read the use of ‘dislike’ in meaning that. Let’s say a friend of yours is a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and they put up a link to an online newspaper about him being voted the new Labour leader, but upon reading the post it then appears to be from a right-wing newspaper criticising Corbyn’s new appointment. You may be a Corbyn supporter and are happy to hear about his new position, but unhappy to read the criticisms about him in the newspapers. What do you click on then?

Many posts are of this nature. A lot of the time our opinion of something is not completely ‘black and white’ and our empathy may be directed at some of the content of the post, but not all of it. Buttons denoting ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ simply reinforce the existing dynamic. I would suggest adding a ‘dislike’ button is worse than simply having a ‘like’ one, in that it adds another layer of ambiguity. Having a ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ appears to allow you take one of two positions on a post, but in fact these two positions are just the reverse of each other, forcing you into complete commitment in one direction or other, both choices being of the same dialectical structure. While it may work successfully in some scenarios, as is the case with the ‘like’ button, does it really improve the quality of our user experience, or does it just provide more usable data for Facebook?

NB: I originally thought about doing a deconstruction of the like/dislike feature since it lends itself well to Jacques Derrida’s themes of ‘the trace’ and ‘lack’. It would certainly suit an analysis using his concept of ‘the supplement’, which is an addition that is attached to something original to improve it. However, I wanted this post to be accessible. Despite this I will sign-off with a Derrida taster: ‘the supplement…adds only to replace [and] is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness’ (Of Grammatology).

Related Links:
Thank an aging audience for Facebook’s proposed ‘dislike’ button