Intro to Psychogeography by Howard F. Stein

by B.J. on 7/03/2008 07:48:00 AM 0 comments Print this post

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Holy crap, I think I've found a way to bridge my interest in neuroanthropology/psycho anthropology and urban planning.

It's called...psychogegoraphy! At least, it's name sounds like the thing I should be interested in.

And apparently it's old enough to be talking about the Soviet Union as if it were a current entity.

The Bullet-Point Introduction:

What is Psychogeography? "Psychogeography consists of the representation of developmental time and the playing out of its vicissitudes on the stage of space. Space is often used as metaphor—sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally—for time. Time becomes space's drama; space becomes time's stage."

"The study of psychogeography begins with the still radical Kantian assumption that reality is not neutral, not simply “there” for the seeing. Psychogeography is a study of how and why we mediate reality with the contents of our psyches. Culture is not automatically adaptive to or even accurately perceptive of the real social and physical world. Spatial “otherness” is largely projective (La Barre, 1972; Devereux, 1980; DeMause, 1982)"

"Fantasies about the body and the family are transmuted into descriptions of one's own group, other groups, into shapes and features of the world."

"Psychogeography begins with the vicissitudes of selfhood in a human body within a family context, and proceeds outward to encompass the world."

Example: "We animate other peoples and places with aspects of ourselves. Often more literally than figurative, nations become mother- and fatherlands and fusions of the two. We speak of a “family” of nations or of mankind. Enemies become “cancers” which threaten to invade or corrupt the “body” politic. People experience the integrity of the body as coextensive with the integrity of group (e.g., national) boundaries."

"Psychogeography is a study of (a) the role of unconscious factors in the perception of natural and social reality, and (b) the consequences of that perception, i.e., how attributes of the psyche, once projected onto the world, become the basis for action in the world."

Fascinating Tidbits and Reflections:

1) This is a discipline bound up in borders, boundaries, lines, either-ors, rules, standards, insides, outsides, familiarities, and others. The sense of "Self" is defined partly based on who we think we are NOT.

"One's personal boundaries come to be felt as coextensive with and bound up with the fate of the geopolitical boundaries of one's group. Aggression is mobilized in defense of the self (Rochlin, 1973), in the service of keeping a sense of goodness and completeness and safety inside, repudiating in oneself disavowed parts and impulses, putting these disavowed aspects into the enemy, intensifying them in the enemy, engaging them through the enemy, combatting them in the enemy, and restoring what the enemy is seen to have taken away."

2) Despite borders and walls being constantly drawn, we seem to always believe that we can be infiltrated upon and imperiled by that enemy.

"The hallucination that governs the military realm is that the enemy is threateningly close to you, even if he is in reality thousands of miles away. His psychic proximity overrides all mere geographical facts. He attracts your attention and obsesses your unreasoning process just like the “loved one” who is wall-to-wall Breast."

3) There are shared bounaries and fantasies, which hold things for a group together.

"Myths and related phenomena are group-accepted images which serve as further screening devices in the defensive and adaptive functions of the ego. They reinforce the suppression and repression of individual fantasies and personal myths. A shared daydream is a step toward group formation and solidarity and leads to a sense of mutual identification on the basis of common needs."

Myths and these images essentially act as the social memory for a group. In popular discourse, TV sitcoms and movies act as the models and images, from which people negotiate boundaries and form fantasies.

4) The definition of the enemy makes things in our world much easier to define.

"The ability to focus one's anxiety also makes one feel safer; as a group solution to the free-floating anxiety of everyday life, the availability of a common enemy not only allows one to know where to look for danger but prescribes precisely where one should look."

In the same way that numbers are used to model the world, defining our enemies are used to model our world. And just the way numbers seem definite, they are in actuality achieved imperfectly, just as the way enemies seem definite, but they are defined imperfectly.

5) Essentially, we like to project the worse traits we see in ourselves onto our enemies. Apparently our enemies have a monopoly on those terrible traits, while we don't.

A Nazarene physician interviewed by the author said of the countryside in relation to the urban form.

'You're in God's Country here. Peaceful, quiet, decent. None of that crazy stuff you find Back East [a common phrase] or on the West Coast. God's Country is right here in the center; Back East and everything to the West is the Devil's Country. Broken families, drugs, hippies, wierdos of all kinds. Here you have some space to yourself, some privacy, not wall-to-wall people. I wouldn't want to go there. I wouldn't want my children to grow up there; it's not healthy.'

"In this psychogeographic depiction of the official division of labor between regions, respondents never utter a word about the high rates of alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, homicide, incest, and the like within the region; instead, the group myth of safety, freedom, and piety becomes a reality more compelling than reality itself, and what cannot be accepted about that reality magically becomes the distinguishing feature of the outgroups to the East and West."

The country's good traits are emphasized, and exaggerated while the urban side's good are de-emphasized and underplayed.

6) With us defining our enemies to be these people with all the bad traits, it seems that no matter what they do, barring a dramatic shift towards "our" ideology they will almost always remain the static, unchanging enemy.

"Much as we wish the Soviets to change, we depend upon them not to change. For the prospect of peace would eliminate their availability as the externalized focus and (symbolic) object or target of anxiety."

This ideology is this conservative cousin of the mushroom-dropping folks who like to explore the "exotic, unchanging other." The premise is still that we still have the good traits in abundance while they have all the bad ones.

"To take the point further: Americans prize “freedom,” a freedom which the Soviets are perceived as menacingly and unremittingly trying to take away. The U.S.S.R. serves as the image of what might be called The Great Depriver. Surely religiously devout Americans do not possess rebellious, irreverent impulses: it is those atheist Russian Communists (who are contending with resurgent Orthodoxy at home) who are bent upon taking away American religion. While Americans look longingly at the putative paternalism and maternalism of Japanese corporations, and reinstate religious fundamentalism and political authoritarianism at home, we keep our illusion of precious freedom by accusing the Soviets all the more of seeking to take it away."

This applies to today's popular discourse on China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.

7) "Scholars, not unlike political and military strategists, spend entirely too much time and effort divining the nature and characteristics of the adversary, and devote virtually no time or effort into exploring the relationship between adversaries, together with the investment of each (and all) participant in that relationship."


1) I'm not sure that I like the definition and implications of the "ethnic group." In fact, it's kind of a nuisance, especially done by a bunch of white guys, people who have never been considered "outsiders" to the degree that racial and ethnic "groups" experience.

"George DeVos (1975, p. 9) defines an ethnic group as “a self-perceived group of people who hold in common a set of traditions not shared by the others with whom they are in contact.”

"Max Weber introduced the concept of ethnic honor: “belief in a specific ‘honor’ of their members, not shared by outsiders, i.e., the sense of ethnic honor” (1961, p. 307)."

While there is some type of "pride" that some people do engage in, it's not some empty-ass "honor" to just be part of a racial or ethnic group. Being part of a group is not something people celebrate as an honor or achievement.

As a message boarder once put it in the context of relating Jewish performances of ethnic pride after the Holocaust to current performances of ethnic pride in the context of the United States, celebrating the ethnicity is like saying a fuck-you back to an imagined otherized but centralized dominant, oppressive people. It's saying that no matter what "you" did to my ancestors, we've survived, I'm here and fuck you again. It's mostly imaginary-broad enemy-driven rather than "self-driven".

Just as its definitions and gradual proliferations were for purposes of violence, there is still violence inherent in it, only in this age of globalizing interconnectedness, the power and violence has seemingly transferred from the enemy group to that ethnic and racial group.

Summing up...

There is definitely a lot more to the article.

However, the discourse seems to be bound up in bordership and boundaries. There are definitely implications for international and domestic studies and conflict resolution. I was hoping to find something about spatiality or space and psychology within the urban form, as I am interested in those ambiguous open spaces, garbage, and graff, and hopefully within this discipline I can eventually happen across it. I like the quip about the proximities of enemies because it never seems like they are too far away from you.

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