thoughts on situation-construction

constructed paths


The goal of situation construction is to build something that is intentional. Much of life is constructed haphazardly. Only a few very privileged people have the monetary ability to construct a life from scratch—and of those people few, if any, have thought about doing something like that. For the rest of us, we can use détournement to co-opt our reality. I use the word détournement in a very generic way. Rather than only meaning the regurgitation of images détournement points to an idea that is much more radical. To me, détournement is about harnessing the visible and invisible resources via strategic maneuvers.

Détournement is to ignore or conflate capitalist propaganda (branding, marketing, unfair labor practices, rent above the cost of maintenance, lobbying, and lies) with the emotion disgust. The separation between material needs and capitalist culture must be recognized. Détournement is more effective when it is a learned attitude rather than a dead piece of art. Interpretation is always more significant than the interpreted media.

As we move through life we tend to follow paths—both real roads and metaphorical ones. Some people follow life in their path without realizing what exists outside of it. It’s not because people aren’t curious but most people aren’t actively curious. It’s not simple to get people to change. For instance, a fair number of people have heard of anthropology but only a small number of people have a concrete idea about what anthropologists do. But there are thousands of other occupations just as interesting and rare as a qualitative researcher. It’s my opinion that for the most part humans are very replaceable. Everyone can be a CEO. It’s not so important what people do but it’s important how much they enjoy what they do. Not everyone will enjoy being a CEO. Human personality can be altered but it is a difficult and often painful process.

My point is that there is a range in situational awareness among human populations. Both in terms of awareness of situation and awareness of situation-ness. People may be aware of their situation in abstract terms but they don’t know how to relate it spatially or how they can modify their situation. (Vietnam is a little different though. Some people here seem to be hyper-aware of context and situation.)

We can create affective environments for our daily life in the same way that an accountant at a boring firm might plan their 2-week vacation in Japan. Our local environment could be seen as a vehicle. While we travel down a designed path we also move along a conceptual / cognitive path.

Human emotion is a type of memory. Similar to delay line memory. Our emotions drive different modes of consciousness. When we experience anger our brain sends a signal to change our physiological state. Our physiological state is a slower form (minutes to hours) of memory than speed of our conscious brain (ms to seconds).

A critical angle of particular relevance to psychogeography is that of disability studies: it is not hard to imagine dérives used as a therapeutic and awareness-raising method, allowing people to discover how alterations in their abilities and mobilities could impact their spatial experiences. Such narratives could then be used in an educational context to stimulate understanding of disabled mobilities, and to emphasize the importance of constructing inclusive forms of architecture and infrastructure.

A tool for increasing our understanding of others is to literally walk around in their shoes. Pretend to be them. Pretend to be confined to a wheelchair. How would this effect your experience with the environment. How would you need to change the spatial interface to make it more amenable to your desires?

The work of John Hockenberry (1995), a prominent wheelchair-bound foreign correspondence journalist who has written expansively about his experiences navigating New York City, among other hostile terrains, is a good example of psychogeographic writing with such emancipatory potential. In a chapter focusing on New York’s public transport system, Hockenberry attempts to take a train from his local subway stop – inaccessible by wheelchair – hoping to narrate the experience afterwards on a radio program. It is a dérive that starts as merely impractical, but soon begins to impinge on the realm of the absurd – and Hockenberry’s palpable frustration with the train system’s unwelcoming spatial layouts and, increasingly, the unhelpfulness of his fellow passengers, is highly infectious.

Conscious design of our environment allows us to create something that is better for all types of people, including the able-bodied six-pack macho men who live us all.