The Urban Drift or Derive

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Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

Ever notice the effects of a certain place on the way you feel? How about when you enter a place of worship or a building of historical importance? The calming effects of the seaside or the mountains? The adrenaline pumping effects of a sporting arena or sometimes even a place of work?

In the 1940’s, a political/artistic group called The Letterists’s International developed a term called “psychogeography“. Guy Debord, a prominent member of the group, defined it as “the specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behavior of individuals”

As we go about our daily lives, trapped by the circuitous journeys of work-home-play, the effects of the environment, that at one point, inspired us, become normalized. They cease to inspire us anymore. The city seems monotonous, overwhelming and hectic. What we tend to lose, in our quest for ever widening prosperity and progress is the element of spontaneity, of that “chance” encounter that fuels a sense of discovery and adventure.

Guy Debord, in an effort to preserve this sense of “chance” developed “the derive” which became the core concept of the Situationists, a political/artistic group founded by him and seen as successors to the Letterists.

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

A derive is a “purposeless” walk, an unplanned journey through a landscape, where the architecture and geography or the aesthetics of the environment direct movement. The ultimate goal is a truly authentic and new experience. Recording the sights and sounds while on the derive, deepens the experience and also reveals much of the environment that is taken for granted.

Dubai is a great place to experience a derive and our urban writing students have undertaken several with amazing results.

Here’s what they had to do:

1. Take a map of Dubai an lay it down on a table

2. Take a plastic cup, place it at a random point on the map and inscribe a circle.

3. This circle is the route that you must follow on your derive.

4. Take a camera, a recorder and a notebook and note anything that sparks your interest. Also take note of the feelings and  emotions you encounter during your derive, and be aware of the environments effect on them.

5. At the end of your derive, make a map of your experience. This should not just indicate the physical terrain you traversed, but also record your observations, your thoughts at different points and the feelings evoked during your journey.

6. Share.

Photo credit: Dilwin Kaur

Photo credit: Dilwin Kaur

Method 2:

1. Pick a metro station of your choice.

2. Disembark and walk.

3. Follow steps 4 and 6 above.

Think you’d like to try this?

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5 thoughts on “The Urban Drift or Derive

  1. Pingback: The Travelogue | Middlesex University Dubai's Urban Writers Lab

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