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Posted by on Jun 15, 2014

Vernacular mapping, psychogeography & biking: teaching to generated space

Mind mapping and psychogeography from Michael Gallagher on Vimeo.

Schizocartography, vernacular mapping, psychogeography

My once and perpetual supervisor/mentor, Dr. Sian Bayne at the University of Edinburgh, sent me this article which related to some work several of us had done earlier on mapping (or, more specifically, using mapping as a method for revealing the role of space in online learning). It was a good read and helped spur some more thinking on how mapping could be used as an instructional tool. The citation is below and it is available openly so consider giving it a read. It charts the author’s efforts to map the University of Leeds from different stances than a purely political/geographical distinction.

There are a few terms that I thought appropriate so I will summarize those first before jumping further into this.

  • Psychogeography– Psychogeography is an approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and “drifting” around urban environments. It has links to the Situationist International. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (Hart, Joseph (July/August 2004). “A New Way of Walking”. Utne Reader.).
  • Schizocartography: a mapping that allows for individuals to support multiple (and I am assuming, contradictory) existential models that challenge dominant power structures. Aside from my aside, I am taking that language from the paper.
  • Vernacular mapping: basically (my summation), a mapping of the everyday, of language, products of these spatial explorations of emotion, of intellect, of contradiction. “The co-production of knowledges, materials, and spaces” (Gerlach, 2013).

So, I see it, perhaps erroneously, as psychogeography being the method, schizocartography being the genre, and vernacular maps being the specific output or ‘product’. However problematic the term product is. More precisely, urban flânerie seems like the playful drifting around urban space (perhaps with a little more urgency) that psychogeography prescribes. The author was describing primarily a research method (a good one at that) for generating data that reveals the layers of spatial interaction that is occurring in even the most mundane of locations. The campus, the neighborhood, the urban street, etc.

But I come here to teach Caesar and not to research him, so I immediately wanted to appropriate this method for instruction. I dropped, clumsily, all the Deleuzian background as mine was less a pursuit of critique and more a pedagogical one. My role is to create the potential for critique without necessarily doing it myself (or proscribing my own critical stance); to create capacity analytical thinking rather than the analysis itself. Yet, I still have to get them to identify the political agents at work in their interactions in space.

I believe I have skirted around the issue in a few other posts, but I will plow right ahead and clumsily outline how these mapping techniques can be used in instruction. I will do this through some media I generated and assembled over the last few months.

Step #1: Identify, analyze and begin to challenge the dominant political, social, or cultural narrative being perpetuated about a particular location.

Depending on which disciplinary stance you are coming from or which learning capacity you are trying to engage, this could be anything reality. Mine would be Seoul, I suppose. The dominant political or cultural narrative of Seoul (at least one of them) is that of a busy metropolis, constant activity, intense work, intense play, reservedness and flairs for the dramatic. The people. The geography where those people reside: the phoenix from the ashes of the Korean War. Burgeoning skylines obscuring the fact that Seoul is a collection of villages, neighborhoods more than strictly territorial. Alleyways oozing into wide boulevards. Glass and steel casting shadows on drab and gray old dereliction. Refinement and visceral edginess. All of these are true, depending on one’s perspective.

Identify literature, tropes, texts, media that support these narratives. Students begin to challenge them. Question them. Build identities defending them or in their opposition. Keep them pliable and flexible. Interject contradiction into their momentum at every turn (to avoid rigid thinking).

Step #2: Brainstorm and articulate alternative narratives

Group students and let them brainstorm alternatives narratives and modes and media in which to articulate these. Identify one. Identify a method for collecting data that challenges the conventional narrative. Identify a sequence of events to collect that data. Identify roles and responsibilities for collecting it. Ideally that data collection would be done together, as a group, without a rigid directional sense. Wandering in and out, back and forth, retreading old steps as often as possible.

Collect data.

Step #3: Compose data

Students compose the media collected, creating their own vernacular or cognitive maps. Themes emerge from the composition. The students may have lost sight of the original theme being pursued that challenged the conventional narrative. This is good. Emerging themes from the data collected will provide a much more sturdy narrative structure that might just complement the original theme. Once composed, discuss challenges (or perhaps additions to) the conventional narrative of the location. Retrofit academic evidence to support this alternative narrative.

My version is milder than what I described. My method was biking, my favorite pastime in Seoul. In a city of 10 million people, I am able to lose myself entirely, to roll through memories, ideas; work through issues, frustrations; resolve petty failures or regrets. More importantly, I get lose in the sheer freedom of exploration. On my bike, today, I may find something or see something that I have never seen in this life before. A new path, a new vista, a new dancing of the sun across a new landscape. I challenge the conventional narrative of Seoul that I myself have built. I record all of this through my iPhone, my GoPro mounted on my bike, hidden behind my sunglasses and pulled down baseball hat. I assembled the video (above) and tried to embed the memories that I had on the ride. It is actually video from two different rides, with sounds from other times and places. A remixed memory of a generated space.

But I am not fully situated here in Seoul. I am haunted by locations I have known. I am thrust into a memory from London or New York or Hong Kong (see the video), based on a memory of those places, from here in Seoul. But thrust isn’t really the correct word, is it? I am not entirely there, nor am I entirely here. I am generating a new geography, a hybrid of these two places. In the alchemy of memory and imagination, I am creating a new landscape in which to embed hybrid, generative thoughts. This is my psychogeography. An entirely generated space, mixing both here and there, but not being entirely one or the other. I don’t exist between them; I exist in this new space, fully situated and present. I am home here, with all the moorings and mobilities that homes have. These are new frontiers and we ought to explore them. And have our students to do the same.


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