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Assembling the Assemblage: Developing Schizocartography in Support of an Urban Semiology

School of Design, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT, United Kingdom
Humanities 2017, 6(3), 47;
Submission received: 7 June 2017 / Revised: 29 June 2017 / Accepted: 6 July 2017 / Published: 10 July 2017


This article looks at the formulation of a methodology that incorporates a walking-based practice and borrows from a variety of theories in order to create a flexible tool that is able to critique and express the multiplicities of experiences produced by moving about the built environment. Inherent in postmodernism is the availability of a multitude of objects (or texts) available for reuse, reinterpretation, and appropriation under the umbrella of bricolage. The author discusses her development of schizocartography (the conflation of a phrase belonging to Félix Guattari) and how she has incorporated elements from Situationist psychogeography, Marxist geography, and poststructural theory and placed them alongside theories that examine subjectivity. This toolbox enables multiple possibilities for interpretation which reflect the actual heterogeneity of place and also mirror the complexities that are integral in challenging the totalizing perspective of space that capitalism encourages.

1. Introduction

The ways that we develop methods to help us understand, critique, and express our responses to urban space are as dynamic and ever-changing as the geographical space is that we are presented with as our object of study. The built environment can often operate on our psyches in a subliminal fashion, such that its changes—even when this involves substantial developments—become incorporated into our spatial awareness quickly and subtly. This has the effect of creating a type of cultural forgetting whereby it becomes difficult to remember what was in that place prior to these transformations taking over. What these transformations may hide requires a form of revealing to take place that will not only expose the layers of history, but will also encourage discussion, engender creative responses, and give voice to what is under the veneer of our everyday urban spaces.
This article offers a discussion on the forming of a method of urban critique—schizocartography—which allows for a flexibility in regard to interpretation, and also borrows from differing theories and practices in order to create a flexible set of instruments. This toolbox can be applied to all stages of the process of analysis, from the physical field work, to the critique and research, through to the forms in which the outcomes may be presented. Schizocartography brings together psychogeographical practice and urbanism with theories that examine subjectivity, heterogeneity, and power in order to present an adaptable set of tools that assesses many of the components involved in being present in our towns and cities. Schizocartography “reveal[s] the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. [It] challenges the ossified symbols of hierarchical structures through the act of crossing the barriers (concrete or abstract) of a particular terrain.” (Richardson 2015, p. 182). It acknowledges the need for a subjective mapping of place, one that can respond to the fluidity of physical space as much as it does to the flexibility of us as individuals.
The cultural epoch we know as postmodernity presents us with a complex set of themes that requires, as Fredric Jameson explains in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Jameson [1991] 2009), a new cognitive map in order to negotiate it. So, too, postmodern space expects a lot of us in terms of understanding our place in it. This spatial aspect is covered by Jameson when he discusses his exploration of the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles (a self-contained hotel, business and shopping center), where he highlights many of the motifs that apply to postmodern space, such as the dichotomies of openness/closure and inside/outside. Jameson sees these binaries—which in modernity had real purchase, in that they were much more clearly delineated then—as being ‘up for grabs’ inasmuch as postmodern architecture manages oppositions in paradoxical ways (Jameson [1991] 2009, pp. 39–45). Differences now operate on a more “abstract level” where a “distinction…is everything but ‘the same’ as an opposition that depends on its opposite in its very being”, because in postmodernity “difference disperses phenomena in a random and ‘heterogeneous’ way” (Jameson [1991] 2009, p. 344). He goes on to say that cultural objects considered under postmodernism often seem to “fold back into each other” (ibid.).
This folding back, coupled with the complexity of palimpsest geographical space that now makes up our towns and cities, requires a rethinking of strategies that appear under the rubric of urban critique: the need for a toolbox that contains a multiplicity of instruments ranging from the abstract, psychic, virtual, material and practical. The concept of the palimpsest is based on the ancient writing form that enabled a (re)writing on a surface where content could be transcribed and later rubbed off again, for example, a wax tablet or animal skin. Today the word is used by people from many different fields to describe the complexity of places that have gradually built up over time:
All places are palimpsests. Among other things, places are layers of brick, steel, concrete, memory, history, and legend […]. The countless layers of any place come together in specific times and spaces and have bearing on the cultural, economic, and political characteristics, interpretations, and meanings of place.
Mark Graham’s definition demonstrates the diversity of elements that contribute to the spatial palimpsest’s intricacies. This is also articulated well by Sigmund Freud in his description of ancient Rome as a metaphor for haunting in regard to the unconscious:
One need hardly add that all these remnants of ancient Rome appear as scattered fragments in the jumble of the great city that has grown up in recent centuries, since the Renaissance. True, much of the old is still there, but buried under modern buildings. This is how the past survives in historic places like Rome.
Concepts like folding and the palimpsest highlight the variety of perspectives that one might take when examining space, providing a wealth of approaches that can be picked up and utilized in a given situation. The practitioner, or analyst, will be able to borrow from a diverse assortment of tools that will enable them to respond to a landscape that is one of a contradiction itself. Postmodern space, while ever-changing, also expresses the appearance of having been that way forever—the effect of the homogenization of space under the third stage of capitalism.1 It is also the case that the
spaces we occupy in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century have spawned new terms in order for these spaces to be articulated in a new way: hyperreality (Jean Baudrillard and others), non-place (Marc Augé), empty spaces (Jerzy Kociatkiewicz and Monika Kostera), heterotopia (Michel Foucault), to name but a few. Therefore, space is not only overdetermined because of the many different groups of people who operate in these spaces and, hence, have a different aesthetic of them, but also because of the multiple ways of analysing space.
This means it behooves the new urban practitioner-analyst to be a bricoleur.
While the origins of the word bricolage (if we broadly take it to mean “do-it-yourself”) may imply something haphazard and even makeshift, its anthropological application situates it culturally through language: bricolage “is capable of infinite extension because basic elements can be used in a variety of improvised combinations to generate new meanings within them” (Hebdidge 1997, p. 103). We can look at urban space as a sign that allows for multiple interpretations and, by using bricolage as a way of developing a more fluid methodology, we can express the plurivocality of the signs that will aid us in expressing the heterogeneity of place. The urban semiologist becomes part of the process of assembling these signs, in analyzing them and re-presenting them in another narrative that may operate against the grain of the dominant discourse that functions in a specific space, such that “when that object is placed within a different total ensemble, a new discourse is constituted, a different message conveyed” (John Clarke cited in (Hebdidge 1997, p. 104)).
This new re-presentation—which is also a re-appropriation—becomes what Félix Guattari would describe as an assemblage of enunciation. Guattari explains how this form of critique runs counter to an authoritarian voice by producing a displacement of a seemingly ossified event, or moment in time, by “making it drift from systems of statement and preformed subjective structures towards assemblages of enunciation able to forge new coordinates for reading and to ‘bring into existence’ new representations and propositions” (Guattari 2013, p. 17, Guattari’s italics). This means the practitioner-analyst (the urban semiologist) becomes a recognized part of the new assemblage inasmuch as they are acknowledged as belonging to the process involved in the analysis. They are the bricoleur and, hence, are not distanced from the space under examination: they choose the tools and at the same time recognize their own subjectivity in the moment that becomes the assemblage.
This subjective process was not lost on Roland Barthes when he provides an example of “Text” (a polysemic cultural text open to interpretation) as opposed to “Work” (one with an obvious authority figure that dictates meaning to the recipient). Barthes describes Text as a “methodological field”, existing only in the “activity of production”, with its “constitutive movement” being that of “cutting across” (Barthes 1977, p. 157). But, more interestingly, he provides the example of a subjective stroll of his own in an oued (a dry valley), which inspired him to develop the term “Text”, thus situating himself concretely within the spatial interpretation underway. In his Text-inspired walk, Barthes recognizes the heterogeneity of signs that exist in the space he is walking—from birdsong, to foliage, to the ambient temperature—but, more significantly, he acknowledges that his own response to these stimuli come about through “difference” and “the text-between of another text”, which makes them, in a sense, “untraceable” (Barthes 1977, pp. 159–60). Additionally Barthes uses terms relating to fabric in his analysis of the effects of the heterogeneity inherent not only in place, but also within the individual whose response becomes part of this unfolding. This implies a materiality from both the perspective of a textile (textuality—although, for Barthes, this is actually intertextuality), and in that it is something concrete and has extension. This textual approach is something that Jameson refers to as responding to “the aesthetics of difference” (Jameson [1991] 2009, p. 344). Barthes example demonstrates the bricolage nature of the walker who picks up different elements of the environment while on their stroll at a particular moment in time.
Véronique Altglas states that the traditional view of bricolage as a sociopolitical, creative, and personal response to a decline in grand narratives “often fails to understand the social significance of individualism and overlooks the ways in which, in contemporary society, social norms and power may be expressed through culture” (Altglas 2014, p. 475). Taking this concept of individual expression into consideration, and looking at enunciation as a form of re-appropriation, we can look at walking in urban space as a kind of speech act that “establishes a present relative to a time and place” that suggests “a contract with the other (the interlocutor) in a network of places and relations” (De Certeau 1988, p. xiii, De Certeau’s italics). And it is in this regard that this article will discuss the formulation of schizocartography as it pertains to a method for critiquing urban space. It is one that borrows from a multitude of theories in order to reveal the taken-for-granted appearance of space, challenge the dominant discourse and tease out the heterogeneity within the palimpsest topography.

2. Assembling the Toolbox

In her article “Going Deeper or Flatter: Connecting Deep Mapping, Flat Ontologies and the Democratizing of Knowledge” in an earlier edition of this journal, Selina Springett states: “Deep mapping as an approach to place, aims to democratize knowledge through the crossing of temporal, spatial, and disciplinary boundaries”, adding a note saying: “By democratizing knowledge I mean that various knowledges are considered as of equal or important value in understanding of place” (Springett 2015, p. 624).2 This demonstrates the need for transparency in regards to validating the narratives available on place, either historic ones or newly formulated ones. For the academic bricoleur, it also may mean that one’s work requires validation in terms of the breadth of methods that may be required in a given case study.
For the bricoleur who wishes to present an alternative pick-and-mix methodology and justify it in the light of academic rigor, a case may need to be made that authenticates the requirement for the approach under review: in other words, is there nothing that already exists in the toolbox of academia that currently does the job? This, I found out, at the point I proposed my doctoral research project that was to use psychogeography as the core of its methodology. Psychogeography is a form of urban critique oriented within a walking practice. It is mostly associated with the Situationist International (1957–1974), a fluid group of artists, writers and academics who critiqued the encroachment of capital into city spaces and, hence, the lives of Europeans post-World War II. Today, psychogeography is used in very flexible ways and can refer to something as general as an aesthetic response a person may have to a particular building within a city, or it can refer to more activist strategies such as crossing boundaries into privatized, and seemingly secure, corporate spaces. Proposing to use psychogeography as a methodology posed a number of problems, for instance, psychogeography was outside of academia in terms of the written texts that appeared as its output (most of those who carried out what could be termed “psychogeography” were not academics). While it appeared to be fine to analyze psychogeographical texts as literature objects (objects of study), using them as tools for analysis (as theoretical tools) proved harder to justify. For example, the work of (arguably) Britain’s leading psychogeographer, Iain Sinclair, while not fiction, is also not considered to be an academic text. It is probably labelled creative non-fiction and is often filed alongside travel books in bookshops. Yet, writers and practitioners like Sinclair are leading experts in this field, have published work to support their walking practices and their work deserves to be recognized as a tool for theoretical critique.
It is also the case that the practice of psychogeography itself is not recognized as being scientific in any way. Subjective, heterogeneous and un-repeatable experiences of space cannot be easily tested in any way that science would deem acceptable. These elements are also the reason Freud’s theory is rejected for not being scientific in the field of psychology, which today tends its focus towards the cognitive and behavioral aspects of the academic subject rather than that of the psyche and Freud’s topology. Our experiences of space, and our affective responses to it, not only differ from the next person’s, but also change over time for us. A visit to the same place a year hence would quite likely bring about a different aesthetic.
These particular problems may have been easier to surmount if I had been carrying out a practice-based thesis, but mine was theoretical and, while much of it was underpinned by practice, the word count was that of a theoretical thesis and my final examiners were to be a cultural theorist and a geographer. What this meant in regard to using psychogeography, as part of the theory as well as the practice, was finding other theories that underpinned the foundations of psychogeography and that would have the effect of legitimizing it in the space of academia.
Taking the psychogeography of the Situationist International as my starting point, I noted the overarching themes that were core to it in regard to the job at hand: a psychogeography of a university campus that was attempting to critique its manifestation under neoliberalism.3 This meant that I would be looking at how capitalism was spatially marked, as it would be for the Situationists under the rubric of the spectacle, but also in regard to critiquing uneven urban development. Thus, Marxist-oriented geographical theories such as those of David Harvey and Neil Smith were useful, because their input enabled a discussion to open around the concept of capital accumulation in the way that the university had historically acquired property and land. In his homage to Raymond Williams, “Space as a Keyword”, Harvey breaks down space into absolute, relative, and relational. In regard to relational space, which Harvey attributes to Leibniz, he states that “there is no such thing as space or time outside of the processes that define them” (Harvey 2006, p. 123), highlighting the importance of the reflexive way that we see space and how it operates on us. Also, in relation to geography and the postmodern spatial form which the campus takes, I was attempting to reveal what was hidden in the space itself, so the theories of Cindi Katz and the process of unhiding used to reveal globalized capitalist production and social relations was also valuable. So, too, Foucault’s work on heterotopias (for the same reason, but also because of his discussions on space, power and knowledge in general).
The work of Katz and Foucault became crucial in regard to critiquing a particular space at the University of Leeds which had previously been a public cemetery. The cemetery was acquired by the university during its major development project in the 1960s and caused controversy at the time when nearly all of the headstones were removed, leaving the bodies under what later became a landscaped park. While Foucault’s theory on heterotopia can be directly related to the cemetery, since he provides this as one of his own examples, Katz work provided helpful in terms of the “hiding” that I maintained was taking place on campus in regard to the university’s reluctance to deal openly with this particular moment in time of social history, even all these years later.
In regards to reading the campus itself, being a cultural theorist meant I had a selection of textual tools available to me by way of interpretation (because of the lineage of Cultural Studies, cultural theorists are very often up and running as bricoleurs). Barthes, while often thought of a semiologist of the written text and popular culture, sees urban space as a form of discourse: “The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language: the city speaks to its inhabitants, we speak our city, the city where we are, simply by living in it, by wandering through it, by looking at it” (Barthes 1997, p. 168). He says that if one were to produce a semiotics of the city, one would be required to be a “semiologist, geographer, historian, planner, architect and probably psychoanalyst” (Barthes 1997, p. 166). Here we can see the transdisciplinary and bricolage form of his recommended methodology in regard to exploring space. Also, his suggestion of also “probably” being a psychoanalyst mirrors my use of Freud, especially in regards to space and the unconscious.
In Freud’s use of ancient Rome as an analogy for the unconscious, he explains how it continues to haunt us, by providing an example of present-day Rome in its inability to be co-present with its past. The figure of the past haunts the present because it is impossible for different historical moments to be present to each other: “If we wish to present a historical sequence in spatial terms, we can do so only by a juxtaposition in space, for the same space cannot accommodate two different things” (Freud 2004, p. 9). Looking at space through the eyes of the psychoanalyst helps reveal the contradictions that lie there. Freud has a formulated a methodology that translates very well to physical space: dream interpretation looks at the manifest elements of a dream and interprets what the latent meaning is. This enables one to see that space, in a sense, has an unconscious that is the urban semiologist’s job to reveal. The way that power manifests in space can result in something that could be described as repression. What appears as the antithesis of the dominant project underway in a particular space (anything that contradicts, condemns or distracts from it), is repressed in order to enable the mission to be realized. Both Freud’s and Barthes’s texts connect culture/language with abstract/physical space and enable a (re)reading of particular structures.
In regard to the case study of my thesis, the university campus, Freud’s theory of the uncanny and return of the repressed, in particular, were applied to a new halls of residence, The Charles Morris Halls. These new halls kept the same name as the halls they had been replacing and I maintained that by:
keeping the name the same this development then becomes a semi-resurrection of the first Charles Morris Halls and could be considered to be a return of the repressed in the sense that the university has been unable to totally move on to the new project that is required of it: the repressed past self continues its attempt to be acknowledged and seeks avenues that enable it to be gratified in the present.
Freud’s theory of the uncanny is very much related to haunting (also a common motif in psychogeography), and ties in with the return of the repressed, inasmuch as “every affect arising from an emotional impulse [...] is converted into fear by being repressed” and repressed experiences have the need to return in other forms (Freud 2003, p. 147).
Semiology and psychoanalysis are intrinsically connected to subjectivity, and one way that these fields are also related to capital are through the work of Guattari; he contends that there are many subjectivities available to us, but the prevailing one is a capitalist one. Guattari says that capital’s pervasive dominance comes about through “anti-production”. Using education as an example he demonstrates how capital operates:
It is impossible to separate the production of any consumer commodity from the institution that supports that production. The same can be said of teaching, training, research, etc. The State machine and the machine of repression produce anti-production, that is to say signifiers that exist to block and prevent the emergence of any subjective process.
The language Guattari is using here, while highlighting psychoanalytical terms, also echoes the work of Louis Althusser, and in the Althusserian sense of being subjected, we could say that the environment interpellates us. In fact, his famous example of interpellation is set in urban space, whereby the individual becomes a subject of the ideological apparatus in the street at the point they are hailed by the policeman (Althusser 2006, p. 118). Thus, Althusser also proved valuable in terms of looking at the structure of urban space in regard to how it operates on the individual through its design and via an unwritten code that expects, and discourages, certain behaviors. Althusser also went into the toolbox!
However, unlike the structural approach of Althusser, what Guattari offered in terms of an urban semiology was singular processes of individuation that did not attempt to reroute subjective desires back into capitalist production and that, instead, encouraged creativity. They would operate outside of what Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell describe as the “monolithic and omnipresent neoliberalism, which tend to be insufficiently sensitive to its local variability” (Peck and Tickell 2002, pp. 381–82). This creative aspect was also part of the Situationists’ playfulness when it came to the dérive, their urban walks around European cities. Also, while Guy Debord did not use the term anti-production, he believed the spectacle (capital’s imago) had the effect of discouraging alternative viewpoints: the spectacle is “where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence” (Debord 2005, p. 36, Debord’s italics). The connection between the work of Guattari and that of the Situationists—when it came to themes such as the recognition of capital in its representative form and how it affected subjectivity, the material manifestation of power structures and how they forestall alternatives in regard to behavior, and strategies that encourage new ways of thinking and being—all became key to the development of schizocartography as a psychogeographic and theoretical methodology.
The word schizocartography is a portmanteau of “schizoanalytic cartographies” (Schizoanalytic Cartographies, Guattari 2013), and refers to schizoanalysis, Guattari’s answer to the problems inherent in psychoanalysis. Guattari developed the term “schizoanalysis” as a way of challenging the conventional psychiatric and psychoanalytic model. He offered it up as a process that enabled other forms of representation to be made available, stating that schizoanalysis “has the potential for reading other systems of modelization” (Guattari 1998, p. 433). It is because Guattari’s schizoanalysis looked at representations of power, and proposed ways of challenging them through creative avenues, which meant it became incorporated into the psychogeographical practice that was to become schizocartography.
I will return to Guattari’s work in more depth in the next section, but continuing in the vein of the critical tools that form the urban semiologist’s toolbox, I would be remiss in not mentioning the influence of Michel De Certeau and Henri Lefebvre. While I predominantly used Lefebvre’s theory to look at space in regard to representation (see the section “Bricolage and Representation”), De Certeau’s “Walking in the City” (1980) almost appears like a preformed guide to the psychogeographer when it comes to the spatial practice itself.
De Certeau offers a method of walking as a “space of enunciation” (De Certeau 1988, p. 98). His text provides us with a new character in the urban tale, the city itself: “a universal and anonymous subject” (1988, p. 94, De Certeau’s italics). He makes semantic comparisons with the city and language, stating that below the dominant discourse of the city lie alternative stories “whose surface is only its upper limit, outlining itself against the visible” (1988, p. 93). This means that the city can be examined at the micro level, through what he describes as “spatial practices” which take the form of resistance to an imposed way of living (1988, p. 96). What de Certeau calls “pedestrian speech acts” enable “appropriation”, a form of “acting-out”, and “relations” to come into being through spatial interactions that might influence the social contract (1988, pp. 97–98). Thus the “act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to statements uttered” (1988, p. 97). These terms highlighted by De Certeau reflect the relational aspect of Guattari’s work and, in particular, challenges to the prevailing discourse and how forms of appropriation can alter the territory. Guattari is interested in how the activities of an individual, what they produce, forms them and affects their relationship with the world and others. For example, he explains how performance art enables us to pose questions around space and time, language and meaning-making, by offering up new possibilities that help us challenge the notion of the everyday (Guattari 1995, p. 90).

3. Guattari’s Influence on Territory and Subjectivity

In Schizoanalytic Cartographies Guattari refers to Jean-François Lyotard’s critique of the decline of grand narratives and recognizes his discussion on how it is that the little narratives, in producing heterogeneity, can “save some of the values of justice and freedom” (Guattari 2013, p. 39). Guattari also criticizes some postmodern theoretical approaches that valorize a “floating discourse in a signifying ether” as reducing the social sphere to “the facts of language” (ibid.). In regard to creating a spatial bricolage form of urban semiology, this means that it is important not to place the description of phenomenon on one side of the psychogeographical fence, and that which is being described on the other side. Giuseppe Dematteis contends that geographers are in a prime position to report on the social from a number of perspectives, specifically by seeing “networks and territories as metaphors which represent social relations” (Dematteis 2001, p. 123). He believes that taking a number of viewpoints and reworking different representations enables the global and local to be effectively critiqued in their complexity (Dematteis 2001, pp. 123–24). This is in keeping with Guattari’s theory because it incorporates the processual and relational factors that influence territories.
Territory is a key theme in the work of Guattari. He uses it not just to represent physical space, but also the abstract space of the individual’s thoughts, desires, and lived experience. In regard to the built environment, Guattari believes that the work of architects should be to expose the “virtual desires of spaces, places trajectories and territories” (Guattari 2013, p. 232), but in the absence of this, individuals can participate in concrete space in such a way that they can “trigger off processes capable of reappropriating subjective territories” (Guattari and Suely 2008, p. 64). At the same time that the participants are changed through a process of singularization, so too is the territory in play: “Desire is always extraterritorial…it passes over and under all barriers” (Guattari 2009, p. 148). Guattari says that subjectivity is attached to territories (spatial and otherwise), however, “Territory can be deterritorialized, that is, it can open up, engage in lines of flight, and even move off course” (Guattari and Suely 2008, p. 472). This means that the psychogeographer or urban semiologist, while carrying out a concrete practice on the ground, can also respond subjectively to the space, either from their own individual position, or by attempting to express the heterogeneity of a specific space.
This act of crossing boundaries is described best by using Guattari’s term “transversality”. Transversality is Guattari’s response to the hierarchical concept of transference that occurs in the psychoanalytic process. For Guattari transversality is a particular form of communication which forms a bridge that takes unconventional routes between systems (Guattari 1995, pp. 23–24). This means it lends itself to being adopted in urban space when individuals or groups view, or operate in, a particular territory in unconventional ways.
Gary Genosko describes Guattari’s transversality as “the tool used to open hitherto closed logics and hierarchies” (Genosko 2008, p. 54) and, when discussing urban space in regard to walking, Genosko states that a “transversal territory” which operates within unconventional power structures “is the site of pure potentiality and marked by such valorized terms as ‘transgress’–‘deviate’–‘defy’–‘cut across’–‘disorganize’–‘smooth space’” (Genosko 2002, p. 57). He says that this mode of operating in space offers an alternative form of articulation, providing one with a different self to that which is expected by the dominant powers in the capitalistic city (Genosko 2002, p. 58). This different self, or selves if we choose to extend it to a wider group of individuals engaging in transversal actions, may enable a more authentic response to the neoliberal city. Peck and Tickell explain the potential value of these vernacular choices in a cityscape that is responding to a new phase of “roll-out” neoliberal policies. For them “roll-out” neoliberalism is a reaction to the “roll-back” deregulatory, free-market period of the 1980s. It reflects a moment of “ongoing neoliberal hegemony in the sphere of economic regulation” that “represents both the frailty of the neoliberal project and its deepening” (Peck and Tickell 2002, p. 390). In regard to the city itself, these market struggles turn “cities into accomplices in their own subordination, a process driven—and legitimated—by tales of municipal turnaround and urban renaissance, by little victories and fleeting accomplishments, and ultimately also by the apparent paucity of ‘realistic’ local alternatives.” (Peck and Tickell 2002, p. 393).
For the individual, transversality can be compared to the practice of traversing space in that it provides a new route that is inspired by one’s own desire to respond to the environment in an unconventional way (parkour would be a good example of this): “Transversality in the group is a dimension opposite and complementary to the structures that generate pyramidal hierarchization and sterile ways of transmitting messages” (Guattari 1984, p. 22). In this way the act of traversing/transversality questions the permissions and power attached to encouraging, and disinhibiting, certain behaviors in particular territories. It also enables one to question the fundamental logos of a space, in the way that individuals have certain actions expected of them (those that we could place under the rubric of habitus). Desire finds a route via transversality, enabling it to be freed from overriding social forms that attempt to regulate subjectivity and behavior within specific settings.
The physical act of traversing, and its connection to Guattari’s transversality, became part of the thesis when I witnessed a student traversing a wall at the University of Leeds. The wall—now the lower part of a halls of residence, but previously the wall of the original cemetery mentioned above—runs along one side of the park and underneath (in a cantilevered effect) the Henry Price Halls. One early Saturday morning, while carrying out research in the cemetery, I came across a male student traversing the wall. While the student may not have been carrying out this act in an openly activist way, he was following his desire to cross the space of the park in an unconventional manner which was an expression of transversality such that it: “enables one to question the underlying logos of the space in the sense that individuals have certain ‘common sense’ actions expected of them. Desire finds a route through transversality, allowing it to be released from overriding social forms that attempt to regulate the subjectivity of the individual and their behaviour within specific settings.” (Richardson 2014, p. 241)
These singularized events also have the function of de-mythologizing space. Guattari explains what is happening in these situations: “Existential Territories become diversified, heterogenized. The event is no longer enclosed in myth: it becomes a nucleus of processual relay” (Guattari 1995, pp. 105–6). The dominant order of the space under examination becomes more translucent, its overriding image fades away and other perspectives are momentarily made available. The concept of myth was also significant to the Situationists: in their critique of consumer culture they saw the city as being a mythologized space representing the hollow sign that appeared in the form of the spectacle. Guattari’s schizoanalytic cartography helps reveal the myth of controlling aesthetics and permits other representations to become available, what we might term counter-narratives.
These re-presentations and newly formed narratives come about through a creative response to a rejection of a dominant articulation, which is presented as doxa (commonly held beliefs that appear as singular representations of the truth): “With, and through, articulation we engage the concrete in order to change it, that is, to rearticulate it. […] Articulation is, then, not just a thing (not just a connection) but a process of creating connections” (Slack 1996, p. 114). Bricolage can be used as both an acknowledgement of how representations have historically borrowed and recirculated motifs in order to gain traction, but also as a creative act in itself, either via creative practice or as an act of methodological formation as it pertains to a re-presentation.

4. Bricolage and Representation

Altglas says: “While bricolage initially sought to capture cultural change at a macro-sociological level, now it often focuses on individuals’ creativity, namely the crafting of eclectic styles, religiosities and identities through personal choice” (Altglas 2014, p. 475). And Terrence Hawkes sees bricolage as involving
a ‘science of the concrete’…which far from lacking logic, in fact carefully and precisely orders, classifies and arranges into structures the minutiae of the physical world” (and these) ad hoc responses to an environment, then serve to establish homologies and analogies between the ordering or nature and that of society, and so satisfactorily ‘explain’ the world and make it able to be lived in.
In the field of psychogeography, the creative representations of the spaces under analysis can take the form of written texts, hand-drawn or re-appropriated maps, musical responses, films, and so forth. For the “savage” of early forms of anthropology, bricolage empowered “the non-civilized, non-literate bricoleur to establish satisfactory analogical relationships between his own life and this life of nature instantaneously and without puzzlement or hesitation” (Ibid.). While today’s psychogeographer is still working with their own internal responses to the environment around them (like the historical subject of anthropology above), they have sophisticated tools and methods available to them when it comes to ways of expressing those thoughts and feelings. Nevertheless, as Hawkes explains (quoting Claude Lévi-Strauss), what is synonymous with contemporary times is the “‘reciprocity of perspectives’ in which man and the world mirror each other by means of ‘classificatory systems’ which operate as ‘systems of meaning’” (Hawkes 1985, p. 52). Hawkes is making specific note of the reflexive praxis involved in responding to space and is highlighting the blurred boundaries between outside material space and inside psychic space.
Lefebvre’s socio-philosophical synthesis of what he terms real and mental space in his book The Production of Space (1974) presents urban theory with one of the most significant texts on space. He categorizes space by using the following phrases: “Spatial practice” (the space utilized for both work and leisure, and the praxis involved in this dynamic); “Representations of space” (how space is demarcated and represented by the dominant agents in society), and; “Representational space” (a response to how space is lived through the various signs that represent it, including dominant images of space but, more importantly, the possibility for more inventive representations) (Lefebvre 1991, pp. 38–39). Representational space, then, enables a schizocartography to take place inasmuch as it directly questions the dominant view of a specific concrete space and offers up the opportunity for a remapping of that space, one that represents a sense of place. These types of examinations encourage a critique of the ideological structures that have historically enabled particular forces to become dominant in the environment. Lefebvre discusses how ideology works in conjunction with space: “what we call ideology only achieves consistency by intervening in social space and in its production” and “Ideology per se might well be said to consist primarily in a discourse upon social space” (Lefebvre 1991, p. 44).
In regards to representations of space, this is a normal design effect of maps—they are a discourse on space. Because they produce a naturalizing effect on the space that they appear as a sign for, they subtly say to the viewer that this is how things are. Lefebvre says that this type of representation has a constructivist dynamic, thus ultimately working towards forming particular identities:
The area where ideology and knowledge are barely distinguishable is subsumed under the broader notion of representation, which thus supplants the concept of ideology and becomes a serviceable (operational) tool for the analysis of spaces, as of those societies which have given rise to them and recognized themselves in them.
The inclusion/exclusion of spatial elements in overriding representations of space is an intentional one and, along with the actual manifest routes demarcated in the space itself, influences our view of that space and our behavior in it. Lefebvre states:
Representations of space are certainly abstract, but they also play a part in social and political practice: established relations between objects and people represented in space are subordinate to a logic which will sooner or later break them up because of their lack of consistency.
This means that we should not take the map as read, but read the map like we would any other text, through a semiological analysis.
For my thesis, as well as providing a semiological analysis of the plans (which often appear in map form) for the 1960s development of the University of Leeds campus, I also examined some of the then-current maps used for guiding visitors around the campus (for example, a map of food outlets on campus). This particular map, while offered as a wayfinding device, actually turned out to be an advertisement for the coffee shop concessions at the university and their locations on campus. Maps can be analyzed like any other form of representation, and a Barthesian critique is especially useful inasmuch as one can unpick the individual elements, compare them in conjunction with their adjacent signs, contextualize them historically, and work out what the underlying message is. And Barthes has provided us with a guide of how to do this in his own work.
In analyzing the cover of Paris-Match, Barthes says the elements can be decoded within a cultural context which presents the sign as preformed: “The meaning is already complete, it postulates a kind of knowledge, a past, a memory, a comparative order of facts” (Barthes 2000, p. 117, Barthes’s italics). In The Power of Maps (1992), Denis Wood says that the raison d’être of the map, its form, makes it a cultural tool (Wood 1992, p. 144). In a similar way to Barthes, Wood explains: “Because the history of the map is our history we are already up and running (in coming to grips with the making of maps we recapitulate history); because the connections from the map to the rest of culture radiate from every part of it, we can commence with any part of it.... Any thread unravels everything” (Ibid., Wood’s italics). Popular or dominant representations of space, such as maps, have the effect of pronouncing the use of the space shown on the map. While they may appear to be guides on how to use the space—to find places or follow a route—their purpose can close off alternative uses of that space. However, if as Wood says, “Any thread unravels everything”, as the urban semiologist we can not only decode representations of space, we can also offer counter representations.
John Tagg’s The Burden of Representation (1988) dovetails with the theories of Foucault and Althusser when analyzing power structures and ideological apparatuses in regard to the implications of representations of history. He says that it is “systems of representation” that actually operate on identities, constructing rather than expressing them (Tagg 1988, p. 30). This is reflected in Guattari’s statement that “capitalist subjectivity” is the most dominant one (Guattari 2013, p. 44), and it is through its representation in the form of the spectacle that the Situationists would say this has come about. Tagg states: “it is in the representational practices of these apparatuses themselves that the ideological level is constituted” (Tagg 1988, p. 69).
What is, and is not, represented is a cause and effect of ideology. Space is one of the methods power uses to control its image. Nevertheless, other machines in the form of momentary assemblages are able to prevent desires being taken up into the greater order. A good example of this in my own research was a chalk drawing on a gravestone in the cemetery-park on the Leeds campus. The gravestone, having little funerary text, presented itself as a tabula rasa in terms of awaiting a creative image: it was a blank canvas. The drawing was in yellow, orange and red and was of a bird resembling a phoenix. The symbolism—rising from the ashes—was both pertinent to the graveyard and also relevant to the attempts of the hidden stories buried there to burst forth from the ground itself. Questions arose in terms of whether this could be a work of art or considered as graffiti, but my lasting thought was that “The phoenix might not actually be a comment on the resurrection of the deceased, but the resurrection of the cemetery itself.” (Richardson 2014, p. 251). Hence, the phoenix drawing, propagated by the desire of a specific individual at a particular time, worked counter to the discourse of the cemetery.
These moments of creativity ”elude the ordinary games of discursivity and the structural coordinates of energy, time and space” (Guattari 1995, p. 138). This means they have been formed into a new semiotic assemblage: “Schizoanalysis…is interested in a diversification of the means of semiotization.… [I]t abandons the terrain of signifying interpretation for that of the exploring of assemblages of enunciation” (Guattari and Suely 2008, p. 395, Guattari’s italics). These assemblages become the new representations that appear as the output of these urban semiologies, such that they express something other, heterogeneous or hidden, that the terrain does not give up easily. They require a reading, as carried out by the urban analyst who, in the same way as happens in psychoanalysis, cannot be separated from the process at hand. De Certeau says reading can be seen “as a form of bricolage”, because it uses what is available through a form of “production” that also does something other to what is being read (De Certeau 1988, p. 174).
What is produced can be described as a rewriting that, utilizing the tools available, can be added to the canon of knowledge on a specific space. But this needs to be undertaken with skill and also with the acknowledgement that one’s own place in the process is all part of the re-appropriation being undertaken: “Social actors do not appropriate anything and are not indifferent to the origins and meaning of the resources they appropriate. Their bricolage actually entails selective (and uncomfortable) processes of negotiation and interpretations with what is appropriated” (Altglas 2014, p. 475). But significantly, as Altglas explains, bricolage can “capture how cultures create something new out of what already exists” (Altglas 2014, p. 477), thus becoming a form of cultural resistance. And while overt (activist) resistance may not be the modus operandi of all contemporary psychogeographers, it certainly is of the urban explorer as they appear under the rubric of UrbExers.4

5. Conclusions

There were a number of reasons I formulated my own term for expressing the specific psychogeographical practice that I undertake. As a practitioner, and in a field which is increasingly becoming more saturated with alternate approaches, it was important to differentiate my own type of walking critique and urban analysis from the others. Everyone who carries out walking as a form of observation/examination of urban space approaches it differently, whether they are artists, academics or writers. Also, today psychogeography has become a generalized term for any form of urban walking or aesthetic response to space, which may not have any relationship to the activist approach the Situationists took. In order to prevent my own form of psychogeography from being caught up in a general swathe of psychogeography (especially during the current period of its increased popularity), it seemed important to distinguish it or even brand it, you might say.
While schizocartography engenders the specific approach I take, it is a somewhat fluid one that borrows from a multitude of implements. I am also reluctant to call schizocartography a methodology, since it is the idea that a method is a fully formed, clearly defined process of analysis that would have been anathema to Guattari. In a sense even describing it as a set if methods may not be appropriate, since it is concerned with more than just the application of a set of theories or practices on a given subject, object or element within a field of study. Schizocartography is also the outcome (output) of the analysis applied to the study of the thing itself, whether that outcome is uncovered by the producer of the analysis or not—for instance, it can also be attributed to chance findings that come about through psychogeographic explorations on the ground. It could also be argued that the practice aspect of schizocartography itself (or psychogeography) is what legitimates the wide-ranging choice of tools that can be used to uncover elements such as social history, creativity, and the alternative voices that become revealed under examination in concrete space. And to a degree the practice itself has a retroactive effect on the theories (tools) selected.
I also appreciate that it may be argued that schizocartography may appear to be unconcerned with generalizability due to its vernacular nature, in other words it may be considered invalid because it cannot be applied across settings. However, I believe it is this that makes it translatable, highlighting the significance of the heterogeneity of the local (and even the microlocal), to the extent that their presence is always operating on, even if unconsciously, the dominance of a macro discourse. At the same time that a schizocartography of a space might offer a glimpse into a hidden social history, it also acknowledges the problems of absolute truths in the first place, through its non-essentialist form and narrative.
I created schizocartography so as to emphasize its critique of the spectacle in a psychogeographic setting (which was so important to the Situationists and is still relevant today), and to situate it in contemporary culture and in postmodern space. The poststructural theories that have accompanied postmodernity are often the only tools available to describe the complexities inherent in palimpsest space and they also offer ways of revealing the other of/in space. Mark Purcell suggests that the work of Deleuze and Guattari has long been overlooked in urban planning theory and practice. He says they “offer us a set of concepts that help us think more effectively about how the world actually works” (Purcell 2013, p. 22). McKenzie Wark thinks what is important is “the remaking of counter-strategies that do not necessary reveal the real behind the symbolic curtain, but rather attempt to produce a different kind of social practice for expressing the encounter of desire and necessity, outside of power as representation and desire as the commodity form” (Wark 2013, p. 47).
Schizocartography attempts to do this and the schizocartographer, as bricoleur, also demonstrates that “bricolage is still of relevance to the relations between culture and power.” (Altglas 2014, p. 476). But, more significantly, and especially relevant here, is a refusal to be limited by what appears to be available on a superficial level if it does not fit the job in front of you. The bricoleur needs to be inventive and open to new ideas, they must be brave and not afraid of failure or rejection, and, most of all, they must see their toolbox as something which is not static or constrained, but is ever-changing in its requirement to serve the purpose it is being assembled for.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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For Jameson, the third stage of capitalism (or late capitalism), is characterised by many motifs, such as “(f)aceless […] economic strategies […] and the absence of any great collective project” (Jameson [1991] 2009, p. 17). While this is a comment at a political level, Jameson’s discussion relates to all socio-political and cultural aspects of postmodernity. For instance, he sees society as being “bereft of all historicity” and “the past, as ‘referent’” being “gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether” (Jameson [1991] 2009, p. 18).
My own experiences mirror this, as the premise behind the volume I edited—Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (2015)—was to bring psychogeography from the creative non-fiction cohort into academia in an attempt to recognize its worth.
My thesis—The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of a Redbrick University Campus (2014)—can be accessed here:
Bradley L. Garrett’s definition is as follows: “urban exploration/UrbEx/UE—recreational urban trespass” (Garrett 2013, p. 27). However, UrbExers can practice anything from entering privately owned, decommissioned, industrial ruins to traversing corporate skyscrapers.

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