Below, Ezra Haber Glenn describes various aspects of how he teaches 11.S942 Wanderings in Psychogeography.
Ezra Haber Glenn: In his seminal 1955 article “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” Lettrist/Situationist founder Guy Debord defined psychogeography 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.” At its most basic level, the field uses the tools of literature, myth, maps, art, wandering, wondering, humor, eyes, ears, noses, intentional and unintentional trespassing, random accident, and other forms of conventional and extrasensory perception to explore the ways that humans do (or could) experience places, and the ways those experiences in turn could (or do) shape those humans.
I've only taught this class twice, but I've been teaching the material (to myself, mostly) for as long as I can remember. I developed and offered the course in its current, very open-ended form out of an interest in exploring the material with others and learning from their perspectives and interests as well. The word “seminar” stems from the Latin seminarium, a nursery where seeds are planted; as such, the class provides an opportunity to plant some seeds and see what sprouts. I continue to be interested in the subject because I’m still figuring out what it includes and how it helps me understand the world, our place in it, and the limitless potential of human experience.
Ezra Haber Glenn: For the most part, I've trusted the material to be interesting and engaging, and the students to be interested and engaged. So the main strategy is self-selection. (Remember, no one needs to take this stuff, and most people seem to do fine without ever learning pyschogeography. Beyond helping you think about what it means to be alive, in a place, connected to history and ideas and other people and the timeless flow of existence, it's pretty useless as a field: no one ever got a patent, won a war, or figured out a faster way to despoil the environment using these techniques, so in the grand scheme of things it's probably a waste of time. But for students who are interested, it can be a fun way to pass the days while we wait for the Rapture.)
Beyond that, classroom engagement is mostly about channeling energy and humor and sharing a delight for multiple ways of thinking about ideas.
Ezra Haber Glenn: Yes. It could be heads (+1% towards your grade), or it could be tails (+0% towards your grade). When the class was in-person, we actually flipped the coins and let the student pick heads or tails, during a fun end-of-semester party event. Really, it's there to demonstrate an overall irreverence towards rules, to call out the absurdity of conventional rules and systems of conformity. After all, what’s more absurd: flipping a coin to determine a grade, or our attachment to grades at all, when we should be focused on learning, sharing, and exploration?
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Ezra Haber Glenn: That proved much more difficult—the magical energy usually created by bringing students together seemed to be somehow damped or diffused by the remote learning transmission fields. To deal with this challenge, we initially converted the class into a tutorial model, where I met individually with students instead of as a class. But then, after about a month of that, the chemistry and confidence (theirs? mine?) seemed right to start mixing the students back together, and by the end of the semester I had two engaged student clusters.
Getting students to get outside was harder, since we were all in different places and couldn't be together to walk and explore. We never really solved this problem, but as students turned to work on their own projects, they did get away from the screen and out into the world more.
Ezra Haber Glenn: Over the two times I've taught the class there's been a pretty wide range of projects. Some students create short videos, illustrated maps, poetic ramblings, sound-art installations, or photo essays to capture different aspects of the city; others really lean into the strangeness of the subject and push beyond what now feels like “conventional multimedia” to invent various forms of what one might call “interactive ultramedia.” One got really interested in ways to capture colors and smells; one created a beautiful and meditative Talmud-inspired exposition and textual analysis of a city; one made a special ceremonial bowl from very heavy concrete and used it to eat meals in random locations throughout Cambridge and Boston; one created an inspired and evocative art-book memorializing the lost Senior House murals, where the only way to view the images was to destroy the book itself, in a simultaneous act of devotional remembrance and violent destruction.
My only advice: don't worry about the finished product yet, have fun experimenting.
Ezra Haber Glenn: In 2017, we would go out and about near campus, looking for clues to various mysteries we could solve around the city: What used to be here? Why is this place like this? How do different people experience this place differently? What is that smell? How many ghosts do you see? The idea was to practice what psychogeographers refer to as the “dérive.” (As noted above, in the virtual world, this didn’t work very well.)
The students' grades were based on the following activities:
11.S942 can be applied toward a Master’s degree in City Planning, but is not required.
Breakdown by Year
Breakdown by Major
A mix of students in urban planning, architecture, and visual/media studies programs
Typical Student Background
Students selected the class based simply on their interest in the topic.
How Student Time Was Spent
During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
Met 2 times per week for 1.5 hour per session; 26 sessions total; mandatory attendance
Out of Class
Outside of class, students completed assigned readings, wrote and posted weekly reflections, went on optional psychogeographic walks, and worked on their final projects.