French writer and Situationist Guy Debord used this idea to try and convince readers to revisit the way they looked at urban spaces. Rather than being prisoners to their daily route and routine, living in a complex city but treading the same path every day, he urged people to follow their emotions and to look at urban situations in a radical new way. This led to the notion that most of our cities were so thoroughly unpleasant because they were designed in a way that either ignored their emotional impact on people, or indeed tried to control people through their very design. The basic premise of the idea is for people to explore their environment ("psychogeography") without preconceptions, to understand their location, and therefore their existence.
Like the earlier flâneur, the Situationist dérive was a general reaction, manifested in the shadow of the Parisian landscape, as the casual stroller of flânerie moved towards the more directed urban pedestrian. Thomas F. McDonough recognized the similarities between the two movements, but also distinguishes the difference in how the two interpreted modernizing urban spaces:
The dérive took place literally below the threshold of visibility, in the sense of being beyond what is visible to the voyeur’s gaze. As Debord describes it, the dérive replaced the figure of the voyeur with that of the walker: “One or more persons committed to the dérive abandon, for an undefined period of time, the motives generally admitted for action and movement, their relations, their labor and leisure activities, abandoning themselves to the attractions of the terrain and the encounters proper to it.” In allowing themselves “to be drawn by the solicitations of the terrain,” persons on the dérive escaped the imaginary totalizations of the eye and instead chose a kind of blindness.
More recently in 1992, Sadie Plant wrote in The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Post Modern Age: "to dérive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed. It was very much a matter of using an environment for one's own ends, seeking not only the marvellous beloved by surrealism but bringing an inverted perspective to bear on the entirety of the spectacular world."