In "Formulary for a New Urbanism," Chtcheglov had written "Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams". Similarly, the Situationists found contemporary architecture both physically and ideologically restrictive, combining with outside cultural influence, effectively creating an undertow, and forcing oneself into a certain system of interaction with their environment: "[C]ities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones".
The Situationists' response was to create designs of new urbanized space, promising better opportunities for experimenting through mundane expression. Their intentions remained completely as abstractions. Guy Debord's truest intention was to unify two different factors of "ambiance" that, he felt, determined the values of the urban landscape: the soft ambiance – light, sound, time, the association of ideas – with the hard, the actual physical constructions. Debord's vision was a combination of the two realms of opposing ambiance, where the play of the soft ambiance was actively considered in the rendering of the hard. The new space creates a possibility for activity not formerly determined by one besides the individual.
However, it is imperative for one to be aware of a certain amount of humor in the SI's conceptualization of psychogeography. "This apparently serious term ‘psychogeography,'" writes Debord biographer Vincent Kaufman, "comprises an art of conversation and drunkenness, and everything leads us to believe that Debord excelled at both.
Eventually, Debord and Jorn resigned themselves to the fate of "urban relativity". Debord readily admits in his film A Critique of Separation (1961), "The sectors of a city…are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents". Despite the ambiguity of the theory, Debord committed himself firmly to its practical basis in reality, even as he later confesses, "none of this is very clear. It is a completely typical drunken monologue…with its vain phrases that do not await response and its overbearing explanations. And its silences."
But before succumbing to the truth of the impossibility of true psychogeography, Debord made another film, On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time (1959), the title of which suggests its own subject matter. The film's narrated content concerns itself with the evolution of a generally passive group of unnamed people into a fully aware, anarchistic assemblage, and might be perceived as a biography of the situationists themselves. Among the rants which construct the film (regarding art, ignorance, consumerism, militarism) is a desperate call for psychogeographic action:
When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself. The ambiance of play is by nature unstable. At any moment, "ordinary life" may prevail once again. The geographical limitation of play is even more striking than its temporal limitation. Every game takes place within the boundaries of its own spatial domain.
Moments later, Debord elaborates on the important goals of unitary urbanism in contemporary society:
The atmosphere of a few places gave us a few intimations of the future powers of an architecture that it would be necessary to create in order to provide the setting for less mediocre games.Though the path required to achieve this utopia is difficult and hindered by society and its own constructions, now as living agents that actively enforce restrictions where we may have once considered them arbiters of independence. Quoting Marx, Debord says:
People can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is animated. Obstacles were everywhere. And they were all interrelated, maintaining a unified reign of poverty.
In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there… But the dérive includes both this letting go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities.
In the SI's 6th issue, Raoul Vaneigem writes in a manifesto of unitary urbanism, "All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops – the geometry". Dérive, as a previously conceptualized tactic in the French military, was "a calculated action determined by the absence of a greater locus", and "a maneuver within the enemy's field of vision". To the SI, whose interest was inhabiting space, the dérive brought appeal in this sense of taking the "fight" to the streets and truly indulging in a determined operation. The dérive was a course of preparation, reconnaissance, a means of shaping situationist psychology among urban explorers for the eventuality of the situationist city.
In their memoirs, Jorn and Debord addressed a metaphor of the landscape as a female body, updating it in the form of a paint-splattered collage of pin-up models. The erotic charge of psychogeography was undeniable, the rousing sexual conquest of having fully explored and overcome the exoticism of the city – this was accentuated by a famous piece of situationist graffiti, "I came in the cobblestones." The SI promised, "We will play upon topophobia and create a topophilia."
The connection between psychogeography and sexuality may be one of the reasons Jorn and Debord chose to title their famous topographic collage as The Naked City, one of their two famous psychogeographic situationist maps, alongside Guide psychogeographique de Paris. Both maps served as reconstructed guides to Paris, focusing exclusively on areas that Jorn and Debord felt had not yet been spoiled by capitalist-motivated redevelopments, areas still worth visiting; these conclusions were, of course, based on the result of a derive. The arrows drawn on the collaged map were used to demonstrate the psychogeographic "flow" between each locale – true to psychogeographic form, the "flow" could not be objectively deconstructed to common terms, remaining merely as an abstraction. The maps represented Jorn and Debord's conquering of the urban areas yet undefiled by bureaucracy. Aside from its erotic undertones, Debord's use of the name was a direct tribute to the 1947 crime film of the same name, directed by Jules Dassin, itself a direct reference to renowned New York photographer Weegee. Debord and Jorn compared their drifts around Paris to the legwork of the film's detectives.
More recently psychogeographical maps have been used in political actions, drifts and projections, distributed as flyers and in journals and magazines such as Transgressions: A journal of urban exploration or Mute Magazine.
Between 1992 and 1996 The Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture undertook an extensive programme of practical research into classic (situationist) psychogeography in both Glasgow and London. The discoveries made during this period, documented in the group's journal Viscosity, expanded the terrain of the psychogeographic into that of urban design and architectural performance.
Psychogeography also become a device used in performance art and literature. In Britain in particular, psychogeography has become a recognised descriptive term used in discussion of successful writers such as Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd and the documentaries of filmmaker Patrick Keiller. The popularity of Sinclair drew the term into greater public use in the United Kingdom. Though Sinclair makes infrequent use of the jargon associated with the Situationists, he has certainly popularized the term by producing a large body of work based on pedestrian exploration of the urban and suburban landscape. Sinclair and similar thinkers draw on a longstanding British literary tradition of the exploration of urban landscapes, predating the Situationists, found in the work of writers like William Blake, Arthur Machen, and Thomas de Quincy. The nature and history of London were a central focus of these writers, utilising romantic, gothic, and occult ideas to describe and transform the city. Sinclair drew on this tradition combined with his own explorations as a way of criticising modern developments of urban space in such key texts as Lights Out for the Territory. Peter Ackroyd's bestselling London: A Biography was partially based on similar sources. Merlin Coverly gives equal prominence to this literary tradition alongside Situationism in his book Psychogeography (2006), not only recognising that the situationist origins of psychogeography are sometimes forgotten, but that via certain writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Daniel Defoe and Charles Baudelaire they had a shared tradition. Psychogeography, as a term and a concept, now reaches more British eyes than ever before, as novelist Will Self has a column of that name which started out in the British Airways in-flight magazine and now appears weekly in the Saturday magazine of The Independent newspaper.
The concepts and themes seen in popular comics writers such as Grant Morrison and Alan Moore in works like From Hell are also now seen as significant works of psychogeography. Other key figures in this version of the idea are Walter Benjamin, J. G. Ballard, and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Part of this development saw increasing use of ideas and terminology by some psychogeographers from Fortean and occult areas like earth mysteries, ley lines, and chaos magic, a course pioneered by Sinclair. A core element in virtually all these developments remains a dissatisfaction with the nature and design of the modern environment and a desire to make the everyday world more interesting.
In a practical sense the many flourishing groups of urban explorers often are practising psychogeography, perhaps unknowingly; they certainly often draw on modern pyschogeographic writers as an inspiration.