The dérive (French: [de.ʁiv], "drift") is a revolutionary strategy originally put forward in the 'Theory of the Dérive' (1956) by Guy Debord, a member at the time of the Letterist International. Debord defines the dérive as "a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances." It is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relation and 'let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there'. Though solo dérives are possible, Debord indicates
that the most fruitful numerical arrangement consists of several small groups of two or three people who have reached the same level of awareness, since cross-checking these different groups’ impressions makes it possible to arrive at more objective conclusions.
The dérives goals include studying the terrain of the city (psychogeography) and emotional disorientation, both of which lead to the potential creation of Situations.
The concept of the dérive has its origins in the Letterist International, an avant-garde and Marxist collective based in Paris. The dérive was a critical tool for understanding and developing the theory of psychogeography, defined as the "specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behavior of individuals."
The dérive continued to be a critical concept in the theories of the Situationist International, a radical group of avant-garde artists and political theorists that was formed out of the Letterist International, CoBRA and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus in the 1950s. For the situationists, the dérive was a revolutionary technique to combat the malaise and boredom of the society of the spectacle.
Dérives are necessary, according to situationist theory, because of the increasingly predictable and monotonous experience of everyday life in advanced capitalism. Debord observes in his Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography:
The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places — these phenomena all seem to be neglected. In any case they are never envisaged as depending on causes that can be uncovered by careful analysis and turned to account.— Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography
Several groups have adopted the concept of the dérive and applied it in their own form, including many modern organizations, most notably the Loiterers Resistance Movement (Manchester), London Psychogeographical Association, Wrights and Sites (notably the mis-guided drifts of mythogeographer Phil Smith) and the Providence Initiative for Psychogeographic Studies. Since 2003 in the United States, separate events known as the Providence Initiative for Psychogeographic Studies and Psy-Geo-Conflux have been dedicated to action-based participatory experiments similar to the dérive within the context of psychogeography.
- Wark, McKenzie (2011-06-20). The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International (1 ed.). Verso Books. ISBN 9781844677207.
- Guy Debord (1958) Definitions. Internationale Situationniste #1 (Paris, June 1958). Translated by Ken Knabb.
- Debord, Guy (1956). "Theory of the Derive". Situationist International Online. Translated by Ken Knabb. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
- Debord, Guy (1984-12-12). Society of the Spectacle. Black & Red,U.S. ISBN 9780934868075.
- Guy Debord (1956) Theory of the Dérive. Les Lèvres Nues #9 (Paris, November 1956). Reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #2 (Paris, December 1958). Translated by Ken Knabb.
- Guy Debord (1955) Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography. Les Lèvres Nues #6 (Paris, September 1955). Translated by Ken Knabb.
- Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, Guy Debord, (1955)
- Theory of the Dérive, Guy Debord, (1956)