The Strange Respectability of the Situationist City in the Society of the Spectacle


This article critically discusses the recent growing interest in and regained ‘respectability’ of the Situationist International and related urban cultural, architectural and political movements. It engages particularly with the present reinvention of the Situationist Movement and argues that the rediscovery of the ‘Situationist City’ celebrates an intellectualized, aestheticized and de‐politicized version that is particularly oblivious to the political and revolutionary theories and programmatic emancipatory urban agenda that underpinned the Situationist movement. We shall argue that this aestheticized reappropriation of selected parts of the Situationist legacy reinforces exactly what the Situationists actively criticized and tried to undermine. At the same time, intellectual and cultural attention is diverted away from the active urban reconstructions that try to confront the totalizing presence of the spectacle and breathe the spirit that Guy Debord and his friends pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s. We shall attempt to connect this rediscovery of the ‘Situationist City’ and the urban imaginations of the time to the theoretical and political insights, particularly those of Guy Debord, that developed in tandem with their concern with the production of a new way of living, one that revolved squarely around recapturing the urban. Finally, the enduring relevance of Debord’s work and insights is explored in the context of recent debates and events.