Accepted paper:

Walking the walled city: the dérive as urban ethnography


Sharanya Murali (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

This paper seeks to analyse the Situationist dérive as an ethnographic pedestrian practice of Indian urbanism, and interrogate the encounters between this form of the dérive, local architectures and everyday life in the public space of an Old Delhi market.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the possibilities and limitations of the contemporary dérive as a form of everyday ethnography in contemporary Delhi. The dérive, which originated as the Surrealist déambulation and subsequently took form in practice as the Situationist dérive in the late 1950s, has now been anthologised and re-imagined by walking artists and practitioners as the last political movement in the history of western walking practices (cf. Coverley 2012, Careri 2001) and as an imaginative but failed political practice (cf. Sadler 1999, Wark 2011). The architectural context of post-War Europe that the dérive was created out of—and continues to remain within—remains to be questioned and thusly, the withheld encounters of the dérive with vernacular architectures. In seeking to locate the Situationist dérive as an ethnographic practice within the architectural space of the public market of Chandni Chowk in (Old) Delhi—a postcolonial city that functions simultaneously as a "walled city" but above all as an "ordinary city" (cf. Robinson 2005)—the paper seeks to engage with the dérive as a pedestrian activity that is, firstly, specific to and politically engaged with the vernacular architectures of Delhi. Secondly, it questions the everyday ethnography-framework of the dérive in this context, and the utility of its enactment as auto-ethnography. Lastly, it dwells on the experimental origins of the Situationist dérive and its journey through contemporary pedestrian practices, and asks how walking as an ethnographic practice of the city might help narrate and navigate local and global public place.

panel Urba003
Ethnographies of urban public spaces