The Rural Dérive, the Bimble, Bodding Aboot

I have recently been spending a lot of time, probably more than is healthy tbh, thinking about the application of psychogeographical technique to landscape archaeology. I’m going to talk here, briefly, about two ways in which I think that the technique of the dérive could be applied to exploring, interpreting and understanding archaeological landscapes. Also how this technique could be used to help the landscape archaeologist move out of their comfort zone and begin to see the landscape from a completely new, and hopefully quite alien, perspective. Whilst this new perspective will not be that of the people who have previously inhabited those landscapes it is a step towards shedding preexistent biases and expectations, or at least being more acutely aware of these in order to compensate for them in their analysis of the landscape.

I should state that my thinking here is concerned mostly with understanding the prehistoric landscape. Whilst these ideas could as easily be applied for more modern landscapes they would need be applied only slightly differently.

The first application I would like to discuss is the directed dérive. By this I mean a dérive that has fixed start and end points, and possibly points between the two, but where the route between points is dictated by the landscape and the archaeological flâneur and their interactions. The flâneur must move between points being guided by the topography surrounding them rather than by established paths and field or property boundaries. Following natural inclines, river and stream paths, cutting across cliff tops.

As well as offering the potential for discovering new paths through the landscape there is also the chance to, should we take extant monuments as our fixed points, approach these monuments from an entirely new direction. both literally and figuratively. Creative use of a GPS and a refusal of using maps means that the relationship one creates with the landscape is automatically outwith our normal realm of interaction. Especially in an unfamiliar setting. By programming the set points into a gps and not utilising the map function we are only aware of distance and direction. The topography emerges then as we move within the landscape.

By performing the dérive like this we can investigate whether monuments that, when viewed via traditional cartography, appear to have a connection actually elicit this connection when viewed from a human perspective. The temporal flâneur that is the landscape archaeologist(the psycho-archaeologist?) can reinterpret monuments and the links they have with their landscapes by removing from their interpretation the more objective tools traditionally employed in looking at the landscape. By moving within the landscape, rather than over it as empirical observer, it is perfectly possible that where once we saw alignments with landscape features they may evaporate, or new ones emerge.

The second application of the dérive incorporates the archery practice of roving. Roving, or stump archery, is the act of walking through the landscape picking targets as you go and practicing archery upon them. This is less to do with the investigation of relationships within the landscape than with changing our perception of the landscape, especially ones with which we are familiar.

This video below is quite a nice example of roving.

 Following this method one would again change their interaction with the landscape to incorporate the ‘game’ of finding and shooting stumps. The use of a portable ‘stump’, as in the video, could quite easily contribute to finding new ways of looking at and interacting with the land.

I’ll admit that this is perhaps rather tenuous but again the use of roving would mean that the flâneur is interacting with the landscape in an entirely new manner and is again moving within, rather than over, the landscape. This is something that I think is vital if we are to try and understand how the landscape affected people in the past and the different ways in which people can interact with their landscape.

This doesn’t mean that we should move away from rigorous survey work but that we should add ‘going for a bod about’ or a bit of a bimble to our tool box. Aiming to move out of our normal way of interacting with the landscape to better understand it.


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