Design a site like this with
Get started

Drifting, walking for surviving and thriving: Stage Two of ‘a philosopHER walks’

[Content Note: swear words, discussion of poverty and chronic illness]

I am drifting. Untethered, unfettered, movement. Seeing where it takes me, rather than where I am taken. An important difference. To drift purposefully without purpose, by choosing to actively, playfully, encounter the world just outside (or even within) our door, radically resists the reactive, purposeless drifting from one worldly demand to another. It offers space to just be and be with—to honour our most neglected human essentials.

In an important sense my choice, this purpose, has been borne out having no other choice. Yet again, all I wanted to do was walk. Just put one foot in front of the other. This time on the streets of Melbourne. Alas, once more—with all good intentions, best laid plans, and all that—not by me. Well, not as planned. For good reasons that I shall get to in a bit, my body simply refused. 

My plan had been to test out being a flâneur (noun, masculine), or more accurately, a flâneuse (noun, feminine), literally defined as ‘one who wanders aimlessly.’ Specifically, in urban environments, the city. Usually, the big cities—Paris, London, New York. And with its cosmopolitan attitude, Melbourne is perhaps the best fit as Australia’s ‘big’ city. (However, before I get all of Sydney completely riled, Melbourne was primarily a pragmatic choice as I was offered unconditionally a place to stay.) 

But the more I read about flânerie, the less I care for it. Its seemingly innocuous aim of aimlessness, disguises its noxious practice of ‘people watching.’ Where the flâneur purposefully dresses and acts in ways to ‘blend in’ to give him the best opportunity to ‘observe.’ So, it is claimed, through the flâneur’s voyerism, he becomes ‘attuned to the city,’ coming to understand the people of the streets, perhaps, even better than they know themselves. Unfortunately, for me, the feminist alternative does not seem to escape (or at least, does not adequately address) this aim of turning ordinary people’s lives into an intellectualised spectacle. For, as far as I can tell, the flâneuse’s loudest complaint is that as a woman, she cannot ‘blend in’ to the street in the way the flâneur can, and thus, the flâneuse regrets missing out on the privilege of performing this sort of looking and knowing.

Indeed—this feminist asks, I ask—why would any woman want to claim this sort of looking at all? 

I recognise and generally share the desire to inhabit the wider world in the ways that men, especially educated middle and upper class men, take for granted. But, it does not mean that we should indiscriminately strive to do so in every way. Significantly, where it means a privileged few necessarily reduce living, breathing, thinking people into mere objects to imitate and study. As with Stage One of this project, I am once again struck by the lack of reflection in the writing on walking about the related implications of class, privilege, and freedom in appropriating the lives of those who have no choice to live otherwise—typically, the ordinary poor. 

Revealingly, I cannot see me in any version of their flâneur/flâneuse, rather, I am clearly their object, to be freely looked at, yet too ignorant to look back. So, even if my body had been up to it, flânerie is not for me. Instead, I turn to the feminism that has taught us to question and resist this sort of objectification as a way of knowing. That further alerts us to the privilege of our subjective experience to know the world in the particular way it forms us as we pass through it. And right now I have the rare privilege to choose how I pass through it. To do what I want when I want to. Or more precisely, do what I need when I need it. My body commanded rest.

Having reactively drifted to the relentless demands of the world without, I have now actively chosen to drift to the demands of my world within. As mentioned earlier, I have chosen to listen to my body’s refusal. Or as I like to put, after years of needing to hold it all together to survive, I am now allowing myself some much needed time falling apart with the hope to thrive. Predictably, I am a statistic of the poor who are disproportionately chronically ill. Also, predictably, I am a statistic of academia’s deep precariousness. But against the statistically predicted consequence of falling into the (no exaggeration) death spiral of perpetual sick notes and benefits commitments, I have chosen (metaphorically and literally) to walk away.

I now have no regular income. But I now also have no employer to dictate my working hours and required outputs nor multiple government departments assessing my eligibility to be unemployed, to be ill, to regulate my time, activities, location, even spending. I am free to rest. To drift.

Subsequently, I have discovered I am an unwitting psychogeographer. Well, of sorts. 

The practice of dérive (to drift, drifting) is established by the mid-twentieth century Situationists, and first articulated by Guy Debord in 1958, where dérive is described as ‘a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.’ According to Debord, drifting requires losing our usual motives for movement and actions; say, when we go to the shops, work, even for leisure, or our current fashion for fitness. Instead, for a time, we purposefully and consciously allow ourselves to be drawn along by the attraction of our surroundings and the encounters we have along the way. The drifter has two intentions that influence the literal ground covered, that is: either to study or map the surroundings; or for emotional disorientation or reaction to the surroundings. Although the former emphasises the geography, and the latter the psychology, these two inseparably follow, what Debord calls, the ‘psychogeographical contours’ of the city.

Although the historical drifters were primarily men, who exhibit the overt masculinity of the historical flâneur, by focussing on the drifter’s own un/conscious experience and the reciprocity of encounter, rather than aiming for objective observing, the Situationist’s theory is open to a clearer, more desirable, feminist alternative. Indeed, one that includes the likes of me. I suggest that not only does drifting offer space for the ordinary poor, but also for the ubiquitous yet obscured disabled.

I shall never be conventionally fit. Counter-intuitively, exercise can make my chronic illness worse. Walking is one of the few physical things that I can do in a sustained way that does not readily make me ill. Still, I am regularly not well enough to even walk. Over a lifetime, I have learnt to make these very particular instances of severe fatigue my friend, and in important ways it keeps me safe. With great effort and discipline, I have been able to develop from relying on the typical (and understandable) survival strategy to over-ride my illness, faking well just to get by, to thriving by exploiting my illness as my ally, by becoming attuned to my genuine needs to fully live.

Central to my thriving is my practice of, what I call, ‘do what I feel’ days. Like the Situationists’ drifting, ‘doing what I feel’ is not merely succumbing to or being lead by reactive impulse. Rather it is the active, purposeful, kindness of listening to what my body, heart, soul really needs in that moment and actually giving it to myself. Analogous to following the psychogeographical contours of the city, I consciously follow the contours of my internal topography to see where it leads me—I am drifting within. 

For me, this might mean lying on a couch binging every single Star Wars film and live-action series in chronological order (yes, I recently did exactly that); or eating all the chips, and I mean ALL the chips, in their potato-y, fatty, salty glory; or forgoing all activity except minimal hygiene. Importantly, this sort of listening aims to resist the commanding voice of ‘oughts.’ Especially, when it is the old strategy to over-ride my illness disguising itself as genuine needs. These include, for instance: the morally loaded, the FTW (for the win)—I need to do my stretches to manage my pain levels, I ought to do my stretches; the desires, the YOLO (you only live once)—the sea makes me feel better, I ought to walk down to the sea; and the opportunistic, the FOMO (fear of missing out)—I am in Melbourne, I ought to see…

Since I have been in Melbourne, for Stage Two of ‘a philosopHER walks,’ I have seen a whole lot of FUCK ALL. My body refused, and I listened. Instead—to honour my body’s deep need to rest, my heart’s deep need to break, my soul’s deep need to be still—I have been drifting.


Thanks to the most excellent of friends, Norelle, and number one niece, Eva, for gifting me a place to stay, and your nourishing company.

Thanks to Emily, Leslie, Beda, and Junaid, who, for the price of keeping your cat alive, offered me the whole of your lovely home and access to the Disney+ subscription.

Thanks to everyone I have encountered in Melbourne.

Thanks to Murray for suggesting I look into the Situationists when I gave a talk at the Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent. And then, to my friend Anthony, who happens to be an expert on them for giving me a valuable introduction (all misunderstandings and misrepresentations are my own). See the Situationist International Archive.

I am about to commence a test walk, with my great friend and experienced walker, Miranda. We are doing the Great Ocean Walk, along the southern coast of Victoria. It is my first long-distance walk with full pack for many years. Thanks Miranda for being prepared to endure, even share a tent with, my fuckery over the 8 days and ~110kms.

Mid-April I am returning to the United Kingdom to begin Stage Three of ‘a philosopHER walks’, solo-walking from one end of the country to the other and beyond. 

If you wish to support this project, in any way, please let me know via the contact page. I particularly appreciate gifts of goods—a meal, a pint, a place to pitch my tent; or exchange of goods—I am proving an excellent cat sitter, for example, but also I would also be delighted to give talks, philosophy sessions, or do chores for that meal, pint, campsite pitch.

Where I have to cover cost, my budget is £20/day for all the things. If you would like to help financially, you can shout me the equivalent of a meal, a pint, a campsite pitch, even a day. All gratefully received via my Kofi site:


2 responses to “Drifting, walking for surviving and thriving: Stage Two of ‘a philosopHER walks’”

  1. Good luck with the walking. I have just had a second bout of long covid enduced breathing issues but I was able to walk 5 kilometres yesterday. I feel my chance at doing a long walk, even 60km slipping away. I wish you all the best with your walk down the coast. My fingers will be crossed for you and your companion. My spirit will be with you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your well wishes! They are much appreciated. Yay! for your walking achievements.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: