Karl Jung is a Grass: Pathology, performance with slide show, 2012

Emma Cummins wrote a paper on what she calls "Pathological Geographies". I've been reading it in preparation for this talk.

Pathological Geographies are, according to Emma, landscapes of the built environment which exhibit the inherently contradictory nature of capitalism.

I'll let Emma talk more about it in the discussion afterwards – these are her photos by the way.

The built environments she talks about in her paper are the Ghost Estates of Ireland, and the Ghost Towns of Spain.

Emma went to Ireland and Spain for her research, driving around with a friend, visiting half built housing developments that were abandoned after the housing crash of 2008.

The psychogeographical idea of walking as thinking is inverted in Emma's research. By driving rather than walking, she compresses time and removes the possibility of contiguous connections. She bridges the gap between the points on the map.

She told me about visiting half finished estates in Ireland. As she approached the houses, taking photos, the only occupied house would open its door, and a hopeful face would appear. They would approach Emma and say 'are you moving in?'. They would talk about being completely stranded on the estate: no infrastructure, no neighbours, no way of moving out because the property had halved in value and they were locked into a mortgage.

These developments exhibit the inherently pathological nature of capitalism in boom times. Investors need somewhere to put their money, otherwise growth slows down, and over-accumulation leads to a slump. But eventually, the investment outweighs any possible profit, and then, as we saw in 2008, a crash happens – a rupturing of the boom reality, and an incursion of a new, "real" reality. No one wants the houses, no one wants to fund the houses, no one wants to build the houses. The developers go bust, the builders stop working, the houses are never finished.

What I think is really interesting about boom and bust, especially in terms of these abandoned developments, is the reversal of causality in linear time.

When the housing crash happened, it reached back in time and realigned events and processes that happened in the boom, which made the crash seem like an obvious consequence of the actions of the developers and investors. These houses were not abandoned because investors realised that no-one wanted them anymore, but because they realised that no one had ever wanted them. The rupturing of the boom involved a rupturing of time, and a reversal of cause and effect.

The pathological behaviour is that investors kept investing long after there was any chance of making a profit, long after the crash became an inevitability, but all this is known only after the crash.

Just like the V2 rockets that explode before you hear them coming – capitalism inverts our perception of causality. And as we have seen in popular economics, once causality is inverted, all we have left are paranoid theories. Who shall we blame and what can we do?

But the idea that we can act upon a problem that has already happened and solve it for next time, is inherently ridiculous in the context of a paradoxical system like capitalism.

In my opinion, the idea of anyone doing anything at all is absurd. For me there is no will, there is no action, there are just swirling chaotic systems, feeding back and flowing in unknowable directions.


In terms of cities, I want to think about psychogeographical activity as a pathological behaviour, just another form of paranoia.

When I walk in cities, I'm constantly inventing theories about how and why things happen the way they do – urban regeneration and development always seem to have sinister back stories, networks of power and money that enact unseen, devious plans.

When I'm walking, I become a paranoiac, inventing conspiracies and inferring causal connections between things I can see and things I think I know.

It is your brain's job to work things out as if they make sense, to see things as having a direction and an order. To see a human hand behind the built environment, to see it as someone's decision to develop an area, to interpret a failed attempt at regeneration as the fault of some person or group of people.

But what about the city itself? Perhaps the conspiracy is not just that of investors and developers who build the buildings, perhaps the pathological behaviour, the paranoia, is in the architecture itself.

This requires a new level of paranoia on behalf of the psychogeographer.

First you need a 'Them Paranoia', a conspiracy of humans behind what you are seeing.

Then you need an 'Us Paranoia', a paranoia that involves your own actions as being part of a conspiracy that you know nothing about.

But you now also need a 'Concrete Conspiracy'. The city itself is a paranoid agent, it has conspiracies about Them, just like we do, but it also has conspiracies about Us - its architecture is an expression of its nonsensical theories about its inhabitants.

Could a city be paranoid? Could it be implying unseen motives on behalf of its population? Could it be just as wrapped up in theorising unlikely conspiracies as we are?

Who does the city work for? Or who is working for the city?

Maybe the city is just as freaked out as we are, trying to work itself out, trying to catch a glimpse of a reality behind the conspiracies, behind the connections, behind the cloak of cause and effect.