When Streets are Walls: Psychogeographic Boundaries

Date: March 8, 2012 | Shawn Herbig | News | Comments Off on When Streets are Walls: Psychogeographic Boundaries
It’s kind of amazing how unconsciously we function sometimes. We have our paths and our patterns. Sometimes we deviate, but perhaps not often.Then there are those never-crossed boundaries we all face. The boundaries are sometimes walls, rivers, or a mental block. But what about those boundaries we could cross, but you just don’t. What about “that street” that separates that good part of town from the not-so-good part? No one crosses from one side to the other. There’s no reason that boundary exists. It’s strictly mental and emotional. But that one 60 foot wide ribbon of asphalt is as sharp a definition between “here” and “there” as if it were a 10 foot stone wall.The same thing happens with rivers that run through cities. There’s “this side” and “the other side” of the river. But even though there are bridges aplenty that let us cross, it’s that mental and emotional boundary that exists for everyone.Guy Debord

These boundaries are called psychogeographic boundaries.

Psychogeographic boundaries are limitations that are mental, attitudinal, or emotional as well as physical. According to its founder Guy Debord, psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Sounds a bit ethereal at first, but a couple more examples, and it will resonate.

Let’s say you have a great idea that you’ve researched and outlined that you feel would make your division more successful and increase profits. Your boss is a busy woman and often abrupt, but you really want to get your idea in there. You go to her office and see the administrative assistant is away from her desk, but the boss is sitting at hers, as you look through the doorway from a distance—but you continue down the hall. This is a perfect example of a psychogeographic barrier or boundary. There is a physical boundary, the threshold of the office, but there is a much more imposing boundary…your mental or emotional view of crossing that threshold. So you hold back and wait for “a better time.” Why didn’t you just walk in? This is psychogeography.

But it’s not just streets and office doors. This phenomenon occurs in every walk of life for everyone to one degree or another. Other examples might be not going into a particular part of town because you “don’t belong” or it’s not “your part of the city.” Or there might be certain stores you don’t shop in because of assumed prices or clientele who aren’t demographically or socio-economically similar to you.

The key to breaking down these barriers, which is essential for many businesses, is to figure out what those stoppers are…what’s keeping someone from feeling like they belong in your store or office and doing something to change perceptions. There may be many resistance factors, but often these unconscious barriers are shared.

Through market research the reasons can be identified and you can put focused effort or physical changes into place to help ameliorate the feelings of resistance and get more traffic to your business and more connection to your community on the whole.

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