Nomads of the Urban Everyday

Nomads of the Urban Everyday: Gait Surfing and Micropolitics

(submitted by s.smith and b.fornssler to the 2009 international sociology of sport association conference in utrecht)

Gait Surfing

The nomadic wandering subject has a rich history in modern and postmodern leisure and physical culture, from the flânerie of Baudelaire to the psychogeography of the Situationists to the transurbance of the Stalkers. Traces of this subjectivity may also be found in cognate sporting cultures, from surfing to street skating to parkour. In each of these examples the subjects have discovered, investigated and critiqued their surrounding environments by using their own bodies as the locus of movement and sensation, an act at once aesthetic and political.

In post-9/11 societies, particularly those in urban centres, the aesthetic and political stakes for sensing bodies in movement have escalated dramatically. Surveillance cameras and screens have proliferated as the meshworks of state authority attempt to adjudicate fluxes of human movement in public and quasi-public spaces. To this security arsenal has been recently added gait-based analysis and detection, which can use the markers of an individual's walk as the basis for identification in surveillant spaces.

This paper introduces a new incarnation of the nomadic wandering subject, one who emerges in those spaces where the flux of collective flesh is most pronounced. Gait surfing is proposed as an everyday life practice and/or event in which one haptically "rides" flows of pedestrian traffic as an aesthetic and political response to the optical, individualizing aspects of ubiquitous cameras and gait-based detection and surveillance methods.

Gait surfing can be considered an attempt to refashion psychogeography at the scale of nanosociability: an engagement of the vibrations and resonances with other bodies, experienced by walking in what we consider the liminal space between public and private. While the spatial field of gait surfing experience is much smaller at any given moment and thus is more intensely bodily, it is also temporally far more dynamic with each step and thus requires a more precise calibration or attunement to affect in order to be detected. And while the lessons drawn from the dérive enabled a greater understanding of the macropolitics of the city for the Situationists, so perhaps the nanosociability of the gait surf can offer insights into the micropolitics of the lived everyday.

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