Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Legacy of the Situationist International: The Production of Situations of Creative Resistance

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Legacy of the Situationist International: The Production of Situations of Creative Resistance

Article excerpt


This article explores the contribution made by the theory of the Situationist International. The initial section provides a history of the organisation, followed by a discussion of its main concepts in the second section. The third section examines the S.I.'s concept of the 'situation', arguing that this undergoes a reorientation towards the construction of situations as political and contested acts, rather than as architectural situations, and the fourth section examines the nature and content of these situations. The concluding discussion suggests some of the directions that the Situationists' theory offers by examining their contribution to acts of resistance, creativity and participation, and ways in which creative cultural production is prefigured by the S.I.'s work. Its continuing legacy is considered through an exploration of its contemporary resonance, and the cultural politics of new social movements and DIY aspects of cultural production are, finally, highlighted as sharing a similar trajectory to the S.I.'s.


The S.I. was established in 1957, bringing together four European avant-garde groups. These founder members would collaborate for over a decade until the organisation's dissolution in 1972.

The organisation published twelve issues of its journal, Internationale Situationniste, which acted as the central venue for Situationist ideas. 1969 saw the publication of the journal's last issue. The S.I. fused pre-existing groups together, combining elements of thought and significant members into a loose political coalition that would have a fluid and fluctuating membership.

The most significant pre-Situationist International group was the Dada-inspired Lettrist International. This group was mostly composed of artists and poets, and included the prominent members Guy Debord, Gil Wolman, Michele Bernstein and Jean-Isidore Isou. Their journal Potlatch developed a number of positions that were to form the basis for the establishment of the S.I.

During the years 1952-1957, the most fundamental concepts of the S.I. had been conceived and developed, often under the influence of the Lettrists. This group was principally concerned with artistic experimentation, the production of film and the use of poetry to challenge dominant artistic forms of production. Their organisation was a loose coalition of hard drinkers and thinkers that circulated through the Saint-Germain-des-Pres district of Paris (Mension, 2002).

The second group was the anti-functionalist International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB), with Asger Jorn as its most prominent member.

The IMIB developed a critical approach to the functionalism and industrial orientation of the neo-Bauhaus. Jorn preferred free experimentation in art to address the question 'where and how to find a justified place for artists in the machine age' (Jorn, 1957: 16).

The third organisation, with which Join had a close association, was the Scandinavian COBRA movement (derived from copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam), which was concerned with artistic development. The fourth ensemble was the London Psycho-Geographical Society. Prominent members associated with this English contingent were Ralph Rumney, Donald Nicholson-Smith (later Debord's translator in English) and T. J. Clarke. All were to leave the S.I. by 1962, when the group underwent a re-orientation in its views on art and politics, but in 1957, a new and critical organisation was founded by the combination of these groups and the collection of significant players.

Held in a small Northern Italian town, the 'Alba Platform' details the grouping and members of this new organisation. Representatives from eight countries (Algeria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Holland and Italy) were present. These included J. Calonne, Constant, G. Gallizio, Asger Jorn, and Gil J. Wolman. The foundations for a united organisation were laid, and resolutions drawn up for a statement of intent of the newly-founded fraternity. …

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