The word flâneur means “stroller” or “idler” in French language and it has been used preliminarily in artistic, sociological and philosophical literature to express a literary figure who finds pleasure and inspiration in wandering around the city and urban landscape. The notion of flâneur dates back to Charles Baudelaire and Paris during the mid 19th century, when the city was considered the cultural capital of the world.
Equipped with advanced technological devices the cities of today are full of urban enthusiasts who not only dwell on the momentary experience and enjoyment of the city landscape, but they take it to a new, digital level. The modern flaneur documents as many aspects of sauntering as possible. This is undeniably evident in the digital culture. There is a tremendous amount of online platforms where modern flaneurs display their adventures. Travel bloggers and street photographers capture and document the atmosphere and vibe of places and their online journals offer a unique perspective of today’s’ nomads. Fashion bloggers collect and celebrate the trends of today compared to the trends of the past. Facebook pages like Humans of New York or Humans of Teheran share stories of people that have lived all their lives in the urban jungle. Moreover, graffiti artists, skateboarders, performance artists, street musicians and filmmakers all continue the legacy of the flaneur. Flanerie is present and alive today and the lively urban landscape of world cities is a flaneur’s playground.
In 1863 Charles Baudelaire describes the flaneur in his book “The Painter of Modern Life”. The flaneur is a figure of the modern age that observes the dynamic shifting nature of the cosmopolitan landscape. The German philosopher Walter Benjamin regarded the flaneur as more than a romanticized idler, emphasizing the significance of the flaneur in modern society. He writes that flâneur ”like a detective seeking clues who reads people’s characters not only from the physiognomy of their faces but via a social physiognomy of the streets.” (Shields, 1994, p. 63) Throughout the years Flanerie has become an inspirational concept and an analytical tool that has its valid placement in the field of arts, design, architecture, social science etc.
Flanerie has come to characterize modernity and urban living. Its significance carries on and can be traced in contemporary culture.
The idea of the flaneur has spawned several twists to the lone citywalker. In the Sixties, the situationist Guy Debord developed the flaneur into a psychogeographer: a person who maps his/her self and psyche through the dérive – the aimless drift through the city. However, this drift is not purposeless. In Debord’s book ‘Society of the spectacle’ he describes how modern society live more through superficial representations than the directly lived. The dérive can here be understood as a return to a somatic, corporeal and live experience of the city and the immediate.