Flânerie and the digital labyrinth

Glimpses of a roving, unhurried researcher, ‘following traces, trails, and signs’ between online worlds.

#flânerie #observingcommunity #researchmethods #quotes

After grappling with adapting practices of flânerie — and the figure of the flâneur — to the investigation of infrastructure, postcolonial cities, and sociotechnical change, as part of my PhD, I’ve recently had cause to revisit some of this material while teaching observational research methods.

In short, the original flâneur was a ‘solitary (male) loiterer’ (Trivundža, 2011: 71) found in the (then-new) covered pedestrian arcades of nineteenth-century Paris, where they observed (and reported on) the curious sights of the city’s rapid transformation and emerging consumer culture.

As taken up elsewhere, the figure of the flâneur has come to embody ‘a kind of person, a kind of movement and a disposition towards the world’ (Coates, 2017: 29), characterised by a roving, ‘dispersed attention’ (Van Leeuwen, 2019: 302) and unhurried gait — strolling idly as part of the crowd, outside of organised time.

From Physiologie du flâneur (1841), Louis Adrien Huart

With this in mind, I was struck by this 2022 article, extending flânerie to (exploratory) research on current online and digital phenomena, as something distinct from more ‘settled’ ethnographic research. Though the whole piece is worth reading, these excerpts stood out:

Flânerie-inspired research takes empirical material not as ‘data’ (i.e. as distinct fragments of information), but as a terrain where certain things can be found that are capable of yielding meaning, insights and even pleasure

— Jeremy Aroles and Wendelin Küpers

the flâneur follows signs and intensities as they go along and do not restrict themselves in the exploration of spaces. This iterative engagement with digital worlds testifies to the importance of the notion of instinct and intuition in the practice of flânerie; the flâneur is primarily an instinctive and intuitive explorer, who rejoices in the discovery of new landscapes or the same with new eyes. While ethnography entails a deep and lasting engagement and proximity with the ‘community’ studied, flânerie involves ‘jumping’ from one world to the other or dancing between them, allowing the researcher to follow traces, trails and signs, regardless of where these might lead them.

— Jeremy Aroles and Wendelin Küpers


Aroles, J., Küpers, W. (2022). Flânerie as a methodological practice for explorative re-search in digital worlds. Culture and Organization 28 (5), 398–411. 🔓10.1080/14759551.2022.2042538

Coates, J. (2017). Key figure of mobility: The flâneur. Social Anthropology 25 (1): 28–41.

Trivundža, I.T. (2011). Dragons and arcades: Towards a discursive construction of the flâneur, in: Trivundža, I.T., Carpentier, N., Nieminen, H., Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P., Kilborn, R., Olsson, T., Sundin, E. (eds.), Critical Perspectives on the European Mediasphere, 2011 ECREA European Media and Communication Doctoral Summer School, Ljubljana: pp. 71–81.

Van Leeuwen, B. (2019). If we are flâneurs, can we be cosmopolitans? Urban Studies, 56 (2), 301–316. 🔓10.1177/0042098017724120