flaneur

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flaneur

a stroller, watcher, observer. The concept has poetic origins in the work of Charles Baudelaire (e.g. Art in Paris, 1845-62). He used it to encapsulate the new, metropolitan character type of the 1840s: the man in the urban crowd, the man whose outlook is shaped by the mobile gallery of metropolitan existence. The most notable sociological application of the concept is to be found in the work of Walter BENJAMIN (1983). In his Arcades project he presents the city as a labyrinth or a multi-layered social universe. Benjamin plays on the ambiguity of the concept to convey the sense of a stroller-watcher of urban forms as well as a detective or unscrambler of codes. The concept has been criticized by feminists for marginalizing womens distinctive urban experience. Wolff (1985) attempts to retrieve this experience with the concept of the flaneuse, or ‘the woman in the crowd’. Recent work on postmodernism, urban sociology and the sociology of consumption has used the concept offlanerie to refer to looking, observing (social types, configurations and urban milieux), decoding the hieroglyphics of the city (spatial images, architecture, advertising and the general ‘sign economy’) and reading texts and images about the city.