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The cultural uses of the A-Z London street atlas: navigational performance and the imagining of urban form

Hornsey, Richard



For a decade from the late 1990s, the A-Z London street atlas became a recurrent motif within art works and popular media texts. This essay collates and explores these cultural responses to the atlas, to consider what this might reveal about the affective dimensions of ordinary urban way-finding. There were three persistent motifs that ran through these diverse works: a basic fascination with the destruction of the atlas, the foregrounding of a stoic or heroic pedestrian figure, and the attachment of the atlas to a projected network of mobile individuals that connected on the streets at random times and places. An interrogation of these tropes reveals how the A-Z became a means to explore the terms of an expanded pedestrian experience, as well as a possible configuration of metropolitan movement and contact. Furthermore, the popularity of these texts points to an excess of affect that might have become embedded within acts of A-Z way-finding. Using, owning or being seen with the atlas briefly became a potential mechanism for imagining one’s contribution to a mobile metropolitan community. Hence, this essay is both a focussed exploration of street-atlas poetics and an attempt to think more deeply about the cultural dynamics of everyday urban navigation.


Hornsey, R. (2016). The cultural uses of the A-Z London street atlas: navigational performance and the imagining of urban form. cultural geographies, 23(2),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2016
Online Publication Date Mar 10, 2016
Publication Date Apr 1, 2016
Deposit Date Mar 30, 2016
Publicly Available Date Mar 30, 2016
Journal cultural geographies
Print ISSN 1474-4740
Electronic ISSN 1477-0881
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 2
Keywords A-Z, cartography, imagined communities, London, way-finding
Public URL
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