Founded in 1957, the first five years of the Situationist Internationale (SI) were initially focused on political action through artistic activities. The Situationists pursued a variety of strategies, including the Dadaist technique of combining disparate aesthetic elements and the ironic appropriation of the mass media. Political provocation of a Surrealist type was also on their agenda. By reinventing the strategies of their French avant-garde forebears, the Situationists developed an elitist and critical attitude towards society. However, Debord soon took up the banner of the Marxist professor Henri Lefebvre, as the Situationists sought to reorder everyday life along revolutionary lines. Lefebvre defined “everyday life” as “whatever remains after one has eliminated all specialized activities,” a definition which included the production of art. By 1963, Debord had excluded all professional artists from the group. Debord and his associates remained in control of the SI after 1962, and it is now widely identified with this second more theoretical manifestation.
Between 1962-1972, the focus of the SI was the production of theoretical tracts coupled with ironic détournement, the subversion of elements of the mass media. A focus on the visual manifestations of social power remained prominent in the 1960s. Situationists spread their ideas through small-scale pamphlets and magazines, including the journal Internationale Situationniste, which was published between until 1969. However, a 1966 pamphlet entitled “On the Poverty of Student Life” became the most widely publicized Situationist text. Two books published in 1967 serve as the central repository of many Situationist beliefs. The well-known and more rigorously theoretical The Society of the Spectacle, by Debord, was complemented by the somewhat aestheticized ruminations on subjectivity contained in Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life. In hindsight, it was the student and worker led general strike in Paris of May 1968—rather than any specialized publication—that led to the broad dissemination of Situationist ideas into Western culture. While Debord et al. resisted their own appointment by the media as “leaders” of the revolt, it became commonplace to view the strikers as under the influence of the SI. It was through this channel that many young people, such as Jamie Reid of punk graphics fame, became acquainted with the idea of détournement.