Flâneur (pronounced ), from the French noun flâneur, means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer". Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. A near-synonym is boulevardier.
The flâneur was, first of all, a literary type from 19th-century France, essential to any picture of the streets of Paris. The word carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. It was Walter Benjamin, drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who made this figure the object of scholarly interest in the 20th century, as an emblematic archetype of urban, modern experience. Following Benjamin, the flâneur has become an important symbol for scholars, artists and writers. Recent scholarship has also proposed the flâneuse, a female equivalent to the flâneur.
Flâneur in English is via French from the Old Norse verb flana "to wander with no purpose".
The terms of flânerie date to the 16th or 17th century, denoting strolling, idling, often with the connotation of wasting time. But it was in the 19th century that a rich set of meanings and definitions surrounding the flâneur took shape.
The flâneur was defined in a long article in Larousse's Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle (in the 8th volume, from 1872). It described the flâneur in ambivalent terms, equal parts curiosity and laziness and presented a taxonomy of flânerie—flâneurs of the boulevards, of parks, of the arcades, of cafés, mindless flâneurs and intelligent flâneurs.
By then, the term had already developed a rich set of associations. Sainte-Beuve wrote that to flâne "is the very opposite of doing nothing". Honoré de Balzac described flânerie as "the gastronomy of the eye". Anaïs Bazin wrote that "the only, the true sovereign of Paris is the flâneur". Victor Fournel, in Ce qu'on voit dans les rues de Paris (What One Sees in the Streets of Paris, 1867), devoted a chapter to "the art of flânerie". For Fournel, there was nothing lazy in flânerie. It was, rather, a way of understanding the rich variety of the city landscape. It was a moving photograph ("un daguerréotype mobile et passioné") of urban experience.