The G-Word : Virtuosity and Violation, Negotiating and Transforming graffiti

University dissertation from Årsta : Dokument Press

Abstract: Contemporary public discussions on graffiti are characterized by co-existence of contradictory claims. On the one hand graffiti is described as vandalism, and on the other as an artistic movement. Michel Foucault’s discourse theory, and the concepts of discursive formation and discursive practice are operationalized in order to frame the object of study, and the contradictory claims regarding graffiti are studied as points of diffraction.The aim of the study is to investigate the construction of graffiti as a phenomenon dependent on diametrically opposite but also interdependent claims, as well as how and in which contexts these statements are enounced. Graffiti is thus understood as a transnational phenomenon produced by subcultural as well as and institutional agents, and the thesis analyzes visual and textual material produced within both subcultural and institutional situations. The study is conducted on material concerning three different cultural contexts: different descriptions on the development subcultural graffiti in New York City (circa 1972–1987); the framings of the graffiti on the Berlin Wall in English-language newspapers; and the adaptation of New York’s zero tolerance of graffiti in Stockholm, during the 1990s and early 2000s.The institutions in the studied material represent a wide array of sectors such as the police, art institutions, and public-transit companies, and they interact with graffiti from their own interests and perspectives. The claims of cultural institutions often fall within what in this thesis has been referred to as a consenting discursive practice, built upon the statement ‘graffiti is art’. It is also in relation to this discursive practice that most subcultural descriptions of graffiti are produced. The claims by institutions such as the police and public-transportation companies are almost exclusively found in the interdependent, rejecting discursive practice, built upon the statement ‘graffiti is a crime’.

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