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Rewriting the city: graffiti and the subcultural appropriation of space

How graffiti writers perceive and make use of urban space as well as the attempts to control graffiti.

Financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond

Both researchers and subcultural participants agree on that 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the graffiti subculture in Sweden (Jacobson 1996). During these 30 years the response from the Transit Authorities, the police, and politicians have varied from a curious benevolent attitude during the 1980s to the zero tolerance that has marked the last decade with prohibitions against both legal and illegal graffiti, increased legal measures, and removal within 24 hours (Kimvall 2012). With the support for zero tolerance now decreasing among politicians and calls for legal walls and graffiti workshops increasing (cf. Stockholm Stad 2013), the question still remains how graffiti writers interpret and react to attempts to limit illegal graffiti, and more so if they do so unanimously. After all, illegal graffiti has not disappeared, far from it. The Transit Authorities in Stockholm reports that the last decade’s destruction of property has cost more than a billion SEK (DN 2011) and the reported crimes of graffiti is still stable in the numbers of 50 000 annually, a number that is equivalent to the statistics a decade ago (BRÅ 2013). Still, there are no Swedish evaluations on the consequences the measures to prevent illegal graffiti have for the graffiti subculture (Hollari 2005).

The purpose of this project is to investigate the relationship between graffiti writing, participants’ use of urban space, and their reactions to measures by the authorities to decrease illegal graffiti. Further the project aims at exploring to what extent there are plural definitions among graffiti writers as to the what, where, and how of graffiti and the consequences this have in reworking measures of crime prevention. The project takes its point of departure in the gap in the previous graffiti research in relation to the existence of plural structures of meaning through which subcultural action, spatiality, identities, and style are negotiated, thus enabling different subcultural authenticities and activities. Within this aim, the project centers on three research questions to concretize the study and the dialectical relationship between subcultural action, spatiality and identification:

  • To what extent do graffiti writers communicate, interpret, and act on similar conceptions of style, placement, frequency, and risk? And further, to what extent do they share a similar subcultural gaze in relation to urban space?
  • How do graffiti writers claim and authenticate subcultural action in relation to societal reactions and restrictions to graffiti?
  • What are the spatial and stylistic consequences of subcultural differences, in regards to the first two questions, for writers structuring of what, where, why, and how graffiti should be?

Researchers on the project

Relevant publications