Graffiti, Vandalism, Protest and Nonviolence: Paper at the conference of the journal Mobilization “Social Movements and Protest: Nonviolent Strategies and the State,” San Diego State University, US (May 5, 2017)

Abstract : Graffiti is a paradoxical form of social expression: it is widely disparaged in its tagging avatar, when it is commonly associated with urban blight, delinquency, if not gangs, and overly valued in the form of street art, the object of increasing artistic, critical, urbanistic and, indeed, scholarly, interest and appreciation. This divide poses more problems than it solves, since there is not only a great degree of overlap in categories of “graffiti”—itself a problematic and contested term—but the aesthetic, moral, and social judgments evoked above rest in large part on preconceived ideas, rather than actual differences in terms of observable practices. For example, not all the graffiti that commonly falls under the disqualification as blight consists in tagging, nor is all tag-based street art excluded from institutional interest and appreciation. In this paper I explore the element of protest that is present in graffiti and the question of whether graffiti can be considered nonviolent as long as it is illegal. The empirical data focuses on San Francisco. San Francisco is in an especially puzzling situation vis-à-vis graffiti—i.e. here, broadly speaking, illegal or unsolicited inscriptions on surfaces in public spaces, whether they be publicly or privately owned—since the city prides itself in its legacy of freedom, creativity, and diversity, while at the same time many political and economic actors pursue an agenda of real-estate value optimization and urban revitalization through “smart growth”—with all its neoliberal undertones. Is graffiti, then, a form of protest simply by virtue of being illegal? Or does illegality impair its legitimacy or efficacy as a nonviolent protest tactic?
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https://hal-upec-upem.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01790705
Contributor : Guillaume Marche <>
Submitted on : Sunday, May 13, 2018 - 8:38:22 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, September 4, 2019 - 1:52:23 PM

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Guillaume Marche. Graffiti, Vandalism, Protest and Nonviolence: Paper at the conference of the journal Mobilization “Social Movements and Protest: Nonviolent Strategies and the State,” San Diego State University, US (May 5, 2017). 2017. ⟨hal-01790705⟩

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