Translated part 1


In the latter half of the 1960s, a new youth phenomenon emerged on the East Coast of North America. Young people began to illegally paint images in the public environment, images whose motive were ornamented, and often difficult to interpret, letter that constituted pseudonyms for the authors. The tools used were spray paint and felt-tip pens. This phenomenon was called graffiti. It was particularly popular to paint the pictures in the New York Subway, where the carriages were covered, both externally and internally, with graffiti images for much of the 1970s. This youth movement has survived in the United States and spread around the world. In the mid-1980s, the phenomenon came to Sweden with film and television, and despite great efforts to stop it, graffiti still remains as a popular activity among young people to this day (in 2006).

I encountered graffiti in connection with a research project on youth gangs in the late 1990s and interviewed 19 graffiti artists with the main purpose of trying to increase understanding of the phenomenon; what motivates young boys (because it is mainly these who paint) to continue painting graffiti despite the relatively high risks associated with the activity? To get a somewhat broader perspective and an alternative approach to the phenomenon, four officials who worked against graffiti were also interviewed.

In the essay, I have approached graffiti from three perspectives: as a youth culture, from the individual perspective and from a societal perspective. In the first part, graffiti culture emerges as a relatively loosely cohesive youth culture and is described and discussed based on a few different aspects that have emerged as central in the study. These are: graffiti’s connection to hip hop-culture, organizing, meeting places, rules, graffiti changing over time, graffiti on trains, documentation, and graffiti artists’ attitude to legal graffiti.

The second part of the study is about what this youth culture can fulfil for the young people who choose to participate in it. The starting point here is Gidden’s theory of structuring; the graffiti youth culture is the actions carried out in the name of graffiti.

One conclusion from the study is that the role of graffiti culture lies in connecting a network of young people who act as a crowd from which the individual graffiti artist can receive attention and recognition from, something that he does not feel he can get elsewhere in society. The graffiti painters create an acting scene together, the graffiti culture, to perform on. Here they decide for themselves which achievements should be worth paying attention to. They alternate between being up on stage and as a part of an applauding audience for others.

Society’s influence over graffiti is the third part of the study. The increased ambition to prevent and control graffiti painting has gradually improved the risk of getting caught and reduced the time a graffiti painting may remain on the wall or on the train. These circumstances, combined with that official place where it´s allowed to paint graffiti in Stockholm decreased, led to the fast and sloppy graffiti style became more common at the expense of the more processed graffiti. Because of this, young people who search for excitement began to be attracted to graffiti and gradually changed the culture.

At the end of the study, I discuss the counterpart to the graffiti-painter, those who benefit from the situation, usually on the basis that they have an income by working on the issue. There are similarities to what Becker calls “moral contractors” and “enforcement agencies.” These corporate and government officials and the graffiti artists are seen as interdependent. A great interest and lively debate confirm to the graffiti artists that their painting is something more than meaningless vandalism and shows that the society take them and their activities seriously. The fact that the graffiti problem is highlighted in society also benefits those who work to counteract graffiti and it is usually these who are active in the debate. A greater understanding of the problem can both strengthen these people’s positions and benefit them with increased resources.

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