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Mina reflektioner om samhälle, kultur och livsfrågor

med mitt konstruktivistiska och postmodernistiska perspektiv

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I am now translating some of my old posts into English in my ongoing project to improve my ability to write in English.

Graffiti study 1.1 (part 2:2)

Graffiti, In English Posted on 20 Feb, 2022 09:48

Opinions on how graffiti should be valued and assessed differ diametrically depending on who you are talking to. The practitioners themselves often consider it to be artistic activities, while others see painting as vandalism and a serious social problem. From a social constructivist perspective, a cultural relativist approach follows, that is, that the artistic value lies in the subject. Art is what someone defines as art and concepts such as good and bad art, fine culture and popular culture are irrelevant because the concepts do not have an objective basis.(1) Hägerström described this as moral propositions claiming nothing about reality and thus cannot be true or false. For a value judgment to be true, he said, this must be independent of the valuer (after Källström 1986:19ff). When we claim that something exists in an objective sense, we mean that we are claiming something about one of us independent reality. However, moral claims are entirely dependent on a certain feeling for us to formulate it. In other words, it does not make sense to compare different opinions about art and taste because the value is individual and lies in the inducing of a feeling, new ideas and perspectives of the individual viewer. My taste has nothing to do with the taste of others, and the main difference in this regard between me and a cultural reviewer is just that the latter gets paid to express his opinions.(2) From this perspective, comparisons between different people’s tastes become meaningless. In attempts at grading and evaluation, however, there are other purposes such as trying to legitimize one’s (“class”, “culture” and the like) position in society by showing that one has a “better taste”.(3)

From this perspective, graffiti becomes an artistic form of expression for those who think so. Many commentators confuse graffiti as a form of expression with vandalism. It cannot be the expression itself that is the problem. However, if the graffiti is erected in the wrong place, it can become a crime. In other words, it is as absurd to be for or against graffiti as to be for or against Cubism, Expressionism, or any other art orientation. However, one can of course be opposed to vandalism, whether this is in the form of graffiti, an expressionist painting or a broken windowpane.

What is described in this paper as graffiti culture should be understood as a subculture. The term subculture refers to a group united by common values, attitudes and patterns of action within a larger social entity (see, for example, definition in National Encyclopedia volume 17:391). Such a definition does not take a position on the extent to which members distance themselves from the laws and regulations of the rest of society. A subculture can be important for the individual in some respects, while in other contexts he/she is completely in line with the rules of society. A key question is how to define a subculture. For graffiti subculture, the question arises of what should be counted as a “graffiti subcultural act”. For example, should theft of spray cans and “trashing” (smashing an entire commuter train carriage inside) count as part of the subculture? If you ask representatives of society’s institutions that work to counteract graffiti, the answer is often that this is the case, if you ask the graffiti artists themselves, you get different answers. Some of these consider trashing to be part of graffiti subculture because it is partly graffiti artists who commit such acts and because they usually also paint their “tag” (pseudonym) on these occasions. Others believe that trashing is not part of the culture. Graffiti is about creating, not breaking. The same split among the painters exists when it comes to the theft of “work materials”, especially spray cans and felt-tip pens. Several of the informants in the study believe that the graffiti becomes more fair if you steal the painting tools (cans and felt-tip pens). It should not be the availability of financial capital, and thus the opportunity to buy paint, that determines to what extent one is or becomes a good painter. Others think that how to get your color is not at all interesting. This is something outside the graffiti.

In other words, graffiti artists can be said to be a heterogeneous group in terms of opinions and attitudes about, among other things, what constitutes graffiti culture. I will therefore continue to refer to what I perceive to be the very premise of the existence of this subculture; what unites the individuals who choose to join the culture, the lowest common denominator – the interest in the graffiti image.(4) This interest includes knowledge about the collective way of seeing, assessing and valuing the graffiti image, knowledge of technology, importance of location and knowledge of what gives status. Painting graffiti yourself is not a necessary criterion to be part of the culture, for example, there are young people who, by photographing and documenting graffiti, take part in the culture. However, the vast majority are active graffiti artists. In other words, trashing, shoplifting of paint cans and other serious crime will not further count as belonging to graffiti culture, but there are people in the culture who engage in such activities. The people who paint graffiti are predominantly young, which means that graffiti subculture also can be seen as a youth culture. Youth culture is its own established research field and will be discussed in section 1.3.


(1) Graffiti can be compared here to Douglas’s (1966) reasoning about dirt as matter at the wrong
place. Soil from the discount becomes dirt when we pull it into the parquet floor. There is no absolute dirt. Graffiti on a subway train, based on this reasoning, becomes color in the wrong place.

(2) Henry James describes this as saying that no aesthetic analysis can knock out the “I like”
test: ”Nothing will ever take the place of the good old fashion of ”liking” a work of art or
not liking it: the most improved criticism will not abolish that primitive, that ultimate test.”
(after Forser 2002:118)

(3) Bourdieu said that taste is a distaste for the taste of others. (after Forser 2002:131)

(4) Parallels can here be drawn to Bourdieu’s field theory where the individuals who are in the field must agree on what is important and worth fighting for. There is a lowest common denominator that even those who strive to enter the field must recognize as important. (Swartz 1997:125)

Graffiti study 1.1 (part 1:2)

Graffiti, In English Posted on 19 Feb, 2022 20:06

This is the first part om the introduction of my theses about graffiti from 2006 (translated into English). 

1.1 Purpose and perspective (part 1:2)

The phenomenon of graffiti is a social problem that every year causes great costs. The main purpose of this study is to try to identify the basic mechanisms underlying young people’s involvement in the graffiti culture. What motivates young people to paint graffiti illegally in the public environment despite the relatively high risks associated with the activity? Is this rational behavior? The practitioners’ own perspective is the starting point. The study is exploratory and is mainly based on interviews with graffiti artists and former graffiti artists. A second purpose has been to put the phenomenon in a societal perspective to highlight links and dependencies between the graffiti artists and the surrounding society. To this, people who work preventively against graffiti have been interviewed. Here, articles and statements in the media and other official publications have also played an important role. The starting point for the study has been graffiti as a phenomenon, not as a problem.

In the study, three of the four levels of analysis that Layder (1993:71ff) describes in his research design have been taken as a starting point: self, setting and context. The level of analysis that constitutes the starting level is that which constitutes Layder’s third level, setting, which here is represented by the graffiti subculture. What this looks like and its internal logic are here the interesting questions. After that, the level of analysis is shifted to the individual, self. With the help of the knowledge gained at the previous level, the ambition here is to try to understand what this subculture serves for the individual. What do these people get out of participating in culture? Finally, the level of analysis is raised to a societal perspective, context. Questions raised here include the importance of society’s reaction to graffiti. The results of the study, I hope, will give the reader a picture of the graffiti phenomenon as both an understandable and interesting phenomenon.

This study is done against a background of a social constructivist perspective (see, for example, Börjesson 2003, Burr 1995, Rorty 2003, Swartling 1998) which includes a skeptical view of knowledge and facts. Social knowledge is always a consequence of interpretations made based on the culture, society, the time we live in and our individual background. The philosopher Gadamer (Föllesdal, Wallöe, Elster 1990:147ff) describes this as that we never can be able to free ourselves from our horizon of understanding. Giddens (1976:79ff and 162) discusses this in terms of the double hermeneutics. Social sciences are based on social actors’ interpretations of themselves and the world in which they live. The researcher, in turn, interprets this interpretation from his perspective. Based on such reasoning, it seems difficult to defend that one interpretation should take precedence over another because there is no “objectively” untended reality to fall back on or to search for. Reference to an objective world, objective or universal facts is ultimately about someone’s personal interpretation or opinion. What is studied is, as it has been expressed, “dead”, before it has ended up, or rather placed, within a discourse and thus a context of meaning (Bergström &amp. Boréus 2000:257). Knowledge is relational and anti-essential. The philosopher Rorty (2003:73) describes this as that science and other exploration cannot be about coming to a truth, because even if it should exist a objective truth, we would not know when we reached it. Based on these described starting points, the aim of this thesis cannot be to describe the phenomenon of graffiti. Rather, the goal is to try to describe the picture that the study has led to for me and to describe it so that the reader himself will have an opportunity to assess it and hopefully see the conclusions drawn as both reasonable, interesting, and thought-provoking.

Graffiti study – Summary (initial)

Graffiti, In English Posted on 13 Feb, 2022 11:11

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.

My new project

Graffiti, In English Posted on 13 Feb, 2022 11:04

During the late 1990s I was a PhD student at Stockholm University and studied youth crime. I interrupted my studies in the early 2000s but resumed them a few years later and completed a part of the PhD with an essay (2006), one of the parts of my thesis project, dealing with graffiti. This and some of the other work I completed during my PhD period can be read on my website.

This past week, when I have been home isolated due a Covid infection, I read through my essay and discovered to my surprise that it is interesting. I am amazed at how the author, my younger self, creatively manages to integrate theories from different genres while managing to be both creative and innovative. Sounds like big words and bragging, but that’s my picture today of this text with a little perspective. Of course, it is not perfect, if I did it again, I would do it in a slightly different way – of course, I have hopefully learned something in the last 20 years…

By reading the text, I have now rediscovered many of the theorists who shaped me and whose reasoning has become integral parts of my way of seeing and perceiving the world. Graffiti is an international phenomenon and I think some of my reasoning may be of interest in other countries where the phenomenon exists. For that reason, I’m going to start translating the essay into English. This is a big project for me; the essay is about 100 pages and I also do it as part of my ongoing project to improve my ability to write in English, so I will do this in parts and start with the initial summary. I will post new parts here on this blog and will add the texts on my website under “texts”.