Getting paid writing graffiti : How graffiti artists produce value within marketing

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Sociologiska institutionen


In settings such as hotels, bars and boutiques, things like cars, sodas, clothes, and cities, are fueled with the symbolic capital of graffiti. The purpose of this ethnographic study is to understand how graffiti writers, through marketing, increase the value of their work, as well as that of other products, and how this commercialization affects the meaning of graffiti.  Utilizing a perspective of social constructionism, the analysis shows how actors and social fields that are constructed as incongruous (e.g., art galleries and graffiti culture), are at the same time being mixed together to create something new, and thus create value. This study shows how practices that are considered marginal, or deviant, at the same time generate value within the general economy.

Deploying an abductive approach, and building on ample empirical material, this study shows that the narrative of graffiti as something illegal is one of the main traits that enables graffiti writers to exchange subcultural capital for economic. The results show that previous research, investigating graffiti from a dichotomous perspective of either art or vandalism, do not give a satisfactory understanding of this diverse subculture.  

The empirical material consists of 30 participant observations in public events, in Sweden during the autumn of 2014, where graffiti is turned into a commodity embodied with subcultural capital. Moreover, four in-depth interviews were executed with graffiti writers who have sold their competence and art for purposes of marketing, and one group interview with three of their customers. Further, several documents were collected and analyzed.

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