A social history of graffiti writing in New York City, 1990–2005
Based on five years of qualitative sociological research involving unobtrusive observations, in-depth interviews with twenty prominent New York City graffiti writers and extensive document analysis, this dissertation explores two historical trends. On the one hand, it looks at how graffiti writing has increasingly become a legal and commercial practice. On the other, it considers the official reaction to graffiti writing. In exploring these two historical trends a discontinuity is discovered. While legal graffiti writers have come to constitute a distinct coterie within graffiti writing culture, the official reaction to graffiti continues to operate according to the financially costly logic established by the “broken windows” thesis. Within such a view, graffiti, whether legal or illegal, is perceived as activity that will invite other forms of crime and ultimately lead to the breakdown of civic society, or “urban decay”.
A Social History of Graffiti Writing in New York City, 1990–2005 argues that the growing disparity between the official reaction to graffiti and the contemporary realities of graffiti writing culture suggests that the former is motivated by political and economic ends, as opposed to any search for the “truth”. Based on an extensive analysis of many documents, I suggest that the social origins of anti-graffiti initiatives are to be found in specific commercial and political interests. More specifically, I argue that anti-graffiti efforts constitute a “moral panic” that is driven by the political and economic desire to extract the maximum profit possible from urban land use.
0337: American history