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Placing Graffiti: Creating and Contesting Character in Inner-city Melbourne

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Debates over definitions of urban graffiti as either ‘street art’ or ‘vandalism’ tend to focus on either contributions to the field of artistic practice or violations of a legal code. This paper explores the place of graffiti as an urban spatial practice—why is graffiti where it is and what is its role in the constructions and experiences of place? Through interviews and mapping in inner-city Melbourne, the paper explores the ways that potential for different types of graffiti is mediated by the micro-morphology of the city and becomes embodied into the urban habitus and field of symbolic capital. From a framework of Deleuzian assemblage theory graffiti negotiates ambiguous territories between public/private, visible/invisible, street/laneway and art/advertising. Graffiti is produced from intersecting and often conflicting desires to create or protect urban character and place identity. It is concluded that desires to write and to erase graffiti are productive urban forces, while desires to promote or protect it are problematic.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning,University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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