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Keeping it clean: Graffiti and the commodification of a moral panic

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Whereas subcultures such as punk, metal, skate, goth and emo have all been the target of moral panics in the past, the conditions that sparked these moral panics have since become banal and normalized, in line with Stanley Cohen’s claim that moral panics per definition tend to be short-lived. The moral panic about subcultural graffiti in Sweden, however, has proved remarkably consistent. Drawing from contemporary work on moral panics as extreme forms of more mundane moral regulations, this article deals with graffiti as mal placĂ© in relation to both urban space and romanticized conceptions of youth resistance, rendering it not only a suitable enemy for moral entrepreneurs but also a reliable source of income for surveillance and graffiti-removal firms. Whereas the previous subcultural research has discussed moral panics as a first step of the commodification of the subcultural (Williams 2011), the authors use the example of graffiti in Stockholm to point to a commodification, not so much of subcultural style, but of the moral panic itself.
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Keywords: cultural criminology; graffiti; media; moral panic; moral regulation; subcultural commodification; zero tolerance

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2020

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