Deviance Fluidity on the Urban Landscape: Graffiti as Informal Placemaking

Authors: Alyson Mabie*, Western Michigan University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: graffiti, deviance, urban landscape, placemaking
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Graffiti is recognized as an illegal deviant act. Sociologically, deviance is considered to be defined by the audience perceiving an act, rather than inherent in the act itself. In this context, deviance is subjective and fluid. This paper explores the spectrum of graffiti from criminal vandalism to a celebrated art form in the context of its placement on the urban landscape. The fluidity of deviance is reflected in the concentration of different types of graffiti in different locations. For example, street art is often viewed as the commodified version of graffiti, and is concentrated in areas of gentrification or commercialization in the study area. The spatial distribution of three types of vandalism: graffiti writing, street art, and the equally illegal guerrilla marketing, which mimics graffiti placement and street art styles, were collected in two neighborhood commercial districts in the southeast quadrant of Grand Rapids, MI. Data of vandalism incidents were collected in 2014 and 2017 using a GPS device and fieldnotes. GIS analysis of the vandalism waypoints were overlaid with demographic data to determine the character and change in the neighborhoods between 2014 and 2017. The character of the neighborhoods was further explored through fieldwork. The analysis of neighborhood characteristics and graffiti location and type over time is used to illustrate how graffiti, and deviance, is delineated. Graffiti artists were interviewed to assess perspectives on urban space. Preliminary results indicate graffiti and street art to be informal methods of placemaking.

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