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Painting with permission: Legal graffiti in New York City

Ethnography , Volume 11 (2): 235 – Jun 1, 2010


Sage Publications
Copyright © 2010 by SAGE Publications
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Painting with permission: Legal graffiti in New York City


Drawing extensively from interviews conducted with 20 New York City graffiti writers and from unobtrusive observations, this article seeks to further our understanding of graffiti writing culture in two important respects. On the one hand, previous scholars have tended to explore graffiti writing as an illegal and/or criminalized (sub)culture. On the other, they have found it to be a practice that embodies a ‘critical’ stance towards society. My findings indicate that since 1990 a subset of graffiti writers who paint with permission has emerged. Furthermore, I find that those who produce legal graffiti tend to lead lives and espouse values that most would not hesitate to recognize as ‘conventional’. I conclude by suggesting that graffiti writing needs to be acknowledged as a multifaceted and historically fluid culture, and by intimating some possible directions for further research.
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