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Graffiti – trendsetter in political participation or illegal scribbling?

Tina Olteanu
Justus Liebig University Giessen
Dorothée de Nève
FernUniversität in Hagen
Tina Olteanu
Justus Liebig University Giessen
Open Panel

Abstract

In our paper we deal with graffiti as a form of political participation. While graffiti are not new in form, they are definitely underrepresented in political research as means of participating in the public debate (Volland 2010). Due to the fact that in arts, graffiti are no longer merely scribbling and generate profits in auctions can be regarded as an indicator that at least they raise attention. This is even more the case when we consider the fact that graffiti is more and more used in advertisement. As the advertising industry monitors the impact of their campaigns it is plausible to assume that graffiti somehow catch our attention. This leads us to the assumption that graffiti have an impact on public perception as such. The following questions arise: 1) What forms of graffiti do exist? 2) What is genuine political about certain types of graffiti and how is this reflected in the topics graffiti deal with? 3) And how can graffiti be framed in the context of effective political participation? We want to discuss the following controversial hypothesis: (i) Graffiti are in the end only an illegal act of willful damage to property without any impact for the political process or decision making in a democracy. They are carried out by persons who themselves have no interest in constructive political participation within a given society but rather want to express overall rejection of society and play only a negligent role for political participation. (ii) Graffiti are a strong means of political participation aimed at influencing the political agenda and the decision making process by highlighting topics that have not adequately been discussed in public and/or the political arena (Klee 2010). These actors express their critical stance over established institutions and processes. This rebellious approach to political participation is therefore a new way of expression for a certain type of active citizen. We will discuss these questions based on our graffiti collection from European cities such as Basel, Berlin, Bucharest and Vienna.