Graffiti, Deviance and Public Art

Graffiti exists in a grey area between art and crime, with some forms considered legal and others considered to be illegal and against the best interests of society. But how do we draw the distinction between public art and destructive deviance? Can illegal graffiti play a legitimate role in a functional society or does the mere practice of unsolicited “street art” constitute a threat to social order? This essay will explore the conflicting sociological notion of graffiti as a form of criminal deviance and its role in art, youth subculture and informal communication. Deviance is defined as “…norm or rule-breaking behaviour that is usually subject to negative social sanctions” (Van Krieken 2013), whilst graffiti is defined as “… a form of expression which appears on public or private spaces…” (Arcioni 2003). This definition of graffiti does not place the activity exclusively within the realm of illegal activity, however it can be easily argued that graffiti is a form of social deviance, albeit one that has a limited negative impact on social order.

One of the key driving forces of graffiti is cited as being a sense of alienation and dissociation from the environment and community. As Bandaranaike 2003 found in the demographic study of areas that experience high levels of graffiti, the incidents of tagging and graffiti were more prevalent in areas with high youth populations nearby and low home ownership rates. There is also a strong emphasis on communication and sending a message through graffiti as part of a subculture; “…Kids (and others) employ particular forms of graffiti as a means of resisting particular constellations of legal, political, and religious authority.” (Ferrell 1995). Whilst the hip-hop subculture is not the only one that is associated with graffiti, it is the subculture with the most obvious a frequent links to the use of graffiti as a form of communication. The appeal of graffiti for many young people and those in other age demographics who may feel ignored or marginalized, Graffiti is an easily accessible subversive communication method that bypasses social controls. Due to the huge variety of materials that can be used in graffiti and the potentially prominent and visible locations that the graffiti can be created in, the appeal of graffiti as a means for sending a message of anger or disconnect to the rest of society is consistent and easy to fathom. If the graffiti ‘artist’ does not feel a sense of connection or ownership to their local urban environment and those who may own the property or control it’s use then graffiti is a powerful tool in expressing this disillusionment and disconnect. This is perhaps why those who feel that they have no control over the social environment and community that they exist within, such as the youth of an area, may be irresistibly drawn to graffiti as a mode of expression.

With the current data available in Australia with a focus on Townsville the more likely perpetrators of graffiti are cited to be males aged 12-18 years from one parent families who live in rented dwellings (Bandaranaike 2003). This demographic trend is largely agreed upon by national and international studies. Comparing the prevalence of graffiti in an area with other demographic factors can tell us a lot about what kind of urban landscape graffiti can occur in. Common factors for graffiti prone areas include a higher dropout rate of youth from schools, high rate of youth unemployment, and the availability of parental guidance and supervision (Bandaranaike 2003). These factors are also common to areas where parents may have to work longer to make ends meet and were poverty, or lower socio-economic standards prevail. This goes some way to explaining why graffiti seems to be more common in poor urban areas. The limited mobility of the youth population also correlates to the proximity of graffiti to youth areas like skate parks, public transportation locales such as train stations and bus stops and locations near schools and other areas of high youth traffic.

Though one of the main criticisms of graffiti is that it is antisocial behaviour this is not widely agreed upon. In fact Ferrell 1995 asserts the exact opposite; “The writing of graffiti is an inherently collective activity. Although writers tag and piece against the controls of the city, they also tag and piece for one another, and in so doing build alternative structures of meaning and status. Tagging goes on as a collective conversation among writers, a process of symbolic interaction by which writers challenge, cajole, and surprise one another.” This social interaction usually exists outside the greater societal norms of the local community with taboos and segregation often being broken within these subculture groups; “Significantly, the alternative communities that writers create often violate the city’s everyday ethnic segregation by incorporating kids of various ethnic backgrounds” (Ferrell 1995). Could it be that the groups that practice graffiti have a much more cohesive and inclusive group social structure? This seems to be entirely possible in some cases, whilst not universal or true of all groups, it is certainly not accurate to dismiss these groups as wholly antisocial.

When defining graffiti as a criminal act or public artwork it is often questioned as to whether the graffiti is seen to be of value. Social evaluation of public artwork takes into account factors that include determining if; “the artwork relates to the community, its demographic, cultural aspirations and identity, the artwork relates to the history and heritage of the local area, the artwork helps build community capacity or what has been termed social capital, the work is valued by the local community and visiting communities.”. Some of the illegal graffiti we can find in most urban environments meets much of this criteria, however local governments still spend millions of dollars in graffiti clean ups rather than retaining graffiti that conforms to the public arts evaluation framework outlined in Frost 2003; “The framework evaluates public art from the four key areas of 1. Social, 2. Environmental, 3. Economic, 4. Aesthetic values”. At the risk of constricting the graffiti artist right to freedom of speech, the legal system actively prosecutes offenders and protects property owners. Damage to property is a legitimate concern but legal action is often pursued against these often nonviolent offenders can result in creating a further disconnect between them and the wider community; “The prevalence of graffiti hotspots in our urban landscape clearly denotes there is a ‘message’ to the rest of society, irrespective of its mode of articulation. Youth need to express themselves as much as any other member in our society. Stifling their activity without providing an alternative will lead to dissention and more aggressive behaviour” (Bandaranaike, 2003)

Whilst the permission of the property owner is also a major factor in the legality of street art it is important to note that the actual damage to property is not cited as the only concern for the wider community. Perceived damage to the community is the belief in the wider community “that the mere existence of the graffiti increases the level of crime in the area and makes the area less safe.” (Arcioni 2003). These perceptions have real and lasting consequences with actual losses being incurred by the inhabitants of the local area   including a “…fall in the desirability of the area as a place within which to live or conduct business and therefore a fall in property prices, despite a lack of empirical evidence to support those views.” (Arcioni 2003). If graffiti is a permanent and somewhat essential part of the urban landscape as stipulated in Bandaranaike, 2003 then it is in the best interests of the community and the greater social order to find an acceptable arena or medium for this communication to take place. This should not just require compromise on the part of the graffiti artists themselves but it should also be an opportunity for the greater community to be informed and educated on the origins of street art and how it relates to contemporary society.

Whilst there is a heavy emphasis on the reduction and regulation of graffiti across the urban landscape many sources do not link graffiti to an increased level of criminal activity in an area: “Graffiti does not necessarily, nor logically, nor automatically, equate with criminality” (White 2001). In fact there is a push to outline and define the very clear differences between graffiti and violent crime. From a Marxist perspective the limitation of graffiti or uncommissioned street art could be seen as the bourgeoisie attempting exercise social control and censorship to protect their own interests and property against the ideas of the proletariat or working classes. While it has been asserted that graffiti can be undertaken by people from any socio economic group the high rate of incidents within young people who often have very little power, money or control over their situation would suggest that graffiti as a crime is one committed by the poor against the rich. From this perspective graffiti can be seen as essential part of class struggle, with elaborate political and socially significant murals and graffiti forms having a high prevalence in areas of extreme poverty, subjugation or political strife. The high rate of graffiti in places of violence and civil unrest seems to be a subculture response to what they see around them, a form of social commentary, trying to analyse and communicate a message with the only medium and methods available to them. This follows that rather than treating graffiti as the cause or root of the problems of an area that needs to be eliminated or covered up, perhaps we should be viewing graffiti as a symptom of a greater problem that exists or is brewing in the area. For instance if, in an area of housing crisis and high levels of homelessness, the government housing offices, or nearby more privileged areas may be targets for graffiti as a way for the perpetrators to express frustration and powerlessness to do anything to effectively improve their situation, or create change through official means.

Graffiti by nature will never truly conform to the societal norms but the negative social connotations can be managed. Whilst there is so many issues of social order, social control and deviance to at play when it comes to graffiti, and the topic is deserving of a more thorough investigation the research I have cited shows that the value of Graffiti as part of the diagnosis of social problems should not be undervalued. Graffiti, while it is definitely a form of deviance is an important means of communication for many who do not agree with the current social order and who wish to send a message to the greater community via a method that bypasses the normal social controls and censorship. This subversive communication practice and form of non-administered public art may not be legal in many cases and is condemned by greater society as it challenges the current social order by defying the regulation of the urban landscape, a factor that in my opinion does not lessen, but in fact increases its value to the community, providing the voiceless with a voice.



  • Arcioni, Elisa, GRAFFITI, REGULATION, FREEDOM, Graffiti and Disorder Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Local Government Association, Brisbane, 18-19 August 2003
  • Bandaranaike, Suniti, GRAFFITI HOTSPOTS : PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT OR HUMAN DIMENSION?, Graffiti and Disorder Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Local Government Association, Brisbane, 18-19 August 2003
  • Ferrell, Jeff. “Urban Graffiti Crime, Control, and Resistance.” Youth & Society 27, no. 1 (1995): 73-92.
  • Frost, Ashley, GRAFFITI AND PUBLIC ART, Graffiti and Disorder Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Local Government Association, Brisbane, 18-19 August 2003
  • Marshall, Sophie, Beyond the Paint: Graffiti’s Value in Contemporary Society, Santa Sabina College (2010)
  • Payne, Malcolm, 1991, Radical and Marxist Approaches in Modern Social Work Theory: A Critical Introduction, pp. 201-223, London: MacMillan
  • Van Krieken, Robert et al, Sociology, 5th edition, Pearson Australia (2013)
  • White, R. (2001) Graffiti, Crime Prevention and Cultural Space. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 12(3): 253-268


READING JOURNAL COD125 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT MURDOCH UNIVERSITY: Learning liberation: a comparative analysis of feminist consciousness raising and Freire’s conscientization method

Reading Material: Learning liberation: a comparative analysis of feminist consciousness raising and Freire’s conscientization method, Butterwick, Shauna J., The University of British Columbia, [1987], pp.18-26

The effects of the changing Brazilian culture on Freire’s outlook are the initial key point being addressed in this chapter with the turbulent events happening in his own country certainly effecting the shaping of his philosophy. With poverty rife and a series of revolutions, reforms and other changing in the political landscape changing Brazil drastically since the 1500s, the author is very keen to make it clear the immense impact that this political and cultural environment had on the emergence of Friere’s ideas of education and community.

Despite being drawn to Marxism, Friere’s catholic background is cited as a preventing him from becoming fully radicalised. Finding a comfortable space for his thinking between the two very different schools of thought led him to the concept of phenomenology in studying social issues that is the objective study of socialisation without necessarily quantifying human class, struggle and issues through economic and production means like Marxist theorists would.

The Conscientization method according to Friere is “natural because unfinishedness is integral to the phenomenon of life itself, which besides women and men includes the cherry trees in my garden and the birds that sing in their branches.”(Freire 1998). This theme of unfinishedness and the unfinished nature of the world and all within it is a reoccurring theme throughout his work but it is not really touched upon in this chapter which largely focuses on the origins of Friere’s work and how it impacts on political, community and education issues which Friere is adamant are all interlinked. Although his idea of the unfinished person is linked to education; “Education does not make us educable. It is our awareness of being unfinished that makes us educable.” (Friere 1998). This is implying that education is not possible without the desire to improve oneself and the acceptance that we are always in constant need of bettering ourselves. This knowledge and education according to Friere ultimately leads to freedom, liberation and better society.

In this notion of awareness leading to political change and liberation Friere takes on a more Marxist view point with an emphasis on empowering those who are marginalised in society, with education playing a pivotal role in achieving the equality and freedoms that may not be afforded to those who are not born into a privileged position in society. This emphasis on awareness is accompanied by strong links to community and reaching out.

In this account of Friere’s life it is easy to see where his ideologies changed and were challenged; from his middleclass upbringing through to his time as a welfare official and witnessing life for the more marginalised members of the society he lived in. Friere’s theories appear to be a patchwork of ideas and philosophies carefully selected from a wide variety of sources to create a theory of community and society that places the emphasis on social and historical change though education without the hopelessness that often accompanies Marxism.

What questions does this reading raise?

Is it truly possible to be wholly objective when it comes to social liberation and freedom when they are such emotional subjects?

Is education the only catalyst for liberation?

How would Freire’s thinking have been different if it was not mediated by Marxist theories?



This is an evaluation made by DADAA Inc. of the immersive sensory theatre experience, Sensorium Theatre’s Oddysea performances and residency within primary and secondary schools that cater to children with a variety of disabilities. The company Sensorium Theatre has utilized the concept of dramaturgy which they define as “the art of shaping a story into a form that can be acted, emphasising interaction and expression” in a previous performance in 2012.

The value of a creative activity for disabled students is evaluated using DADAA’s six evaluation criteria which were used in this report to display the value of a sensory theatre residency in a school environment. DADAA refers to this evaluation criteria as the “Six key dimensions of value” and they are enjoyment, engagement, sensory stimulation, positive responses and behaviours, independence/autonomy and tailored experience. Whilst most of these are easy to evaluate through observation, due to the different ways that some children with disabilities react to stimuli and experiences the evaluation team found it particularly necessary to observe the performance in person as well as reviewing video footage of performances.

The feedback from the students was on the whole positive, but the sensory theatre experience was not without its apparent challenges, with some children responding adversely to certain aspects of the performance. The multisensory approach however, utilises aspects of all 5 basic senses, whilst problematic for some children, allowed the performers to find ways to interact with children who were severely disabled and unable to engage with verbal and visual aspects of the experience. Some of the children were also quite apprehensive but the presence of familiar faces such as teachers and carers seems to have had a comforting effect an also helped the performers to identify windows to interaction with children who may at first not be willing or able to be involved  in the performance experience.

When addressing the six dimensions of value defined earlier DADAA found that the program covered five of the prescribed values but lacked evidence of the performance tailoring experiences to each child. As a performance the benefits of the sensory theatre experience seem to engage with a wide variety of children with a wide variety of needs but this style of creative experience is not easily tailored to individual children as the performers are attempting to interact with a group of children rather than one on one consistent interaction. DADAA states the “tailored experience is tailored to individual needs/preferences of each child which makes it more likely of engagement”.

As there is very little documentation of sensory theatre due to it being relatively new in the sphere of disability education support but the benefits of sensory activities have been well documented with the importance of sensory play being explained thus; “Since all learning in the brain ultimately stems from sensory stimulation, the importance of our senses and of providing ample and appropriate opportunities for stimulation are apparent. For some children with special educational needs (SEN)” (Gascoyne, Sensory Play, Play in the EYFS 2011). So this sensory theatre experience looks to be a beneficial trend in Special Needs Education and associated services.

What questions does this reading raise?

Are there longitudinal studies of the long term effects of these sensory theatre practices?

How could similar programs be implemented that cater to adults? How would the program need to be modified?

How could these programs fit into a long term care and recreation program?

New Urban Ghosts Article : Creepy Abandoned Museums

They enthrall young and old alike with their exhibits, oddities and eccentricities. But what happens to museums when people stop coming? Many fall victim to budget cuts, population changes or simply get left behind. Tracking down abandoned museums can be a little tricky but once you do, you’ll find a treasure trove of amazing and bizarre artifacts left to the mercy of time [Click to read more].

Grand Rapids Public museum remains

READING JOURNAL COD125 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT MURDOCH UNIVERSITY: ‘Martin Buber on education’, the encyclopedia of informal education

Reading Material: Smith, M. K. (2000, 2009) ‘Martin Buber on education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [ Retrieved: 21st October 2014]

This article offers not only an explanation of the theories of Buber in relation to education but also some insight into how the man himself practiced his teaching principals when communicating and educating his own pupils through the accounts of Aubrey Hodes. Buber came from a Jewish background in a time when being a Jewish Austrian citizen was particularly challenging with the ominous spectre of the Third Reich in the 30s and 40s and the heated political debate that accompanied the Zionist movement throughout his lifetime. The article cites that his relationship to his faith and how it related to his philosophical theories went through a series of changes throughout his lifetime, with early mysticism and acceptance of traditional teachings giving way to more controversial dialogue based philosophies and approaches.  This latter stage of his thinking was condemned in certain sections of the Jewish community for his willingness to open the door to dialogue with the German population so soon after the fall of Hitler’s regime.

The approach to education favoured by Buber is one with an emphasis on sharing and communicating via an open dialogue rather that a single perspective. He explains this through the concept of I-You relationships in which both parties are not experienced as singular, or separate but is experienced as an ebb and flow of ideas, concepts and communication that can be expressed through attentive silence as well as verbal communication. By contrast the I-It form of relationship is one of two separate entities, where ideas and concepts may be broadcast and verbalised but in which there is not genuine dialogue and fluid communication. These relationships allow distance and distinction between parties, denying the chance for relation to result from the encounter.

The term encounter is also explored as Buber has a very clear interest in the concept of the encounter. This is defined by Smith as being “an event or situation in which relation (Beiziehung) occurs”. This “relation” is seen as the connection and communication of ideas and concepts from which all worthwhile and creative endeavour is born, hence Buber’s statement that “all real living is meeting.

Buber’s focus on an open exchange of ideas or meeting of mind is a stark contrast to the Marxist and conflict theories of education in which struggle is the means of social betterment and progress, rather than being a struggle between class, Buber cites and exchange of ideas and dialogue between individuals. Buber focuses on cohesive community concepts that rely on active and receptive community builders that form the foundations of society, fostered through character building and ethical education. The concept of those who a self-serving and closed to other viewpoints gaining power within the community and the consequences of such a situation are not adequately explored. But the intention of the theory is clear; only through dialogue and ethical education can the educator fulfil their primary role of creating a social responsible individual through encouraging the pupil’s “instinct for communion”. Informal learning and setting an example for students is also cited by Buber as being particularly helpful in educating and encouraging social responsibility, his dedication to this theory is evidenced by Hodes firsthand account cited in the article.

What questions does this reading raise?

Is Buber describing a theory that is far too passive to implement real social change?

If I-it relationships cannot be moved towards I-You relationships without the willingness and active attentiveness of both parties how can Buber’s approach be applied to everyday social work?

READING JOURNAL COD125 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT MURDOCH UNIVERSITY: Radical and Marxist Approaches in Modern Social Work Theory: A Critical Introduction

Reading Material: Payne, Malcolm, 1991, Radical and Marxist Approaches in Modern Social Work Theory: A Critical Introduction, pp. 201-223, London: MacMillan

The article endeavours to explain the key points of Marxism, the importance of the influence of “mode of production”, how it relates to social work, some of its failings and how it differs from more historically traditional methods and approaches to social work. One of the first key points made is that radical social work takes issue with many of the assumptions and practices that traditional theories of social work and its criticisms include the oversimplification of complex social issues, the privatization of problems and victim blaming, and the tendency of traditional social work to reinforce the “oppressive social order”.

Criticisms made by Marxist theories are not just limited to the theories behind social work but also to the method of their applications citing many social work roles as being “fragmented” thus being unable to address the full scope of the problem. Concerns are also raised about the effect of social work funding and how the interests of the parties, both government and private, effect the methods and scope of the community work. The concern links in with the potential interference from those in power to inhibit any social change that could adversely effect their interests. This is not just limited to those funding the social work initiatives but also to the social workers themselves who may find their job in jeopardy if their advocacy of the best interests of their clients in the working classes interferes with the interests of funding of governing bodies.

This potential comprise of the priorities of social work is also addressed further in the article in relation to class struggle. The concept of class struggle is asserted as being the bourgeois attempts to maintain control and the proletariat struggle to change the system. According to Marxist theories there is no neutral ground in this struggles, social workers need to be constantly striving to be catalysts for positive change and elevation of the working classes or they are accepting the status quo and effectively supporting the hegemony of the bourgeoisie.

According to this article it is in the best interests of the ruling classes to perpetuate the myth of the close family unit in order to secure the future of labour but to also alienate and individualise problems keeping the working classes non unified and relatively powerless to challenge the status quo. Social work as an extension of the power of the ruling classes is essentially seen to be, in Marxist theory, is designed to reinforce these values and reign in any nonconformists to these ideals. This theory is useful in as far is it helps to reveal some of the factors that can adversely affect the implication of community development strategies but it fails to take into account the individual motivation of social workers, clients and governing people, with no room afforded for personality, moral and values and how they affect the operation of society.

The extension of Marxist approaches to social work to include Feminist and non-sexist social work shows allows the article to draw parallels between the struggle of the working classes against the ruling classes and the struggle of women in society against the oppression of a traditionally male dominant society. Part of the discussion in relation to non-sexist social work addresses the issue of whether men can undertake feminist social work. The importance of including a feminist approach in Social Work in emphasized by explaining the established sex roles of the genders and how these roles have impacted and marginalized women in a way that, because of the ingrained and socially accepted nature of these roles, may not be immediately apparent to men.

What questions does this reading raise?

If it is impossible for Social workers to serve both as an ambassador for the “ruling class” and as an advocate for the “working classes” can effective state supported social work even exist according to Marxist theories?

Does this mean that social work in a capitalist society must be subversive in order to truly benefit the working classes? If not where do we draw the line between useful Marxist social work approaches and counterproductive self-defeating theorizing?

As this paper was written over 20 years ago how has the role of women changed? Have gender roles merged or are the same oppressive structures still seen to be in place?

Reading Journal COD125 Community Development Murdoch University: Kura, yeye, boorda, Nyungar boodier nidja boodjar : community development and indigenous communities

Reading Material: Collard, L. and Palmer, D. Kura, yeye, boorda, Nyungar boodier nidja boodjar : community development and indigenous communities. Keynote address at the National Community Development Conference. Sheraton Hotel, Perth. [March 23, 2001], Published by Local Government Community Services Association of Australia

The key point this article makes is that indigenous and non-indigenous people within Community Development initiatives need to work together, drawing on their respective experiences and expertise to create an effective and relevant service for the community. The idea of “going along together” ties in with ideas such as collaboration, co-operation and communication. The exchange of knowledge and ideas between cultures and traditions, with respect and consideration given to preserving the Nyungar language and traditions is seen to be hugely beneficial to communities. There is particular emphasis on language, which is the foundation for effective communication and cross cultural interaction, and the very strong assertion that Nyungar language is NOT a dead language; it still functions in daily life and alongside Nyungar cultural practices and those non indigenous people working within Nyungar communities need to be mindful of this.

Another point made, relating to the Nyungar language is that it is essential when working within Nyungar communities to at least make an effort to learn some of the language. Learning the language is not just the key to effective communication but also demonstrates to the community you are working with that you acknowledge the historical and cultural significance of their community. This language is not just limited to indigenous words but also the turn of phrase, stories and nuances of the way that the community interacts and communicates. This can relate to the traditions, conventions and morals practiced and upheld in the community.

Whilst many of the points raised could potentially be applied to a wide range of indigenous communities it is important to look at the unique needs and cultures of each indigenous community on a case by case basis. Unfortunately not all indigenous languages as a thoroughly documented and preserved as the Nyungar language. Wiradjuri, the indigenous community of the region I live in all but lost much of their language and traditions, there has been a “revival” in recent years with a great deal of effort being made by community leaders to document, teach and preserve the language (Wiradjuri Condoblin Corporation, 2009). There are however less resources readily available to the non-indigenous and indigenous population, but it is possible to get a cursory knowledge of selected words and phrases with a little research.

This potentially limiting geographic element aside, and it probably does need to be pushed to the side as this article does essentially deal with a very specific community with a very specific cultural heritage, the emphasis on a joint approach to community development with both indigenous community workers and non-indigenous community working participating in an ongoing dialogue with an emphasis on language is one that is also advocated in “Indigenous languages in education: what the research actually shows” (Charles E. Grimes, Ph.D. 2009), but Grimes also warns of the damage that poorly administered language and culturally collaborative measures can do to community perceptions. The work being carried out within the community needs to be very mindful of the needs of that community and need to be carried out in ongoing consultation with the community in question.

What questions does this reading raise?

What resources are currently available to those looking to learn the local indigenous language?

In what other ways can non-indigenous people take the initiative in regards to indigenous cultural recognition and understanding?

What government and community programs use the “two-way schooling” approach?

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