Public spaces, stigmatization and media discourses of graffiti practices in Latin American press: Dynamics of symbolic exclusion and inclusion of urban youth
This dissertation has focused on the discourses about graffiti practices (including tagging culture and pichação/pixação) in two Latin American newspapers, namely La Nación in Costa Rica and Folha de São Paulo in Brazil. Considering ongoing processes of physical and symbolic exclusions directed towards urban youth, these discourses about graffiti practices seem to be anchored in broader discussions regarding both the public sphere (in Habermas’ sense) and the shared public spaces. This research approaches 'graffiti' in its multiplicity, emphasizing the diversity of (young) producers and their political, aesthetical and economic purposes. The all-encompassing notion of 'youth' is also called into question, proposing a more open approach to what is called 'youth cultures'.
Five different (but intertwined) discourses have been identified in this research, targeting both graffiti practices and its producers: First, the medical-epidemiological discourse linked to hygiene and social prophylaxis. Second, the legal frame, in which graffiti is considered a form of vandalism, a threat to common heritage and to the maintenance of social order. Third, the criminogenic discourses, in which graffiti inscriptions are related to the (re)production of social violence. Fourth, an emergent discourse of social value, highlighting the role of graffiti practices in the social campaigns (mostly directed toward peripheral youth). And fifth, the discourse that emphasizes the aesthetic or artistic value of the practice, including its recognition in both art institutions and the art market. While processes of co-optation are visible in relation to some of these productions, the unauthorized form of graffiti inscriptions (mostly tagging and pichação/pixacão) could be read as a form of political communication, in the sense of acts of civil disobedience.
The discussion about the notion of 'space' is also included in this research, highlighting the necessity to recognize the existence of alternative and countercultural spaces, as well as the affective/emotional uses of space. Therefore, considering the debate on the right to the city (proposed by Lefebvre), this research proposes to approach graffiti production as a form of dissent, opposing the capitalist-oriented spatial rationality of contemporary urban environments. In short, the analysis of the discourses associated to practices like graffiti production is crucial in order to understand the processes of production of urban environments, the policies associated to these spaces and the notion of 'normalcy' and 'order' that supposedly define them.