I recently received an email from a person who is doing her psychology dissertation looking at the common denominators amongst graffers. She asked if I was willing to make a comment. Which I have now done and thought I might put it on my blog also.
So here it is.
I am more interested in the sociology of the graffiti movement rather than the individual psychology at least at this juncture, so I am not sure if my comments will assist you or not. However your comment that graffiti may result from a sense of invisibility in the individual graffer would make some sense form an individual psychological perspective.
To my mind if one is going to address the subject of graffiti then one must first deconfuse the political situation that surrounds it. This rarely happens and as a result very little ‘success’ has been achieved by the various bodies in the community because they can never get past first base, an emotive reaction.
Public commentators on the topic of graffiti almost unerringly use the subject as an opportunity to basically say how this section of the youth are a bunch of rat bags who wreck things for the wider community. If one is wanting to publicly vent their spleen, this is a great subject by which to do so especially at the youth of today.
The problem with this is one never gets to have a a clear and non emotive look at the subject. If one can cast aside at least temporarily their anger about the subject then one can begin to see some interesting sociological factors arise.
Firstly graffiti is not just a bunch of rat bag kids who run about at night drawing pictures on the walls. I have in recent years travelled to the US and parts of Europe. In almost every city I have visited the graffiti on the walls is the same. What I see on the walls of a variety of cities is consistent and the same that exists in my city where I live in Australia. This is a world wide sociological phenomenon that is taken up by millions around the world at least in modern westernised democracies. It is not just small localised areas where graffiti happens. The people are voting with their feet in this way.
Secondly, this is not just an over night event. The same graffiting has been going on for decades now in many cities around the world. This is not a transitory social movement.
Thirdly, and this relates to the previous point, public officials around the world in numerous cities have tried and continue to try a wide variety of strategies to halt graffiti usually with very little success. A great deal of time and effort and money goes into the task of ending graffiti occurring. So far it has been a dismal failure.
From a sociological perspective this speaks volumes. Here we have a social movement - graffiti - that is very resilient and very resistant to eradication. That does not happen by accident and would suggest, or perhaps demand, that the social forces behind the graffiti movement are intimately connected with the very structure of a modern westernised democracy.
All societies are based on a series of assumptions and beliefs about what is valuable and not valuable to have in a society. It is likely that the fundamental basis behind this social phenomena - graffiti - is inextricably linked to these assumptions and beliefs about how a society should be structured. This would explain the very strong resilience of the graffiti movement. If this is so it is not going to stop until you start altering some of the basic assumptions of a modern western democracy and that is certainly not going to happen any time soon.