The historical emergence of legal graffiti

01 December 2016

A new book by Dr Ronald Kramer of Sociology analyses the historical emergence of legal graffiti and how it has led to a new ethos among writers.

The Rise of Legal Graffiti Writing in New York and Beyond examines how contemporary graffiti writing has been brought into new relationships with major social institutions, and explores the contemporary dynamics between graffiti, society, the art world and social media.

Ronald explains that "I have been interested in graffiti for over 25 years, and have been following its development quite consistently."

"When I moved to the United States in 2002, I noticed that much contemporary graffiti was being produced with permission. It seemed that graffiti writing had morphed into a very different subculture over the years, especially when compared to its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s."

"While there are many excellent books and articles on graffiti, very few seemed interested in legal graffiti. So, it seemed to me that something quite remarkable was happening in the graffiti world ­— an activity often understood as deviant was trying to go legit, and quite successful in doing so — but not many scholars were paying attention. I thought that was a pretty important gap to fill in the literature and so that is what I was hoping to do with this book."

Professor Jeffrey Ian Ross of the University of Baltimore likened the book to much of the contemporary graffiti it discusses: "witty, meticulously constructed, and a pleasure to read".

In the book, Ronald pays particular attention to the ways New York City’s political elite have reacted to graffiti. Despite its major structural transformation, officials in New York continue to construe graffiti writing culture as a monolithic, criminal enterprise and harbinger of economic and civic collapse.

"My other goal was to rethink contemporary opposition to graffiti, especially that from political elites and other ‘right-thinking’ people. Graffiti is a relatively inconsequential act and although it has increasingly come to be produced with permission, opposition is often premised on the idea that it will have a corrosive effect on urban life."

Through his work Ronald accounts for the cultural conflicts that graffiti consistently engenders by theorising the political and economic advantages that elites secure by endorsing strong 'anti-graffiti' positions.

"This book demonstrates how rhetorical and practical forms of opposition to graffiti are driven by the desire to commodify urban space and rationalise an increasingly punitive criminal justice system."

"I'm quite excited to see this work released as a book. Some of its core ideas have been published as articles, but the book allows for a comprehensive narrative that covers contemporary graffiti writing culture and its growing social acceptance, while also addressing state opposition to public writing."

The Rise of Legal Graffiti Writing in New York and Beyond is now available as an eBook, with a hardcover release planned for December.

Grab your own copy of The Rise of Legal Graffiti Writing in New York and Beyond