Research Output
Graffiti, Place and Society
  ‘DON’T KIL URSELF’. ‘ YOU SHALL OVERCOME.’ The impetus for this study comes from serendipitous encounters with certain types of graffiti around Edinburgh during the covid-19 pandemic. Using walking and photography as data collection methods, I drew inspiration from linguistic ethnography, and semiotic linguistic landscaping in order to make sense of naturalistic data. Graffiti writing is somewhat of a conundrum, the most ambivalent of urban signs (Fieni, 2012) - viewed by some as art and a historical phenomenon; others as vandalism, criminal activity and juvenile delinquency, also as a regulatory problem and sociological subculture. I attempt to propose ‘ARTivism’ as another way of conceptualizing graffiti. Though ARTivism (combination of art and activism) anonymous graffiti writers semiotize public spaces (wall, street, metal bins, park benches) into a creative space “that offers, enables, triggers, invites, prescribes, proscribes, polices or enforces certain patterns of social behaviour” (Blommaert, 2013, p. 3).
Given the anonymous, ephemeral, and illegal nature of graffiti writing, there was no opportunity to explore motivations of the unknown writers. Therefore, using visual images as prompts for a photo elicitation interview, I explored the reactions and interpretations of my research participants, who are, by virtue of their living in Edinburgh, potential addressees of the graffiti writers. They were shown two types of graffiti which fall into two categories – suicide prevention and positive messaging. The results of the photo elicitation interviews suggest that despite its status as a “fugitive set of illegal operations” (Fieni, 2012), certain types of graffiti have the transformative potential to raise awareness about relevant issues, and promote a sense of connection within the community.
Blommaert, J. (2013). Ethnography, superdiversity and linguistic landscapes: Chronicles of complexity. Multilingual Matters.
Fieni, D. (2012). What a wall wants, or how graffiti thinks. Diacritics, 40(2), 72–93.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    11 May 2022

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Victoria, M. (2022, May). Graffiti, Place and Society. Paper presented at TBS Research Seminar, Edinburgh Napier University



graffiti, art, vandalism, semiotic linguistic landscapse

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