Graffiti as Communication and Language

Reference work entry


This chapter examines graffiti as a means of communication and a vehicle for creating and contesting meanings in discrete places. Using city walls as a canvas is a phenomenon thousands of years old. Reflecting its ancient roots, the word graffiti roughly translated from Latin means “to scribble.” What appear to be scribbles to most people is a rich language encoded in urban landscapes worldwide. Modern graffiti emerged in late 1960s to early 1970s, with spray paint and ink the preferred writing implements. The reaction to graffiti at the time and since must be seen in the context of urban politics, global economics and efforts to control the city. Those who make graffiti today are called many things including vandals, artists, and (most importantly here) writers. This chapter considers how the aesthetics and meanings associated with graffiti differ from place to place and the role the media plays in how we understand it. This chapter examines how graffiti has been and continues to be used to articulate resistance to dominant powers. A typology for studying and understanding graffiti in its many forms is suggested. The most common contemporary forms of graffiti (and street art) are considered, including tags, throw-ups, pieces, stencils, characters, wheatpaste, stickers, messages and etchings. Graffiti is a language that many are trying to eradicate, thus graffiti abatement is likewise examined. Regardless of one’s aesthetic view of graffiti, the ability to better understand the language of graffiti allows us to better understand places and the people who live there.


Graffiti Street art Writing Landscape Place 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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