PhD Thesis: The Fabrication of Authenticity


The Fabrication of Authenticity: graffiti beyond subculture,
my PhD thesis in Design / Visual Culture, was completed in 2003 at the Royal College of Art.
Supervisors were Dr. Alex Seago and Jon Wozencroft.
Examiners were Dr. Jeff Ferrell and David Crow.

The thesis is currently accessible via British Library and the RCA Library, as well as in person at UPTEC PINC.
I am currently negotiating an online dissemination model.

saw The research team, reunited September 2014.


graffiti beyond subculture

The present research is primarily concerned with the use of graffiti as a marketing device. The aim is to revise the prevailing perception of graffiti as subculture, which is currently based largely on a mythology of transgression and youthful rebelliousness. It is hereby argued that graffiti is now a prime example of late capitalist cultural dynamics, whereby media revise and (re)construct subcultural universes by nurturing their surfaces while obliterating their original contexts and contents. As communication becomes effectively global and geography becomes progressively irrelevant, graffiti appears to provide advertisers with an opportunity to romanticise the local, the ‘here and now’.

It is argued in the present thesis that graffiti as a prime signifier of transgression or subcultural activity, namely in its ‘hip-hop’ incarnation, has now been replaced by a ‘hyperreal’ version of itself, in order to provide the cultural and social milieu with a symbolic ‘edge’. This point is concurrent with a broader view that seems to spell doom for any possibility of resistance to corporate homogenisation, in which media empires go beyond mere assimilation and become increasingly capable of establishing what, on the surface, may seem like the rules and vocabularies of their own resistance.

However, that same inevitability of media assimilation and fabrication is also questioned in the present study. It is argued that, through a reversal of the concepts of ‘social’ / ‘anti-social’, one might begin to look towards new foci of resistance which differ from current, confrontational models, which have their root in post-enlightenment radical ideologies.

Additionally, it is suggested that the meanings of the term ‘graffiti’ might benefit from a revision in light of current practices. Just as hip-hop culture shaped its own definition of graffiti in accordance to its own particular context, it is here suggested that a definition of ‘graffiti’ in contemporary urban environments should become less dependent on the materials and surfaces involved, focusing instead on the cultural impacts and communication processes established.

The aforementioned points are developed through the collection, taxonomy and analysis of visual data and interviews, whereby corporate involvement in the production of graffiti becomes evident and undeniable. The literature review includes an overview of prior writings on graffiti, underlining the absence of, and the need for, studies of its cultural placement and impact. Prior studies, which have largely been of a motivational, sociological, anthropological and archaeological nature, have tended to ignore the broader cultural implications of this phenomenon.

The dissertation is accompanied by the submission of photographic work with two distinct elements:
1. Documentary work that illustrates, exemplifies and constitutes proof of the existence of ‘corporate graffiti’.
2. Artwork, generated in parallel with the documentary work, that aims to expressively expand the discourse into broader cultural issues, namely by resorting to symbolic, rather than literal, representations of the phenomena of transgression, identity, ownership and time-space compression.

graffiti, hyperreality, advertising, transgression, subcultures, lifestyle, semiotics, cultural studies, globalisation, simulation, authenticity.