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The Art of Defiance

Graffiti, Politics and the Reimagined City in Philadelphia

The Art of Defiance is an ethnographic portrait of how graffiti writers see their city and, in turn, how their city sees them. It explores how becoming a graffiti writer helps disenfranchised urban citizens negotiate their cultural identities, build their social capital, and gain a voice within an urban environment that would prefer they remain quiet, passive, and anonymous.
In order to both demystify and complicate our understanding of the practice of graffiti writing, this book pushes past the narrative that links the origins of graffiti to criminal gangs and instead offers a detailed portrait of graffiti as a rich urban culture with its own rules and practices. To do so, it examines the cultural history of graffiti in Philadelphia from the early 1970s onward and explores what it is like to be a graffiti writer in the city today. Ultimately, Tyson Mitman aims to humanize graffiti writers and to show that what they do is not merely destructive or puerile, but, rather, adds something important to the urban experience that is a conscious and deliberate act on the part of its practitioners.

168 pages | 19 color plates, 13 halftones | 7 x 9 | © 2018

Art: Art--General Studies

Culture Studies

History: American History

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology

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"[Mitman] demystifies our preconceptions of graffiti writers by looking beyond the assumption of them having criminal origins. Instead, he offers a detailed portrait of graffiti as an urban culture with its own intricate rules. . . .The Art of Defiance [is] a fascinating portrait of how graffiti writers see their city and, in turn, how their city sees them. It explores how becoming a graffiti writer can help disaffected urban citizens negotiate their cultural identities to build their social capital and battle urban anomie. It also explains how graffiti writing, as a cultural practice, resists incorporation and commercialisation, whilst giving the writers a voice within a society that would often prefer them to be silent, passive and anonymous."

York St John News

"Should graffiti be treated as art, as crime, as a political statement, or as an act of community? Tyson Mitman explores this question in his fascinating ethnography. . . . The Art of Defiance provides readers with a history of graffiti focused on American urban spaces, interviews with leaders in the graffiti community, and an ethnography of the contemporary graffiti world in Philadelphia. . . . For readers with questions or confusion about graffiti, or with limited exposure to it, The Art of Defiance brings graffiti art and artists to life through a vibrant ethnographic account."

Dustin Kidd | Contemporary Sociology

"Written with love for both the art of graffiti writing and for the streets of Philly, Tyson Mitman has written an inspiring urban ethnography that combines erudition with the grit of being a Philly writer himself. He captures the magic, beauty, politics and energy of graffiti. In fact, this book gives you hope that popular culture can triumph over anything . . . even over 40,000 abandoned buildings and ignorant, brutal cops. This book makes me miss Philly because it’s got WICKET STYLE!”

Philippe Bourgois, University of California, Los Angeles

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