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The Rhetoric of Graffiti

Peter Vandenberg
Depaul University
Before 2005

An introduction to the study of graffiti (typically, the unauthorized production of text open to public view) as rhetorical (social, symbolic) action, this course will begin with a broad, poststructural interpretation of rhetoric as both the production and interpretation of signification. Thus, one acts rhetorically by producing symbols for others and by producing interpretations of the symbols of others; meaning emerges in the transaction. Dominant interpretations of graffiti typically surface within a matrix of political and economic values that link authorship, authority, and private property. Although on examination graffiti obviously create symbolic exchange, their appearance in unauthorized space marks them within this value matrix as simply “crime” or “vandalism”— a social problem to be managed rather than as communication and cultural production reflective of lived social and cultural circumstances. By suspending (not necessarily altering or decrying) dominant values that reduce all graffiti to a singular, pejorative interpretation, English 309 will consider graffiti as purposeful text that mediates meaning between writer and audience through categories of invention, arrangement, and style.

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