Virtual Graffiti: Dyscribing Humans

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Hopkins, Todd




Numerous studies have tracked the emergence of often radically new, digital incarnations of real-world practices, establishing valuable heuristic bridges from traditional to virtual culture, and laying the groundwork for disciplinary study of such practices.

This study joins these efforts, by tracking the emergence of a new, ‘digital-borne’ analogue to traditional graffiti praxis, which it terms ‘virtual dyscription’ (encompassing the traditional praxis in a radically new form). The study develops a robust working characterization of the traditional practice, employing this
characterization to identify and delineate the corresponding digital analogue, and then characterizing the new phenomenon in a manner thorough and nuanced enough to enable rigorous disciplinary investigation.

However, the case of such digital-borne graffiti is unusually complex, owing to the fledgling nature of rigorous graffiti study, the equal importance of both praxis and product in the concept, and the absence of any accepted inter-disciplinary understanding of the very notion of graffiti.

Chapter 1 surveys scholarly sources on traditional graffiti to identify key conceptual
features of graffiti praxis in general, while assessing the value of graffiti study in diverse disciplinary contexts. Chapter 2 develops and nuances a synthetic characterization of such praxis (including problematic features), sufficiently robust and flexible to investigate homologic affinities in the radically new digital environment. Chapter 3 investigates the relevant context of this new environment, considers a number of graffiti-like candidates, and distinguishes website defacement as the most appropriate homologue to traditional graffiti in the virtual world. Chapter 4 then explores the
nature and problematic features of such virtual dyscription, generating a working taxonomy of dyscriptive praxis in general; and Chapter 5 illustrates this characterization through a preliminary encounter with the extant corpus of archival material, arguing that such dyscription stands in an interestingly parallel relation to traditional graffiti in the middle of the last century, before the explosion of interest in the so-called New York style. Chapter 6 supplements Chapter 5’s exploration of the artifacts of virtual dyscription with a series of anecdotal interviews with the dyscriptors
themselves, framed in terms of what it calls the ‘dyscriptive cycle’, which generates the bulk of such dyscription.


Cultural Anthropology
Mass Communications
Art History




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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