Thursday, July 11, 2019

URSP Student Levi Mitze Challenges Relationships Between Urban Decay and Graffiti

I first became interested in graffiti while conducting a research project on urban decay. For this project I used graffiti to denote urban decay due to it often taking the form of vandalism. However, upon further analysis, I started to question many of the assumptions I originally had on the social function of graffiti. Was graffiti a sign of criminal activity, or was this a reductionist view on a far more complicated topic?
            By the time I neared the end of my undergraduate, I had become familiar with the work of theorists such as Gramsci, Fanon, Althusser, and Foucault. Their work on hegemony, culture, and power profoundly influenced me both as a research and as a politically active student. I became equipped with the theoretical knowledge needed to not just answer the questions I previously had, but to begin asking new and more difficult question: not just if graffiti had a more nuance social function, but how said function may relate to other aspects of society and why graffiti was not being represented as such in much of the discourse surrounding it. I began to examine graffiti not just as a social or cultural phenomenon, but as a political one as well.
            It is hard to say what I did on a weekly basis during my research due to the fact that this would often change. One week I may be meeting with my mentor and going over relevant literature. Other weeks I would be contacting participants and conducting interviews. The next, I may be transcribing and coding interviews for analysis. Once the majority of the research itself was completed, I was trying to balance writing the paper itself with preparing the presentation of my research. While at times hectic, I must say that the unpredictability of research is one of the more interesting parts and has prepared for future occupations where I may need to exhibit a willingness to tackle tasks with a certain level of flexibility and adaptability. Truly, I have found that research rarely ever goes as originally planned.
            My work on graffiti did not happen in isolation. Through my work as a scholar and an activist, I have ceased to focus on just understanding the world around me, but now also question how I may and, in fact, will inevitably change it. Just as graffiti is a nuanced social artifact laced with symbolism, power structures, and reflections on the reification/challenge of ideology, my work too is a social artifact that will have its own effects. Thus, I have come to view my role as a research less as if I will have a political impact and more on what said impact will be and what ends I would want to direct it towards. One example, which I think can be seen as representative of my work on graffiti, is to work towards strengthening public enfranchisement and democratic tendencies in society. To understand the importance of critically examining political discourse and understanding what this may say about the power structures in place that facilitate or prevent it.