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Playing in the yard: The representation of control in train-graffiti videos

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Abstract

During the last 10 years, the mobile phone and the emergence of websites, such as Youtube, which facilitate user-generated content, have enabled an explosion of pictures and video clips posted on the internet by civilians documenting the activities of authority figures. This “sousveillance” is a kind of inverse surveillance, reciprocal to surveillance, where members of the grassroots monitor those in power. Initially, sousveillance was primarily seen as an inverse form of surveillance in which citizens monitor their surveillors in order to challenge the surveillance state. The individuals filmed were originally thought to be aware of being sousveilled by others, and it was assumed that every watcher would voluntarily give free access to all information recorded. This article, drawing from an analysis of selfdocumented graffiti videos, aims to further the understanding of sousveillance through showing how graffiti writers—the supposed target of surveillance—use documentation of surveillance in order to present themselves as superior in terms of control and knowledge. Through analyzing the narrative structure and composition of these videos, I will demonstrate that sousveillance, for the graffiti writer, becomes less a matter of resistance and more a means for the symbolic representation of subcultural emotions, activities, and identities. The documentation and dissemination of the movements and activities of anti-graffiti officers, as well as the graffiti writers’ successful attempts to outsmart them, are analyzed as a part of a subcultural play, centered on the establishment of an equilibrium or a dance where key roles and rules are assigned.

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