Sociology of Street Art

Professor Alison Young is a socio-legal researcher who developed the City of Melbourne’s Draft Strategy on Graffiti in 2004. In an article published in 2010 for the journal “City,” she explains that she’d proposed “zones of tolerance” that were meant to decriminalise street art in particular areas, with self-monitoring by artists, who would enter into partnerships with the Council and local police to maintain the zones. The plan was designed to be “be inclusive, balanced, informed and equitable.” This meant protecting private property of residents, but also allowing artists more freedom in designated public spaces.

Young shows how the proposed plan was rejected despite her research showing that the residents of Melbourne had widespread support for street artist zones (75% of public submissions partially or fully supported the proposed plan). Instead, the City chose to maintain the plan by the State of Victoria, which focuses on “eradication, education and enforcement.” The preferred plan was to teach youth that graffiti is wrong and illegal, rather than engaging their interests and promoting collaboration and support for young artists.

The City wanted a plan that clearly stated that street art was “unwanted and unwelcome,” despite public consultations showing public consensus that street art adds “cultural value to the city.”

This is a good example of the sociology of deviance: even a well-researched plan to empower young artists is discarded in favour of maintaining the illegal status for youth activities.


Research: Photos: Zuleyka Zevallos. I photographed these in Hosier Lane, Melbourne. Photo 2 & 3: art by Jack Douglas.

2 thoughts on “Sociology of Street Art

  1. It’s so frustrating to see lawmaking that’s clearly out of step with public consensus, especially in this context. Who’s hurt by graffiti in permitted areas? What possible reasons do “lawmakers” have for this kind of high-handed cultural restriction? 


  2. Thanks for your comment Lauren Manoy​. It is very frustrating. In this case The City wanted to send a message that street art was unwelcome. It’s a pity. Artists can still paint but under heavy restrictions and they need a licence. The proposal by Young would have been simple and effective.


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