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as both artandcrime – can be viewed positively, as something which signals the presenceof ambiguous public spaces where individuals and groups contest and negotiate theirco-presence, in a condition of ‘thrown-togetherness’ (Amin 2010; Massey 2005). Con-trary to representations of graffiti as threat, such discourses of ambivalence create roomfor consideration of the surprise and excitement embodied in graffiti, as an urban inter-vention, which contributes to distinctive communal experiences.So, we would argue that the question of whether graffiti is artorcrime is entirelymis-placed. It is both, with each being necessary rather than anathema to the other. Similarly,we now want to argue that a series of other dualisms within which graffiti is often framedare also ripe for deconstruction.Private and Public‘If mainstream society doesn’t like it, they can go and get fucked’. So said Sydney-basedgraffiti-writer SNARL, in an interview for a documentary on Australian hip hop back in1998 (Basic Equipment 1998). This statement tells us quite a bit about the complex rela-tionship graffiti has to the public⁄private distinction.Crudely, we can think about the public⁄private distinction in at least two different reg-isters (Iveson 2007; Weintraub 1997). Graffiti is writteninpublic, if we think about pub-licness as a form ofvisibility. Graffiti is certainly visible – all too visible, according tothose who want it eradicated. But is graffiti a form of public address, if we think aboutpublicness as a form ofcollectivity? Much contemporary graffiti is frequently described asbeing ‘illegible’ to the ‘general public’. SNARL’s statement is an aggressive version of thecommonly articulated notion that graffiti writers use public walls to write for other graffi-ti writers (Lewisohn 2008). It is in this sense often described as a ‘private’ language orcommunication, written for and understood by only the community of graffiti writers(e.g. MacDonald 2001). This notion that graffiti is a ‘private’ communication is fre-quently mobilised in support of efforts to eradicate graffiti. Opponents of graffiti assertthat it is a selfish, individualistic and ‘private’ appropriation of the public realm, and theyclaim to be acting on behalf of the beleaguered citizens who want to reclaim the publicrealm from graffiti writers on behalf of the ‘general public’ or ‘the community’ (e.g. Gla-zer 1979; Sennett 1994).Interestingly, some artists who work illegally on the street have embraced this samelogic. The emergent ‘street art’ movement increasingly seems to want to distinguish itselfConceptualising graffiti in the city133ª2011 The AuthorsGeography Compass5/3 (2011): 128–143, 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2011.00414.xGeography Compassª2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
from ‘graffiti writers’ on the basis that ‘street art’ seeks to engage a wider public audience,while ‘graffiti’ is written only for those ‘in the know’ (Lewisohn 2008). This distinctionis premised on the claim that different styles are accessible to different publics. While