03 June 2009

Symbolic interaction



Indeed, the grand and elaborate Spanish and Portuguese churches built throughout the Americas during the conquest and subsequent colonization of native peoples stood as a testament to the "glory of the one true God"...but more importantly, they stood as symbols of the might of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns.

We can explain the use of architecture as technological innovation used as a method of struggle over the systems of meaning which structure reality. In other words, colonizers learned some very insightful lessons about how symbols operate within culture (or, as culture) in shaping the perceptions of its individual constituents; their motivations, values and beliefs, which they come to possess as seemingly ‘natural’ habits.

Symbols are at work all around us, a particular style of clothes can signify class and distinction, as does a waltz in serving as an indicator of a certain disposition. For power to attain the appearance of an objective system of relations (that is, uncontested and universal), it must infuse with and seep below the level of conscious action. It must become a part of the everyday habits or worldview of a people. So churches are built over sacred pagan grounds, Christian saints and holidays replace pagan gods and festivals in a form of cultural struggle. Whatever initial shock overt and direct power may perform, the lasting effect of symbolic and cultural objects eventually mollify as ‘accepted reality’. And these symbolic battlegrounds are not arbitrary. On the contrary, they perform the lasting effects of controlling ‘hearts and minds’ more so than armed struggle ever could (the lion provokes resistance, where the fox eludes it; See The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli).

Graffiti is a refusal. It stands as a testament to the discontent and the dispossessed. It is the slave of Egypt writing his name on the sacred stone bricks of the pyramid he was forced to build. Norman Mailer calls graffiti the "hanging of your presence on their presence…hanging your alias on their scene". But with the use of style with which they carry out their markings lies a further form of defiance. Often, they suggest an alternative, as with the re-appropriation of symbols and images. But always more then than simply attesting to the persistence of one's existence, they represent a flourishing. In this way, graffiti serves as an aberration to the normalized flow of the symbolic order of capitalism.


Hiphop pioneer Rammellzee outlines the notion of symbolic interaction through the relationship of graffiti to mainstream society.

Image courtesy of Eyelost

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