Dismantling the advertising city – Paper on subvertising / adbusting / brandalism

by thomasdekeyser

Having been going through a tough period due to never-ending Covid-19 symptoms, I am really pleased to have received some good news. My paper on the urban politics of subvertising has now been published in one of my favourite geography journals, Environment and Planning D. Check it out here. It’s been written on the back of over two years of ethnographic research with subvertisers in London, Paris, New York and Brussels.

Big big shout-out to all the subvertisers who have so generously brought me into their lifeworlds throughout that period. Your work helped spark my departure from my advertising strategy job at Saatchi & Saatchi 6 years ago, for which I will remain forever grateful.

Figure 1

A short intro to the paper: Commonly also referred to as adbusting or brandalism, subvertising is the illicit practice of intervening into urban advertising space – from graffiti scribbles and removed adverts, to full-blown billboard takeovers and digitally hacked adverts. The paper investigates the long histories, motivations and urban politics behind the practice. It argues that what is most interesting about contemporary forms of subvertising is its insistence on the importance of a city’s ‘communicative commons‘. Uniquely, subvertisers show that a radical common use of this commons can only emerge through the deactivation of rights, laws, identity and ends. In emphasising the role negation plays in urban politics, it troubles calls for radical cities that are founded on property rights, shared value-systems or other forms of constituted power. The latter, subvertisers remind us, can end up reproducing the exclusionary logic of consecration, and the important dangers that loom there.