Two years after my initial submission, I have decided to upload my PhD thesis, completed in Geography at the University of Southampton. You can download it here.
The thesis is the first in-depth study of subvertising – illegal interventions into outdoor advertising. Spending over two years with subvertisers in large cities in the West, the thesis examines the subjects, politics and practices of subvertising. Refusing to simply celebrate the potential of antagonistic practice, it brings into view the intricate relations between advertising and subvertising, shedding unforeseen light on the peculiar ways lifewords at odds with capitalism end up serving its market interests, and the role of the advertising industry therein. To do so, the study offers a conceptualisation of ‘recuperative capitalism’, and reflects on paths of escape from its overwhelming reach.
This thesis sketches an image of intricate advertising-subvertising relations. ‘Subvertising’ is a portmanteau for ‘subverting advertising’, referring to a wide-range of illicit artistic and activist interventions into the materialities of urban advertising spaces (including destruction, reversal, replacement, removal, supplementation, and cutting). Through a 28-month-long ethnographic engagement with prominent subvertising practitioners (in London, Newcastle, Brussels, Paris, and New York) and in-depth interviews with advertising practitioners, this thesis details a contested geography of advertising which complicates conceptions of advertising power. Contemporary approaches to advertising power, in geography and the social sciences more broadly, tend to describe a double production: advertising power as the production of space-time, and as the (representational-affective) production of consumer subjects. Tracing ethnographic stories of subvertising-advertising relations, in this thesis we witness a more expanded account of advertising power, one that takes contestation to advertising (and more broadly to capitalist spaces, times, affects, subjectivities, imaginations) as a central field of intervention. This, the thesis argues, deepens advertising’s capacities to embed itself into and intervene into everyday social realities, where it exerts powers to exhaust the conditions necessary for alternative imaginaries to reshape the world.
Examining these powers to exhaust, the thesis details how advertisers enrol social, legal, performative and material methods into a ‘regime of order’ which depletes the affective charge of a disorderly city. Further, the thesis illustrates the significance of advertisers’ affirmative work in what will be referred to as ‘recuperation’: the generation of monetary value out of lifeworlds at odds with capital through the engineering of amicable atmospheres. Following this line of thought, the final part of the thesis poses the question: what mode of contestation, if any, outlives the exhaustive, recuperative logic of late capitalism? To this end, the thesis considers the figure of the contemporary Vandal, and its promise of an ethics after advertising.