'Discourse on the Go': Thematic Analysis of Vehicle Graffiti on the Roads of Egypt

Mohamed El-Nashar, Heba Nayef


This paper investigates graffiti drawn on vehicles in Egypt as an expression of their authors' social values, religious ideologies and political affiliations.  Little research has been done in Egypt on these meaning-loaded messages. This paper gives further evidence that graffiti are a very powerful mode of expression for groups that feel disenfranchised by the wider society.  The data comprise (614) written graffiti taken from both highway and in-city vehicles from different parts of Egypt. This paper employs Fairclough's (1995) post-structuralist model of discourse analysis which extends the concept of discourse from the traditional and natural 'language in use' to be a social practice per se. One of the aims of this study is to explore the various discourse domains of vehicle graffiti in Egypt through thematically analyzing their patterns of usage. For this aim, the authors have devised a four-pronged thematic classification of such graffiti. The paper also tackles some of the lexical features of graffiti and addresses the language and language variations used. Results show that religious expressions constitute more than half the data.  It is also shown that graffiti about the self or car are positive whereas statements about 'the other' are negative. The analysis reveals a strong positive inclination in the social and philosophical expressions with almost nonexistent political graffiti.

Keywords: Graffiti, post-structuralist model, Discourse Analysis, discourse domains, Egypt

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