Zine writing, graffiti, and turntablism: The creative practices of three youth

Leif Charles Gustavson, University of Pennsylvania


New Literacy Studies research has brought attention to the range of literacy practices youth engage with outside of formal classroom instruction. Yet, while the value of these “alternative” literacy practices has been increasingly acknowledged, little is known about how youth become involved with, refine, and practice these forms of literacy. This dissertation contributes to our understanding by providing a close ethnographic analysis of how three fifteen-year-old males from different racial (Puerto Rican-American, African-American, and Caucasian) and class backgrounds practice three distinctive creative forms: zine writing (small, handmade, amateur publications); graffiti; and turntablism (manipulating pre-recorded music). It argues that four aspects of their creative practices—social relations, the process of work, time and space, and the content of the work—enable the youth to develop their craft and sustain their practices even under oppressive social and institutional pressure. Data for the yearlong study were gathered through participant observation; open-ended interviews with the youth, their friends and family members; email correspondences; the keeping of a reflexive research journal; as well as from the collection of artifacts in the form of pictures of graffiti, zines, examples of school assigned writing, and audio recordings of turntable music. The study depicts the way these young men engaged in zine writing, graffiti, and turntablism over time and in different contexts of production, from private spaces to public places. It also describes how class and race dynamically influence how youth participate in and give meaning to their practices. The study suggests that youth-initiated creative practices, as they often take precedence over schoolwork in young people's lives, offer rich sites for understanding how youth learn “on their own terms.” These young men appropriate time and space in school to practice their craft in ways that disrupt the distinction (often made in literacy research) between literacy practice inside and outside of school. Understanding how youth become engaged in creative practices, and the ways in which literacy is a part of those practices, challenges teachers and administrators to reconsider how they acknowledge and support the work of learning within the classroom specifically and schools generally.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Language arts|Cultural anthropology|Music|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Gustavson, Leif Charles, "Zine writing, graffiti, and turntablism: The creative practices of three youth" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043881.