Why do protesters destroy property

Vandalism in everyday life

"For me, vandalism is all damage to the vehicle that is caused by strangers. For example, bent handrails, broken seats, scratched windows, smeared outside areas. For me, all of these are damage caused by vandalism."

Thomas Pahl, engineer and head of the vehicle technology department at Hamburger Hochbahn.

"Vandalism is neither a technical term nor a legal term. Rather, it is a slang term. Vandalism is actually understood to mean the willful and deliberate and actually blind destruction or damage of someone else's property."

Fritz Sack, criminologist and sociologist at the University of Hamburg.

"There is a certain perspective associated with vandalism. If a gallery finds the banana on its door, it will not see it as vandalism, but will feel excellent. If an unknown graffiti writer puts his logo next to it, it will perceive it as ugly and may be labeled as vandalism and have it removed. "

Axel Philipps, sociologist at the University of Hanover, alluding to the famous artist and banana sprayer Thomas Baumgärtel.

"The term vandalism is not clearly defined. Very often, and I think that too briefly, it is equated with graffiti, because it is very often eye-catching due to the color and surface structure. What certainly has to do with it has that we hardly notice other types of destruction or damage in everyday life. "

Maren Lorenz, historian and book author.

Vandalism is commonplace. But hard to believe. Just like the perpetrators.

Lorenz: "Complaining is omnipresent, but factual knowledge is hardly known about it. And I noticed relatively quickly that most people talk about something. This creates a discourse in some form. But actually has no factual background. So this is an anonymous crime, about that you don't know. But all people can say something about it. "

The sociologist Axel Philipps from the University of Hanover heads the Leipzig Social Research Group. The scientists are dealing with a special form of vandalism - or should we say art? They investigate stencil graffiti. These are the mostly small murals that every city dweller is familiar with: aesthetic images like rocking horses and daisies, political messages like revolvers, red stars and the slogan "freedom for animals". Or the abbreviated artist name of the sprayer.

Philipps: "This is a competition that takes place between young people. Especially in the graffiti community, which is often male-dominated, there it is a competition and a championship. And there is the importance of graffiti to stand out from the others the graffiti community. "

What some consider vandalism, Axel Philipps sees primarily as an attempt to position himself artistically. Because where could young sprayers make their art public if not on the walls, the power boxes, the traffic signs in the district. In fact, in some cities and towns there are now walls and house walls on which the production of graffiti is expressly allowed. Since 2005, illegal spraying is no longer just a regulatory offense, but a criminal offense. This made it more dangerous and therefore more difficult to place your own motive, the sociologist knows:

"The competition in this group is increasing and the aggressiveness among these competing youth groups to present themselves in public space increases. And that there the arguments are simply getting tougher in this scene."

The sprayer fights for the places where as many people as possible pass and drive. Because graffiti is a way of drawing attention to yourself. To be noticed. Stepping out of anonymity. And to demonstrate: the public space does not have to stay as it is.

Philipps: "As the urban community imagined how a certain place should look like, graffiti change or disturb this image and one could also turn to this graffiti in such a way that one says that this disturbance also reminds us that this space is made and that there is an opportunity to design this space completely differently. "

Like all cities and municipalities, Hamburger Hochbahn has been fighting against vandalism for years. Not by researching the motifs, but by testing indestructible hard shell seats and easy-to-clean colors. After all, it costs around one million euros every year to remove graffiti, scratched windows and slashed upholstery. The philosophy of Hochbahn is: Damaged cars must be taken out of service immediately to stop copycats, says Thomas Pahl. Most of the damage is caused by graffiti, the engineer complains. He can only shake his head at the thesis that graffiti is art:

"For us it is clearly not art, because we have massive damage here that we have to repair. And art must also take place in a room where it is possible. And let me say, art that you don't want, and we don't want this art, for us it is vandalism. "

Why is graffiti on the subway car criminal? The large advertising poster with the fat super hamburger of a fast food chain, on the other hand, is legal and accepted by everyone?

Bag: "Who has the power of definition over such things? The people who take offense. There is also something like legal vandalism. I thought of the scrapping bonus. Scrapping bonus is also a willful destruction of cars to stimulate the economy. Hence If you take a closer look you can see that the same actions are sometimes legal and sometimes illegal. Sometimes they are wanted and sometimes they are not wanted. "

The destruction of things is to a certain extent immanent in our society, says the criminologist and sociologist Fritz Sack. In an affluent society, things would hardly be valued anymore. And the rules of the game would also demand it like this:

"From the corporate world or from business administration we know that we are talking about productive destruction, and by that we mean that as an entrepreneur you always have to be very careful about replacing the old with the new. And replacing the old with the new means yes also to destroy and destroy the old. "

What is the value of a computer today after two years? A camera after five? A piece of furniture after ten? Asks Fritz Sack. It would not be enough to just use the so-called "brocken windows" theory as a reason for destruction. It says that people automatically feel called upon to break rules if there is already vandalism damage in a square, in a street, in a district:

"And so this is more of a guess that is convenient and used as a justification to discipline adolescents and introduce stronger forms of social control. So I hold this 'brocken windows' theory as one that is not appropriate to reality and reality not corresponding assumption. "

Of course it is the case that people act out their individual anger when they destroy. They wanted to express their opinion - albeit anonymously. Publicly demonstrate that they are frustrated with their life in society:

"It is also a question of visibility. And those who have no lobby or those who have no voice. Or those who have little power to complain and have little opportunity to articulate their needs."

And politics, it seems, would have less and less influence on developments that affect the lives of citizens. Example city politics:

"We know that parts of the city are upgraded and devalued. About rent policy, housing policy, urban policy and so on. But the actors who control this process are no longer the politicians. What is meant by urban policy today , is co-determined by a number of actors who are in any case not politicians in an emphatic sense. "

In our society there is little room for maneuver for people without financial resources, observes Fritz Sack. Perhaps vandalism is an answer to that. The criminologist and sociologist considers the increasingly prevailing maxim that the state should only take care of the bare essentials and leave as much as possible to private engagement:

"I happened to read it now from Bavaria that on Lake Starnberg or on these Upper Bavarian lakes, there are actually no more public promenades, but the properties all go to the lake and we are increasingly reaching a state where this famous 'gated' comunities', that is, the closed zones and closed areas are increasingly causing such a society to fall apart. On the other hand, one can say that, in my opinion, one has to stop degrading statehood, the public and the common good as much as under neoliberal conditions and neoliberal understanding of politics has been the case in the last few decades. "

If statehood, the public and the common good are not the highest maxims of action for governments - why should individuals base their behavior accordingly?

The historian Maren Lorenz knows, however, that senseless destruction is not just a fact of our day. She has long dealt with the everyday phenomenon of vandalism:

"There is actually no research on that. And I was interested in that because, in the classical sociological, psychological, political-scientific, and historical sense, only things are examined that are perceived as being socially relevant or threatening social conditions in any way."

And so the vandalism does not seem to be perceived as socially relevant. And never was. Because vandalistic acts have existed since ancient times, the private lecturer at the University of Hamburg found out. Such action was previously referred to as wantonness. The motives for this were only asked when revolutionaries or iconoclasts destroyed. If there were clearly political causes. The everyday seemingly senseless willfulness found no analysts. A laudable exception, a group of German lawyers, administrators and mayors during the Enlightenment in the 18th century.

Lorenz: "They then said, for example, that we suspect that we see this in our everyday life, that it is related to social grievances. With injustices in society. That, for example, we have serfdom and the farmers are dissatisfied with the decadent dissolute life of the rich, which they have to see. That is why locks are damaged or princely avenues are sawed off or stately estates are set on fire. "

However, the reconnaissance analysis had no effect and was simply ignored.

Lorenz: "So it stayed with the traditional politics, we threaten punishment and we call for denunciation and write out rewards for reporting offenders. We have that today too. Because the rulers were uncomfortable with these social grievances to deal with. "

Then as now, despite all efforts, only a tiny fraction of the culprits were arrested. However, in the past, only male adults were suspected of being suspected of being young people. Badly paid soldiers or landless peasants. When the professional group of teachers emerged at the turn of the 19th century, it was obvious to teach children the values ​​that they should heed as adults of tomorrow.

Lorenz: "Then there is something like the invention of school gardens. It starts with the fact that we are dealing with damage to plants, the destruction of plants and bushes in parks, that one says when children have school gardens when they garden themselves, then they get how much effort and work there is and how beautiful it is. And then they will also respect plants. "

There are also a few such approaches today. The basic idea behind it is: What I have created myself, I do not destroy. But, says Maren Lorenz, such projects stay on the surface. It seems like nobody really wants to know why some people destroy someone else's property and others don't.

Lorenz: "It is also known in psychology that, of course, people who experience violence, sexual or physical, then in some way also direct self-destructive or outward aggression. But even that ultimately points to social grievances. Namely, that in families relatively a lot goes wrong. And that is a very big taboo subject in our society, because the family in particular is, so to speak, the last microcosm in which a society does not have to interfere. "

The situation is also a cause of vandalism for the families. Neglect, also neglect of prosperity, is a problem that hardly anyone cares about.

Lorenz: "And to deal with it is extremely complicated. And it would also require a lot of money in hand and to do very long-term social development work. And that is something that politicians then as now consider very difficult and also for themselves personally not particularly worthwhile. "

In order for cause research to be carried out at all, an act must at least appear to be political, says Maren Lorenz. For example, when luxury cars are set on fire. In her opinion, vandalism is always politically motivated. Even if the perpetrators are not aware of it. Even the motive "boredom" is a political motive.

Lorenz: "We have all been bored in our lives. But I assume that the majority of people who have been bored will say of themselves, but I've never slashed or slashed seats in the S-Bahn The question is, if I'm bored, why do I get the idea to commit vandalistic acts. And my explanation is then a political one, namely that people do not identify with what is or is in public space with what is private property of other people. And that means for me all people who commit these acts, feel in a certain way not belonging to society and thereby express that. Even if they do it unconsciously. And that is a very political issue for me. "