Skip to main content

Caitlin Bruce

  • Associate Professor


  • PhD, Northwestern University


Caitlin Frances Bruce (she/her) is a scholar who researches and collaborates with artists to explore how public art can amplify diverse voices and activate public spaces as places for people to generatively engage each other across social differences. Her research explores art, politics, publics, public emotions, and public space in transnational contexts.


Before joining the faculty at Pitt, Dr. Bruce received her PhD at Northwestern University in Communication Studies and was a fellow with the Paris Program in Critical Theory. 


Through a series of projects, she investigates the following research questions: 


-How do public art scenes enable spaces for encounter across social differences? By this, she means, how do public art projects enable communication across different groups (difference defined by race, class, sex, gender, gender-identity, and other social differences) such that urban spaces can be seen as spaces of social and political possibility (rather than mere transaction or transit, for instance). 

-What happens when public art is situated within various institutional contexts, such as tourism, youth reform efforts, or university accreditation? 

-How does institutionalization change the dynamics between practitioners, audiences, state and commercial actors?

-How do institutions with ostensibly feminist politics create or rebuild support networks (social infrastructure) in the wake of various crises? 

-How do the long trajectories of discourses that seek to discourage social engagement in public space (like rhetoric about broken windows and zero tolerance) inform policy around art and constrain generative encounters? 


She is the author of two books and several articles. Her books are titled Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter with Temple University Press ( 2019), and Voices in Aerosol: Youth Culture, Institutional Attunement, and Graffiti in Urban Mexico with University of Texas Press’ Visualidades series (2024).

Painting Publics investigates how permission graffiti spaces, event spaces as well as everyday spaces for gathering, generate models for democratic politics outside formal political arenas: places and moments for intergenerational and inter-group engagement and collaboration that bring into being temporary publics. By highlighting contested histories and futures for urban sites, and how art practitioners navigate the challenges of private property regimes, the book points to a model of the political invested in contingency, plurality, and interrelationality. The book won the Jane Jacobs Outstanding Book Award from the Urban Communication Foundation. 

Voices in Aerosol analyzes the way that a youth-driven graffiti movement in Central Mexico has been channeled into state supported programs, and argues that the friction, possibility, and frustrations experienced by practitioners is part of a larger process of “institutional attunement.” Research for this book supported by a Fulbright-García Robles/COMEXUS postdoctoral Fellowship, Waterhouse Family Initiative/Villanova Fellowship, as Urban Communication Foundation Applied Research Grant.


Her ongoing research includes a forthcoming book with co-author Ricardo Klein on Creative Cities, and Graffiti/Street Art Tourism in a Global Frame: The City as Discovery, under contract with Palgrave Macmillan/Springer, as well as a new project about feminist social infrastructure building in the Americas. Both projects have received funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation Lost Cities Initiative.


She is co-founder and lead organizer for Hemispheric Conversations Urban Art Project (HCUAP, HCUAP connects research and practice by bringing researchers, neighbors, and artists together via experiential and dialogue-based collaborative learning; professional development opportunities; research to support policy change and cultural management around urban art. The outcomes of her work with HCUAP includes public pedagogy, multi-generational education, artist mentorship and professional development, and building cross-border solidarity.


Her work has been recognized by the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement's Award for Partnerships of Distinction, the Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division Early Career Award with the National Communication Association, as well as article awards from the Feminist and Women’s Studies Division and Visual Communication Division of the National Communication Association. 


She has taught graduate and undergraduate classes about the Rhetoric of Space and Place; Affect and Rhetoric; Visual Rhetoric; Visual Culture of the Americas; and undergraduate Public Speaking courses.


Bruce welcomes inquiries from prospective PhD students interested in working on matters of space and place, affect and emotion, circulation, visual culture, transnationalism, feminism and gender studies, and infrastructuralism.


More information about her work is available on her website:



Dr. Caitlin Bruce discusses her research and teaching


  • Painting Publics: Transnational Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter, Temple University Press. March 2019. eISBN: 978-1-4399-1446-5
  • “River of Words as Space for Encounter: Contested Meaning in Rhetorical Convergence Zones,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, Published online September 23, 2019.
  • “Crossing Borders, Building Solidarity: Affective Labor in Shaping Coalitional Murals” (co-authored with Elise Homan), Women’s Studies in Communication, (2018)
  •  “Public art, affect, and radical negativity: the wall of daydreaming and man’s inhumanity to man,” Subjectivity, (2017): 1-19, doi:10.1057/s41286-017-0023-0.
  • "Challenging National Borders and Local Genre Forms: Declaration of Immigration as Volatile Cultural Text", Public Art Dialogue, 2016. 
  • "Tour 13: From Precarity to Ephemerality," Geohumanities, 2016.
  • "How Philly Moves”: from urban branding to kinesthetic sympathy through an aesthetic of blur", Text and Performance Quarterly, 2016.
  • “Texturing Space, Emplacing Gender: Claudia Mendez’s “Constructing History, Constructing Identities”, In Conversation and Commentary Forum. Women’s Studies in Communication 39, No. 2 (2016): 147-152, DOI: 10.1080/07491409.2016.1176793 .
  • “Challenging National Borders and Local Genre Forms: Declaration of Immigration as Volatile Cultural Text”. Public Art Dialogue: Special Issue on Borders and Boundaries, Accepted/Forthcoming.
  • "Episode III: Enjoy Poverty: An Aesthetic Virus of Political Discomfort." Communication, Culture & Critique (2015). DOI: 10.1111/cccr.12109
  • "The Balaclava as Affect Generator: Free Pussy Riot Protests and Transnational Iconicity." Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 12, no. 1 (2015): 42-62.
  • “The Controversy at Rockefeller Center: Phantom Publics, Aesthetic Barbarians” In a special issue of Advances in the History of Rhetoric: Rhetoric and Its Masses." Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2014.
  • “Modalities of Publicity: Leon's City of Murals Project” in Inopinatum. The unexpected impertinence of Urban Creativity, edited by Luca Borriello, Christian Ruggiero, Salerno, Italy: ArtiGraficheBoccia, 2013.
  • “Public Surfaces Beyond the Great Wall: Communication and Graffiti Culture in China”- Invisible Culture, University of Rochester Electronic Journal- Issue 15, Fall, 2010.


  • December 2, 2016 - 3:00pm: "AGORA: “Painting Publics: Transnational Graffiti Scenes as Spaces of Encounter”"
  • October 25, 2019 - 3:00pm: Agora Speaker Series: Transnational, Hemispheric, and Cold War Arts: A Collective Book Launch
  • February 6, 2020 - 4:30pm: Ciuadad de Murales
  • April 6, 2017 - 11:00am: Colloquium on Masculinity and Affect- Departmental special guest include, Brent Malin, Paul Johnson, and Caitlin Bruce

Courses Taught

  • Public Speaking (COMMRC 0520)
  • Seminar in Rhetoric & Culture: The Rhetoric of Space and Place (COMMRC 1103)
  • Visual Rhetoric (COMMRC 1160)
  • Seminar in Rhetoric & Culture: Affect & Rhetoric (COMMRC 3306)
  • Visual Communication