Identifying with the graffiti subculture: the impact of entering and exiting the graffiti subculture on the social identities of graffiti writers

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Aneliese K. Dar (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Gwen Hunnicutt

Abstract: While graffiti permeates the urban landscapes of cities around the world, the individuals responsible for it are rarely identified. As a result, the identities of graffiti writers are left unexplored and subject to speculation and conjecture. The purpose of this research is to investigate the graffiti writer social identity as impacted by membership and participation in the graffiti subculture. The method applied in this study was semi-structured interviews. Fieldwork and photo documentation of local graffiti established familiarity with the graffiti subculture and helped to maintain rapport with participants. Drawing from Social Identity Theory and two of its constituents, self-categorization and depersonalization, the graffiti writer social identity is conceptualized as a subculturally-based identity representative of writers' shared traits, values and subcultural norms. Results indicate that writers experience two major shifts in their social identity through the processes of entering and exiting the graffiti subculture. Upon entering, writers develop an alter ego and make their personal identities anonymous. Upon exit, writers may or may not retire their alter ego, but new social identities based on careers and adult responsibilities begin to eclipse previous self-concepts of being a graffiti writer. Experiences and skills developed as graffiti writers are residual after retirement or semi-retirement from the graffiti subculture, but are still incorporated into writers' personal identities. Additionally, the graffiti writer social identity can be characterized, paradoxically, by both of fame and anonymity.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Facebook, Graffiti Subculture, Graffiti Writer, Self-categorization, Semi-structured interviewing, Social Identity
Graffiti artists $z North Carolina $v Interviews
Graffiti $z North Carolina
Identity (Psychology) in art

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