Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Pecknold, Diane

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Allen, Annette

Committee Member

Allen, Annette

Committee Member

Chan, Ying Kit

Committee Member

Walton, Gary


Vandalism--Psychological aspects; Vandalism--Social aspects; Juvenile delinquents--Mental health


American adolescents experience liminality as their rights, obligations and cognitive development place them in a transitional life-period between childhood and adulthood. This liminal period inspires compensatory activities, such as identification with mainstream popular styles, radical adherence to an ideology or religion, or, for those especially struggling, destructive behavior. Graffiti is one such compensatory activity. Its practitioners' risky conduct, as well as their overall claims to exalted artistic activity, are especially appealing to certain males attempting to construct a retrogressive notion of masculinity and self-esteem in response to the further condition of male liminal identity. The practice of graffiti confronts the political and social contradictions of adolescence in many aspects, even in the very process of its performative construction, resulting in a variety of effects upon the liminal state of the youth involved. This effects includes how all aspects of graffiti involvement both build upon and yet undermine their male identity; assert the freedom and rights of rebellion-oriented members while tending to preserve their status as law-abiding citizens; and involve them in a 'career' which undulates between layers of liminality: its renewal, avoidance, aesthetic encounter/dis encounter and eventual semi-termination. Males of a specific character who tend toward the Schillerian savage find themselves rejecting societal codes due, in part, to the liminality invoked by the unusual invocation of their rights and limitations on their civic powers. Rejecting societal laws and codes, they identify with the savagery and retrogressive masculine virility of graffiti as a flight from liminality, even while still preserving it to some degree. In the process of their involvement and production, such as the disciplined labor of making complex masterpieces, they actually undermine the savage elements that appealed to them at the outset. Their mindset undergoes a transformation as they contemplate what they consider to be the beauty of exceptional graffiti, maturing them out of its illegality into full citizenship. The main obstacle that remains for them might be the enduring legal record for those who were at some point arrested by authorities.

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