Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Sociology (Applied), PhD

Committee Chair

Gagné, Patricia

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Carini, Robert

Committee Member

Carini, Robert

Committee Member

Schroeder, Ryan

Committee Member

Gainous, Jason

Committee Member

Ferrell, Jeff

Author's Keywords

deviant leisure; graffiti subculture; graffiti career trajectory; recereational specialization; institutional ethnography; alternative research methods


This ethnographic analysis of the modern hip hop graffiti writing subculture connects the separate but complementary theoretical constructs of serious leisure (Stebbins 1982), dark leisure (Smith and Raymen 2016), recreational specialization theory (Bryan 1977), and edgework (Lyng 1990) and situates the writer “standpoint” (Smith 1987) in terms of interrelations of policy and written discourse. Past research found that writers were motivated by fame and status, to express artistic skills, and to control and destroy space (Brewer and Miller 1990). Others found that writers sought to express contestant notions of style and resist economic and political authority (Ferrell 1996; 2006), and some emphasize affective aspects of accomplishment and desire in graffiti (Halsey and Young 2006). Policy research indicates wide misunderstandings of graffiti and its inclusion under a ‘gang’ label (Ferrell 1996), and cities increasingly favor “wars on graffiti” (Iveson 2010) where ineffective anti-graffiti campaigns justified in “broken windows” ideals often result in increasing illegal graffiti (Haworth, Bruce, and Iveson 2013). Interviews of policy officials of a mid-sized Midwestern city revealed varying views, preferences, and understandings of graffiti, and city ordinance criminalized all unsanctioned graffiti. Interview data from a snowball sample of writers indicated dynamic motives, views, and practices and three writer classes. A key finding is as writers specialized on a career trajectory, a shift in focus occurred from writing for thrill to writing for flow. Motives were consistent with past research, and the subculture regulated its membership via social control and mentoring. Further, socialization was a central part of progression, and writing occurred as “everyday forms of resistance” (Scott 1984), edgework, serious leisure, and recreation specialization. To acknowledge these nuances through policy may benefit the public, engage writer voices, and reduce fear by increasing awareness and public exposure to graffiti, potentially disassociating it from ‘master vandal’ or gang status.