Boys Doing Art: The Construction of Outlaw Masculinity in a Portland, Oregon, Graffiti Crew

Martin A. Monto, University of Portland
Janna Machalek
Terri L. Anderson

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 2013, Volume 42, Issue 3, 259-290.

© The Authors

Linked version is the final published version.

Abstract

Though academic discourse on graffiti often laments the fact that it is treated as a crime, such arguments neglect how the outlaw status of graffiti has been integrally related to its allure and how it is understood and experienced by “writers” (the preferred term of graffiti artists). Participant observation and formal and informal interviews of members of a midstatus Portland, Oregon graffiti crew reveal how graffiti reflects a particular version of masculinity and at the same time serves as a resource for constructing masculine identity and achieving status and respect among male peers. Partly because of its outlaw status, graffiti is a domain of visual art that reinforces, rather than undercuts, a version of masculinity that values daring, risk, rebelliousness, ingenuity, commitment, and sacrifice, as well as a flamboyant and edgy set of aesthetics.