What purpose does graffiti serve? Why do young people destroy public property? Do they joyride for any practical reason? This chapter aims to answer these questions by examining the young people's 'expressive' offences, or their non-violent, non-acquisitive offences, such as graffiti, joyriding and vandalism. The analyses focus on incentives, frequency, significance and the situational context in which these acts occurred. Patterns are sought between these themes and the different young people. The first section looks at the young people's graffiti and partially relates this to an appreciation of elements within hip-hop culture. The second section explores their vandalism and joyriding within the context of 'looking for something to do' in working- or lower-class environments. Finally, I attempt to explain why the young people committed their expressive offences by considering issues of masculinity and leisure.
Graffiti tags litter Lambeth. A tag (short for 'name tag') is the nickname or street name of a young person, quickly written with pens, markers or cans of spray paint. The tags observed were barely legible street names, at times accompanied by punctuation marks, stars and other symbols. In my sample only a couple of young people occasionally tagged their name, but some patterns emerged. For instance, three of those more involved in offending said they still tagged their name, whereas the others said they only tagged occasionally when 'younger'. Nevertheless, all of the young people who tagged attributed little significance to this: it was just a way of saying 'I have been here' (Barker and Bridgeman 1994; Klein 1995; Phillips 1999), and, to a lesser extent, of expressing their involvement in hip-hop culture (Coffield 1991; Ferrell 1993, 1995; Geason and Wilson 1990; MacDonald 2001; Phillips 1999).
Not much large, developed and detailed graffiti 'art' was observed in Lambeth. A notable and significant difference exists between the style and effort involved in this graffiti in comparison to the simple tags. Several researchers have noticed how young people distinguish between tagging and graffiti 'pieces' (short for 'master-piece'), which have also been affectionately referred to as 'hip-hop art', 'hip-hop graffiti' and 'spray-can art' (Coffield 1991; Ferrell 1993, 1995; Geason and Wilson