An ethnographic study of tagging cultures

Lucas Couto de Carvalho, Ingunn Sandaker, Gunnar Ree


Tagging is a kind of graffiti that involves writing one’s name using markers or spray paints. In Brazil, the tagging behavior has spread all over the country and especially in the big cities. Aspects of the culture deserve careful attention by behavioral scientists. This article describes possible variables controlling the behavior of members of tagging cultures of Brazil, based on a behavior analytic framework. We performed an ethnographic study in which the researcher accompanied the taggers in all their normal activities as a participant observer of their culture; in addition, he conducted interviews. Our findings identified at least four different properties of the cultural practices: (i) The transmission of symbolic communication characterizing the cultural unit as distinguished from the rest of society. (ii) The shaping of increasingly sophisticated expression and artistic proficiency. (iii) The high visibility-high risk-high impact paradox. (iv) The hierarchical organization and status distribution. Having identified these cultural properties and the related behaviors, we discuss the contribution of a behavior analytic conceptual framework both for the purpose of tracing the possible contingencies of reinforcement and to suggest possible strategies for intervention that could result in alternative prosocial behaviors to replace tagging. 


Participant observation, tagging behavior, pixação, cultural practices, taggers, Brazil

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Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility