Four core-questions will help establish a framework with which to compare graffiti distributed widely through time and space:
1/ Self-fashioning and group identity: Self-fashioning is a key anthropological concept that describes how individuals relate to their social environment, or how they fashion a distinctive experience of the world they inherit from their historical past and physical situation. Graffiti can be questioned within this framework, as they are often a display of individual experience in a monumental context. They also seem to appear typically in clusters – a hypothesis that needs to be tested – and can express group cohesion as well as social competition.
2/ Space appropriation: Central to the interpretation of graffiti is their physical setting within a natural or architectural environment. They create territories by reshaping and redefining a site. We need to ask how graffiti in a natural environment differ from those in a man-made environment. When do graffiti change a natural site into a man-made one? This leads on the question of access: are graffiti always public and addressed to a wide audience? What about hidden and isolated graffiti? Can one write for oneself alone?
3/ Posterity and temporality of writing: Graffiti can be interpreted as testimony of a wide range of religious concerns. Writing on a wall seems to answer a broad human need for survival in social memory. So graffiti should be questioned within the framework of the anthropology of writing and performativity (thanksgiving, offering, ex voto, etc.).
4/ Literacy and manuscripts culture: Graffiti are understood here mostly as textual inscriptions, but they can take on monumental dimensions. What distinguishes them from rock paintings and parietal writing? What roles have they played in ancient and traditional societies with low literacy rates, where the elite held de facto a monopoly on writing? In a manuscript culture, writing on a wall is the closest equivalent to publication: How can graffiti have been used as testimony to literacy skills and the diffusion of literary culture within a society?