Vandalism is the action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property.[1]

The term includes property damage, such as graffiti and defacement directed towards any property without permission of the owner. The term finds its roots in an Enlightenment view that the Germanic Vandals were a uniquely destructive people.

G-20 - Hamburg Schulterblatt 01
Vandalised facade and bicycle in Hamburg


Genseric sacking rome 456
The Vandals sacking Rome

The Vandals, an ancient Germanic people, are associated with senseless destruction as a result of their sack of Rome under King Genseric in 455. During the Enlightenment, Rome was idealized, while the Goths and Vandals were blamed for its destruction. The Vandals may not have been any more destructive than other invaders of ancient times, but they did inspire British poet John Dryden to write, Till Goths, and Vandals, a rude Northern race, Did all the matchless Monuments deface (1694). However, the Vandals did intentionally damage statues, which may be why their name is associated with the vandalism of art. The term Vandalisme was coined in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois, to describe the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution. The term was quickly adopted across Europe. This new use of the term was important in colouring the perception of the Vandals from later Late Antiquity, popularising the pre-existing idea that they were a barbaric group with a taste for destruction.[2]

Historically, vandalism has been justified by painter Gustave Courbet as destruction of monuments symbolizing "war and conquest". Therefore, it is often done as an expression of contempt, creativity, or both. Gustave Courbet's attempt, during the 1871 Paris Commune, to dismantle the Vendôme column, a symbol of the past Napoleon III authoritarian Empire, was one of the most celebrated events of vandalism. Nietzsche himself would meditate after the Commune on the "fight against culture", taking as example the intentional burning of the Tuileries Palace on 23 May 1871. "The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture" wrote Klossowski after quoting Nietzsche.[3]

In a proposal to the International Conference for Unification of Criminal Law held in Madrid in 1933, Raphael Lemkin envisaged the creation of two new international crimes (delicta juris gentium): the crime of barbarity, consisting in the extermination of racial, religious, or social collectivities, and the crime of vandalism, consisting in the destruction of cultural and artistic works of these groups.[4] The proposal was not accepted.

As a crime

Lead Photo For Swimming pool sanitation0-46353521407581866
Vandalism on a street sign

Private citizens commit vandalism when they willfully damage or deface the property of others or the commons. Some vandalism may qualify as culture jamming or sniggling: it is thought by some to be artistic in nature even though carried out illegally or without the property owner's permission. Examples include at least some graffiti art, billboard "liberation", and possibly crop circles. Criminal vandalism takes many forms. Graffiti on public property is common in many inner cities as part of a gang culture, where they might be used as territorial markers.[5] More serious forms of vandalism that may take place during public unrest such as rioting can involve the willful destruction of public and private property. Vandalism per se is sometimes considered one of the less serious common crimes, but it can become quite serious and distressing when committed extensively, violently, or as an expression of hatred and intimidation. In response, local governments have adopted various legal measures to prevent vandalism, but research has shown that the conventional strategies employed by the government in response to at least unapproved graffiti are not the most effective.[6]


Examples of vandalism include salting lawns, cutting trees without permission, egg throwing, breaking windows, arson, spraying paint on others' properties, tagging, placing glue into locks, tire slashing, keying (scratching) paint, throwing shoes on power lines or similar structures, ransacking a property, flooding a house by clogging a sink and leaving the water running, and pulling up plants from the roots without permission.


Monument Armand Calinescu
Armand Călinescu's memorial with the bronze plaque stolen and the name of the assassin written over.

In elections, opposing candidates' supporters may engage in "political vandalism"⁠ ⁠— the act of defacing opponents' political posters, bumper stickers, billboards, and other street marketing material. Although the nature of this material is temporary, its effect can be long-lasting as it may reflect both negatively and positively on the candidate whose material is being vandalized as well as on the presumed candidate whose supporters are engaging in the vandalism.

In addition, activists may use the tactic of property destruction[7] as means of protest, e.g. by smashing the windows of banks, shops and government institutions and setting fire to cars. This often takes place during riots but can also happen as a stand-alone event, e.g. by animal rights activists destroying property owned by farmers, biotech companies, and research facilities and setting free animals (which is sometimes referred to as eco-terrorism by opponents). Vandalism is also a common tactic of black blocs.


Actions of this kind can be ascribed to anger or envy, or to spontaneous, opportunistic behaviour, possibly for peer acceptance or bravado in gang cultures, or disgruntlement with the target (victim) person or society. Opportunistic vandalism of this nature may also be filmed, the mentality of which can be akin to happy slapping. The large-scale prevalence of gang graffiti in some inner cities has almost made it acceptable to the societies based there, so much so that it may go unnoticed, or not be removed, possibly because it may be a fruitless endeavour, to be graffitied on once again. Greed can motivate vandalism as can some political ideologies, wish to draw attention to problems, frustration, even playfulness. Youngsters, the most common vandals, frequently experience low status and boredom. Vandalism enables powerless people to attack those above them, take control and frighten others. Unpunished vandalism can provide relief which reinforces the behaviour. Vandalism by one person can lead to imitation.[8] Teenage boys and men in their 20s are most likely to vandalize, but older adults and females are also known to sometimes vandalize, with young children occasionally vandalizing, but in a much smaller form, such as making small crayon drawings on walls.

Criminological research into vandalism has found that it serves many purposes for those who engage in it and stems from a variety of motives. Sociologist Stanley Cohen describes seven different types of vandalism:[9]

Headless statue in Ely Cathedral; ideological vandalism during the English Reformation.
  1. Acquisitive vandalism (looting and petty theft).
  2. Peer pressure – Teenagers spend more time away from home with peers whether they act constructively or destructively can depend on the contacts they make. Disobeying authority can appear cool.
  3. Tactical vandalism (to advance some end other than acquiring money or property – such as breaking a window to be arrested and get a bed for the night in a police cell).
  4. Ideological vandalism (carried out to further an explicit ideological cause or deliver a message).
  5. Vindictive vandalism (for revenge).
  6. Play vandalism (damage resulting from children's games).
  7. Malicious vandalism (damage caused by a violent outpouring of diffuse frustration and rage that often occurs in public settings).[10] Cohen's original typology was improved upon by Mike Sutton[11] whose research led him to add a seventh sub-type of vandalism – Peer Status Motivated Vandalism.[12]

Reaction of authorities

Where is your family - due process
Two billboards with the same original content, the billboard on the right being an example of subvertising⁠ ⁠— creative vandalizing with a political message.

In view of its incivility, punishment for vandalism can be particularly severe in some countries. In Singapore, for example, a person who attempts to cause or commits an act of vandalism may be liable to imprisonment for up to 3 years and may also be punished with caning. Vandalism in the UK is construed as an environmental crime and may be punished with an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order).

In the 1990s, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani cracked down on "quality of life crimes", including graffiti. NY Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern described graffiti as "a metaphor for urban decay perhaps best shown in 'A Clockwork Orange'" adding that "New York City will not be like that".[13]


Cybervandalism is vandalism on the internet. For example, vandalism on Wikipedia involves adding questionable content, removing content, or changing content in order to make it questionable, generally with the objective of harming Wikipedia's reputation. Forms of online vandalism have been recorded, the most common of which is website defacement. Vandalism on web maps has been called "cartographic vandalism".[14] Another form of cybervandalism is the creation of malware such as viruses, Trojan horses, and spyware, which can harm computers. A particularly virulent form of cybervandalism is ransomware, which is used to extort money from computer owners, and can even go so far as to carry a destructive malware payload that harms the system if payment isn't forthcoming within a certain time limit.


People defacing the Golconda walls
People defacing the walls of the Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, India
Coat of arms on the outdoors of police station next to St Joseph Tower
Defaced coat of arms (probably of Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc) in Santa Venera, Malta

Defacement is a type of vandalism that involves damaging the appearance or surface of something. The object of damage may be architecture, books, paintings, sculpture, or other forms of art.[15]

Examples of defacement include:

  • Marking or removing the part of an object (especially images, be they on the page, in illustrative art or as a sculpture) designed to hold the viewers' attention
  • Scoring a book cover with a blade
  • Splashing paint over a painting in a gallery
  • Smashing the nose of a sculpted bust
  • Damaging or chiselling off sculpted coats of arms
  • Altering the content of web sites and publicly editable repositories to include nonsensical or whimsical references

Iconoclasm led to the defacement of many religious artworks.

As art

Sticker on Stop-sign Reads, "The Hell With Shell"-in Pentwater, Michigan - NARA - 547042 (cropped)
A sticker reading "The HELL with SHELL" photographed in Michigan in 1973
Street light vandalism in Bogotá, Colombia
Traffic signal light vandalism portraying cannabis in Bogotá, Colombia

Though vandalism in itself is illegal, it is often also an integral part of modern popular culture. French painter Gustave Courbet's attempt to disassemble the Vendôme column during the 1871 Paris Commune was probably one of the first artistic vandalist acts, celebrated at least since Dada performances during World War I. The Vendôme column was considered a symbol of the recently deposed Second Empire of Napoleon III, and dismantled as such.

After the burning of the Tuileries Palace on 23 May 1871, Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche himself meditated about the "fight against culture", wondering what could justify culture if it were to be destroyed in such a "senseless" manner (the arguments are: culture is justified by works of art and scientific achievements; exploitation is necessary to those achievements, leading to the creation of exploited people who then fight against culture. In this case, culture cannot be legitimised by art achievements, and Nietzsche writes: "I {also} know what it means: fighting against culture". After quoting him, Klossowski writes: "The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture".[3]

As destruction of monument, vandalism can only have sense in a culture respecting history, archeology - Nietzsche spoke of monumental history. As destruction of monumental history, vandalism was assured a long life (as Herostratus proved): Performance art could make such a claim, as well as Hakim Bey's poetic terrorism or Destroy 2000 Years of Culture from Atari Teenage Riot. Gustave Courbet's declaration stated:

Attendu que la colonne Vendôme est un monument dénué de toute valeur artistique, tendant à perpétuer par son expression les idées de guerre et de conquête qui étaient dans la dynastie impériale, mais que réprouve le sentiment d’une nation républicaine, [le citoyen Courbet] émet le vœu que le gouvernement de la Défense nationale veuille bien l’autoriser à déboulonner cette colonne.[16]

('As the Vendôme column is a monument devoid of any artistic value, whose expression tends to perpetuate the ideas of war and conquest from the imperial dynasty, but that reject the sentiment of a republican nation, citizen Courbet declares that the government of National Defense should allow him to dismantle this column.)

Hence, painter Courbet justified the dismantlement of the Vendôme column on political grounds, downgrading its artistic value. Vandalism poses the problem of the value of art compared to life's hardships: Courbet thought that the political values transmitted by this work of art neutralized its artistic value. His project was not followed; however, on 12 April 1871, the Commune voted to dismantle the imperial symbol, and the column was taken down on 8 May. After the assault on the Paris Commune by Adolphe Thiers, Gustave Courbet was condemned to pay part of the expenses.

In 1974, Norman Mailer glorified the art of vandalism in his essay "The Faith of Graffiti", which likened tagging in New York City to the work of Giotto and Rauschenberg. New York Authorities responded by coating subway walls with Teflon paint, jailing taggers and requiring hardware stores to keep spray paint under lock and key.[17]

Tags, designs, and styles of writing are commonplace on clothing, and are an influence on many of the corporate logos. Many skateparks and similar youth-oriented venues are decorated with commissioned graffiti-style artwork, and in many others patrons are welcome to leave their own. There is still, however, a fine line between vandalism as an artform, as a political statement, and as a crime. Bristol-born guerrilla artist Banksy is an example: when councils have removed his works, they have been met by public outrage. Banksy's claim is that official vandalism is far worse than that perpetrated by individuals, and that he is decorating buildings of no architectural merit whatsoever.

Graphic design

Defacing could also be one of the techniques that many graphic designers use, by applying their own hand writing on a graphic itself. Sometimes the use of this technique might be mistaken as vandalism to the original work, as exemplified by the work of Stefan Sagmeister, including his Lou Reed CD cover. A unique use of the defacement technique is the CD cover for A.P.C. by Jean Touitou, where the designer wrote the title, volume number, and date with her own hand writing on the pre-print blank CD. Creative vandalism of this sort is not limited to writing and sketching. For example, the spraying on the KPIST album Golden coat for MNW Records by Sweden graphic uses gold spray, which may be considered an act of vandalism, but the customer may also appreciate the unicity of each cover that had been sprayed gold in different ways.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "Oxford English Dictionary". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  2. ^ Merrills and Miles 2010, pp. 9–10.
  3. ^ a b See Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, first Chapter: What is the value of culture if those who are exploited by it destroy it? "En sorte qu'il nous faut être bien loin de vouloir, du haut de notre sentiment de nous-mêmes, imputer le crime d'un combat contre la culture exclusivement à ces malheureux. Je sais ce que cela veut dire: le combat contre la culture. (...) je me campronnai avec une conviction sérieuse à la valeur métaphysique de l'art, lequel ne saurait exister à cause des pauvres gens, mais doit accomplir des missions plus hautes. Mais, en dépit de mon extrême douleur, je n'étais pas en état de jeter la moindre pierre à ces profanateurs qui, pour moi, n'étaient que les suppôts de la culpabilité universelle, sur laquelle il y a beaucoup à méditer!" Nietzsche quoted by Klossowski pp. 29–30 French edition, who adds: "Le combat criminel contre la culture n'est lui-même que l'envers d'une culture criminelle" ("The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture")
  4. ^ Raphael Lemkin: Akte der Barbarei und des Vandalismus als delicta juris gentium, Anwaltsblatt Internationales (Wien), November 1933.
  5. ^ Ley and Cybriwsky 1974.
  6. ^ J. Scott Armstrong (1978). "The Graffiti Solution" (PDF). The Wharton Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 June 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  7. ^ Is it OK for protesters to damage property?, New Internationalist Magazine, issue 440
  8. ^ Psychological Analysis of Vandalism
  9. ^ Cohen 1973.
  10. ^ The Psychological View of Why Children Vandalize
  11. ^ "Center for Problem-Oriented Policing | Biographies". Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  12. ^ Sutton, Mike (1987) Differential Rates of Vandalism in a New Town: Towards A Theory of Relative Place. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Central Lancashire, October
  13. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (17 November 1994). "Mayor Announces New Assault on Graffiti, Citing Its Toll on City". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  14. ^ Ballatore 2014.
  15. ^ Library of Congress; Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office; Library of Congress. Subject Cataloging Division; Library of Congress. Office for Subject Cataloging Policy (1996). Library of Congress subject headings. Library of Congress. p. 1430. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  16. ^ "La Colonne Vendôme déboulonnée" (in French). Retrieved 2007-08-04.
  17. ^ Fine Art, Sí, Vandalism, No
  18. ^ Odling-Smee Anne (2002) the new handmade graphics: Beyond digital design. RotoVision SA


  • Ballatore, A. (2014), "Defacing the map: Cartographic vandalism in the digital commons", The Cartographic Journal, 51 (3): 214–224, arXiv:1404.3341, doi:10.1179/1743277414y.0000000085
  • Cohen, S. (1973), Ward, C., ed., Property destruction: Motives and meanings, London: Architectural Press, pp. 23–53
  • Goldstein, A. (1996), The Psychology of Vandalism, New York: Plenum Press
  • Ley, D. & Cybriwsky, R. (1974), "Urban Graffiti as Territorial Markers", Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 64 (4): 491–505, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1974.tb00998.x
  • Merrills, A.; Miles, R. (2010), The Vandals, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-1-4051-6068-1
  • Williams, M. (2006), Virtually Criminal: Crime, Deviance, and Regulation Online., Abington, UK: Taylor & Francis


  • Chris Hammond. Bank. Retrieved 9 March 2016

External links

See also


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Graffiti (both singular and plural; the singular graffito is very rare in English except in archeology) is writing or drawings made on a wall or other surface, usually without permission and within public view. Graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.In modern times, paint (particularly spray paint) and marker pens have become the most commonly used graffiti materials. In most countries, marking or painting property without the property owner's permission is considered defacement and vandalism, which is a punishable crime.

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Vandalism on Wikipedia

On Wikipedia, vandalism is the act of editing the project in a malicious manner that is intentionally disruptive. Vandalism includes the addition, removal, or modification of the text or other material that is either humorous, nonsensical, a hoax, or that is an offensive, humiliating, or otherwise degrading nature.

Throughout its history, Wikipedia has struggled to maintain a balance between allowing the freedom of open editing and protecting the accuracy of its information when false information can be potentially damaging to its subjects. Vandalism is easy to commit on Wikipedia because anyone can edit the site, with the exception of articles that are currently semi-protected, which means that new and unregistered users cannot edit them.

Vandalism can be committed by either guest editors or those with registered accounts; however, a semi-protected or protected page can only be edited by autoconfirmed or confirmed Wikipedia editors, or administrators, respectively. Frequent targets of vandalism include articles on hot and controversial topics, famous celebrities, and current events. In some cases, people have been falsely reported as having died. This has notably occurred to United States Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd (both of whom are now deceased), and American rapper Kanye West (who is alive).The challenge from vandalism on Wikipedia was once characterized by the Former Encyclopædia Britannica editor-in-chief Robert McHenry: "The user who visits Wikipedia ... is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him."


A wiki ( (listen) WIK-ee) is a website on which users collaboratively modify content and structure directly from the web browser. In a typical wiki, text is written using a simplified markup language and often edited with the help of a rich-text editor.A wiki is run using wiki software, otherwise known as a wiki engine. A wiki engine is a type of content management system, but it differs from most other such systems, including blog software, in that the content is created without any defined owner or leader, and wikis have little inherent structure, allowing structure to emerge according to the needs of the users. There are dozens of different wiki engines in use, both standalone and part of other software, such as bug tracking systems. Some wiki engines are open source, whereas others are proprietary. Some permit control over different functions (levels of access); for example, editing rights may permit changing, adding, or removing material. Others may permit access without enforcing access control. Other rules may be imposed to organize content.

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Types of crime
Against the person
Against property
Against public order
Against the state
Against justice
Inchoate offenses

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