I am a sociologist/criminologist employed at the University of Liverpool in the North West of England. For over thirty years I have been researching illicit drug use and drug markets (my primary area of expertise). Around fifteen years ago, however, (after seeing two young girls ‘gobbing’ in the street in South East London) I became interested in the meaning of spitting. These girls were not simply being ‘filthy’ or ‘disgusting’ (although that is how most would have seen them) they were showing ‘attitude’ and it was clearly normal ‘street’ behaviour for them and their immediate peers. The behaviour thus had meaning beyond its surface appearance. 

As a rule, sociologists and critical criminologists tend not to take the world at face value and while most people (in the West) may view public spitting as disgusting this is not how it is seen everywhere and looking at other cultures and environments is enlightening. My spitting trip around Asia was but one aspect of this research. Spitting can have many embedded meanings: contempt; determination; insult; casual habit; aggression; territorial marking; the sealing of a deal and so on. I thus want to explore further how behaviour that many would consider simply a physical act is in fact shaped by culture, history, politics and individual circumstance.

This blog is now a historical snapshot of cross-cultural rapid ethnographic research I carried out in early 2013. It is an example of observation, reflection, analysis and reporting ‘on the go’. The international spitting survey continues and an initial publication from the rapid ethnography can be found here:

Coomber, R., Moyle, L. and Pavlidis, A. (2018) ‘Public spitting in ‘developing ’ nations of the global south: harmless embedded practice or disgusting, harmful and deviant?’, in Kerry Carrington, Russell Hogg, John Scott and Maximo Sozzo (eds.) Palgrave Handbook on Criminology and the Global South, Palgrave Macmillan.


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  1. Pingback: International Survey on Local Spitting Experiences and Attitudes | Spitting Around the World

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