Tattooed lives: the indelible experience of meaning and identity in body art

Martin, Chris William (2018) Tattooed lives: the indelible experience of meaning and identity in body art. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This dissertation explores the increasingly popular practice of tattooing from the perspective of tattoo enthusiasts and tattoo artists. While the topic of tattoos and tattooing have been researched by sociologists and cultural theorists in the past, this treatment of the subject uniquely combines the perspectives of symbolic interactionism, social semiotics, and Bauman’s ideas about liquid modernity, to help understand the meaning-making semiotic potential of tattoos for enthusiasts and artists within the context of their wider socio-cultural environments. This thesis is informed by in-depth qualitative research data gathered from over a year of ethnographic field research in a tattoo studio. It also offers enthusiast narratives which were gathered from semi-structured interviews. It is important to better understand a practice like tattooing in a post (or liquid) modern era which prizes a more ephemeral existence, especially in relation to fashion, technologies, and human relations. Appreciating the meanings and reasons behind tattoos and tattooing is highly relevant in order to understand why the practice is more common, culturally relevant, and artistic than ever before despite theories of impermanence associated with liquid modernity (Bauman 2000). Indeed, some estimates say that up to 40% of those 18-35 have at least one tattoo and that it is a billion-dollar industry (Pew Research 2008). My results show that despite liquid modern life, tattoo enthusiasts continue to indelibly mark their skin with ink to express (1) self- identity (2) cultural and gender shifts and (3) artistic and emotional connections. From the perspective of tattoo artists, this research shows how artists must demonstrate dramaturgical discipline and navigate symbolic interaction to effectively traverse the cultural shifts occurring in their practice and work with their clients to produce and coconstruct body art. These cultural shifts have led tattooists to become better known as tattoo artists and caused for tattoos to be more artistically demanding and aesthetically sophisticated than ever before.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 13443
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 214-228).
Keywords: Tatoo(s), Sociology, Semiotics, Ethnography, Art
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: August 2018
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Tattooing--Social aspects; Tattooing--Public opinion; Semiotics.

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