For our Sociology blog project out team chose the topic of tattooing. We will talk about the history, different cultures, motivations, and other issues in the ink world.

In our blogs we have covered the cultural aspect, the modern aspects, and the historical aspects of tattoos. We looked at the differences between men and women, what tattoos mean to people and different cultures, reasons people get tattoos, and how the affect peoples life’s.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cultural Aspect of Tattooing

The articles I found focus on the cultural aspect of tattoos not only in America but, in other cultures such as Polynesia, Beirut and the prison culture. The cultural differences between men and women, what tattoos mean to people in different cultures, what part tattoos played in ancient culture and the cultural evolution of tattooing is discussed in these 5 articles. The cultural aspect of tattoos is well represented in the summaries and articles below.

By Nikki McKnight

Tattoos as American Material Culture
This article was written by Jessica Maloney from the University of Berkley California in June of 1994. She starts off by discussing the main topic of the paper which is essentially historical archaeology and that tattoos are the artifacts of the skin representative of the person’s culture. She states that we live in a “disposable” society but, tattoos are one of the few permanent things in our lives. Many articles and books only focus on the bizarre and unhealthy aspects of tattooing and see it only coming from “primitive” societies when in actuality tattooing has been a practice in European cultures for a very long time. She also talks about how when tattoos originated they were a means of identifying what tribe an individual was from or to tell a story and was seen as something that most people had on their bodies. Then when it arose in America, people with tattoos were in “freak” shows in the circus and it was seen as abnormal and now in modern day life where a large portion of the population has tattoos again but, their meanings are much different from when they originated. This article also talks about the popularity and culture of American sailors getting tattoos from the native lands they visited while overseas. She discusses the cultural differences between men and women’s tattoos and who was aloud to get what. One of the last cultural aspects of tattooing she talks about is how it is now a large part in America’s culture and can now be considered an art form instead of a young punk rebelling. Over the last two decades tattooing has remained a huge part in many societies’ cultures.

Tribal Culture
This article looks into how tattoos were a huge part of ancient culture. It starts out by detailing Polynesian culture of tattoos and where they got their designs from. Tattooing was a natural part of their everyday life and very important in their culture. A lot of their tattooing designs were seen on their pottery. It also explains the methods of how Polynesians gave tattoos to each other and its importance in their culture. Tattoo artists in this Polynesian culture were usually priests and very high up in social class because of the tattoos profound social and cultural significance. This article also talks about when European settlers found their way to Polynesian lands they saw tattoos as a form of sorcery and almost completely wiped them out. Polynesians had different meanings for their tattoos. Tattoos on women symbolized beauty and on men typically symbolized virility and fierceness. At the end of this article is briefly explains how tattoos covering the entire body used to be very popular and a big part of Japanese culture but, are now not tolerated and anyone sporting any tattoo is shunned from society. Culture can change over time

Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community
This article is an overview of Bodies of Inscription: A cultural history of the Modern Tattoo Community by Margo DeMello. The review is written by Clinton R. Sanders. It starts out by saying that tattooing has undergone a social evolution. Tattoos went from being a cultural norm to a sign of patriotism and rebellion to a sign of status. She talks about how it is part of our culture to have a tattooing community. There is a great bond between the people in this community that is created and continued in tattoo shops, conventions and media. She explains how there are different time periods of tattooing. The Polynesian tattooing of the 18th century, the “golden age” of tattooing in American in between the two world wars and the “tattoo renaissance” of the 1960’s. Japanese tattooing (irezumi) was a huge part of Japan’s culture years and years ago but, now barely exists. The end of the article talks about the “class backlash” of tattooing which is essentially resulting in the return of traditional American tattooing. The cultural evolution of tattooing is discussed throughout the entire article.

The Convict Body: Tattooing Among Male American Prisoners
This article is written by Margo DeMello a graduate student from the University of California, Davis. The physical body is seen as a way to mark a person’s class, race, gender or ethnicity. This creates the cultural body and sets social boundaries. Tattoos make the body culturally visible to others. With prison tattoos; usually on the head, neck or face; it makes it more obvious to what social position they hold outside in the real world as well as in prison. The tattoo culture is basically a hierarchy based on class, race, gender, ethnicity and social status. Over the years prison tattoos have gone from somewhat simple and plain to very advanced. Prison tattoos have become a huge part of culture, especially American. The different methods for prison tattoos are discussed and how they have advanced throughout the years in America. Most prison tattoos are somewhat primitive and only use black ink only because the inmates limited access to other colorful inks. This article also discusses popular tattoo styles among prisoners. Also, in prison tattoos are paid for with drugs, money or canteen. Because the amounts of money convicts have in prison the cost is essentially lower than it would be on the outside. Prisoners also discussed the cultural difference between an inmate and a convict. An inmate has no respect, follows the rules and bows down to “The Man” and because tattoos are illegal in prisons, inmates do not have them. Convicts, on the other hand, have respect and along with that come tattoos. Prison tattooing in American usually begins in the juvenile facilities system. Tattooing in prison is about creating a common culture.¤tResult=0268540x%2bdm992891%2b99p0225l%2b0%2c1E&

A Professional Tattooer in Beirut
This article was written by Professor John Carswell from the American University of Beirut. Tattooing has been a large part of culture throughout the world for centuries. It is an ancient art. It has been noted as far back as in Egypt in the XIth Dynasty and even in the Old Testament. Many frozen bodies have been uncovered and were covered with tattoo designs. Outside of tribal and religious groups, tattoos in this area, were uncommon. One of the few professional tattooers in this region, Mohammed Khalil Ghothman Diabis from Beirut is “job shadowed”. He is the only professional tattooer in Beirut and his clients come as far away as northern Lebanon and Beka’s Valley. He actually learned about tattooing when he was enlisted in the British army during the Second World War where tattooing was very popular. He uses the traditional technique of tattooing and in an average day he tattoos between 20 to 35 people. The article also goes over his designs and how he came up with them. Although tattooing is very uncommon in this region Mohammed made it a large part of his culture and it continues to grow.¤tResult=00251496%2bdm993854%2b99p0384f%2b0%2c1F&

Through my research on the cultural aspect of tattoos I found that tattoos have been around for many centuries and people have always had a desire to get them. Their reasons for getting tattoos differ from religious views to social status to rebellion. Tattoos mean something different in every culture, some more common than others. Not only is tattooing a large part of American culture but other cultures all over the world dating back to the Old Testament. The cultural evolution is ever-changing.


Blogger Barry: Sociology said...

I posted awhile ago but I don't believe it worked. Here we go again.

You covered historical and cross-cultural perspectives. This was important for this topic area for to understand tattooing in contemporary US culture one has to take into account the historical use of tattoos and their placement in different societies.

The article on tattoos and prison culture was particularly interesting. In that article, it is clear that tattooing is a way to mark boundaries and create identities. This is as true of the convict as it is the middle-class business person.


4:29 PM  

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