Tattoos are a highly visible social and cultural sight, from TV series that represent the lives of tattoo artists and their interactions with clients, to world-class sports stars and the social actors we meet on a daily basis who display visible tattoo designs. Whereas in the not-to-distant past tattoos were commonly culturally perceived to represent an outward sign of social non-conformity or even deviance, tattoos now increasingly transcend class, gender, and age boundaries and arguably are now more culturally acceptable than they have ever been. But why is this the case, and why do so many social actors elect to wear tattoos?
Tattoo Culture explores these questions from historical, cultural and media perspectives, but also from the heart of the culture itself, from the dynamics of the tattoo studio, the work of the artist and the world of the tattoo convention, to the perspective of the social actors who bear designs to investigate the meanings which lie being the images. It critically examines the ways in which tattoos alter social actors’ sense of being and their relationship with time in the semiotic ways with which they communicate, to themselves or to the wider world, key elements of their bodily and personal identity and sense of being.
Introduction / Part I Culture & Theory / 1. From Ötzi to Trash Polka: Reading Tattoos / 2. Celebrity Skin: Tattoos and Popular Culture/ 3. Theorising Ink: Tattooing as Semiotic Communication and Phenomenological Expression/ Part II Ethnographies of Ink / 4. Tattoos as Communicative Practice and Phenomenological Expression: The Tattooed Perspective/ 5. Needle Work: Tattoo Artists and the Studio Space/ 6. Tattoo Conventions: Fandom and Participatory Art Worlds Worlds / 7. Tattoo Culture: Transformation, Being, and Time / Conclusion / Index
Using semiotic and phenomenological lenses, Barron (media and communication, Northumbria Univ., UK) writes on tattoos, tattooed individuals, ink artists who create on others' bodies, and the social-historical worlds in which these are found. The book is divided into two parts. The first provides a historical and theoretical frame. The author presents cross-cultural examples, but his focus is largely on Western practices, including ones from past eras when tattoos were taken as signs of criminality, social deviance, or rebellion, to the present acceptance of the practice and appearance of tattoos in celebrity worlds. He draws on the theories of Heidegger and other authors to outline ideas of being, expression, and authenticity. In the second half, the author offers findings from his research in the UK. He gains insights from interviews with people who have tattoos and the artists who create in ink, and presents observational data on tattoo fandom and fan conventions. Throughout the book, Barron considers issues of individualism and group participation, art worlds, the communicative function of the body, the creative dimensions of wearing and creating tattoos, and the manner in which tattoos can be understood to signal senses of being and personal essences. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
By combining the philosophies of semiotics and phenomenonology along with his expertise in celebrity and popular cultures, Lee Barron examines the personal and social impacts of collecting tattoos for those in the United Kingdom. Tattoo Culture adds a powerful new ethnographic edition to the global focus on tattoo popularity in consumer societies.
Lee Barron's Tattoo Culture: Theory and Contemporary Contexts is a fascinating new look at contemporary tattoo culture. Combining semiotic theory, phenomenology and ethnography, Tattoo Culture offers a welcome new contribution to the growing scholarly literature about a phenomenon that continues to attract--and repel--millions.
Lee Barron is a Principal Lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Northumbria.