Historical Social Research

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Michael Rees: From Outsider to Established – Explaining the Current Popularity and Acceptability of Tattooing [Abstract]

Tattooing is a practice long associated with social outsiders – sailors, criminals, bikers and women of disrepute. In recent years, however, the practice has become increasingly popular, and acceptable, in mainstream culture as these marks of distinction appear on an ever greater number of bodies. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, academic literature, and content analysis of popular media, I propose that four interrelated developments have contributed to the redefinition of tattooing: the increasing importance of the body as a site for constructing identity; processes of cultural diversity and globalization; the increased visibility of the practice in popular culture; and attempts to legitimise the practice as an acceptable art form both within academia and popular culture. By drawing together these interrelated developments this paper demonstrates how Elias’ theories of established-outsider relations provides an understanding of the processes that lead to changing statuses for certain cultural practices.


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