Tattoo(ed) Histories: Transcultural Perspectives on the Aesthetics, Narratives and Practices of Tattoo
What is known today as tattooing in Euro-American societies was encountered during colonial encounters and was introduced to Western European/North American societies by sailors and missionaries who had travelled to Polynesia and Japan. Preserved skins and ancient artworks reveal, however, that tattooing practices date back to ancient history and have been practiced around the globe.
In the early and modern history of the tattoo in Euro-American societies, it was mostly members of lower classes and subcultures who were tattooed, for example criminals, soldiers, sailors and prostitutes. As a result, tattoos were commonly defined as ‘savage’ and/or stigmatized, and were marginalized and deemed indicative of a person’s low social status. This also affected colonized people who were labeled ‘backward’ due to their tattooing practices. People holding powerful positions often branded prisoners, i.e. enslaved people, as a way of exercising power and control over ‘unruly’ bodies (Caplan 2000).
Over the course of the twentieth century, particularly since the 1950s, the popularity of tattoos has been growing worldwide. For example, European youth cultures started to refer to tattoos as marks of difference and resistance to fashion in the 1990s. In this context so-called “tribals” became popular images, which engage and reproduce primitivist discourse (Klesse 2000). Today tattoos and tattooed bodies seem to be omnipresent among a variety of social groups and can no longer be considered marginal appearances.
Although fashion and anti-fashion are common incentives for tattooing, motivations indeed are manifold: to decorate, assign or achieve a specific social status; to define group insiders and outsiders; to express and create identities; to heal, protect or divert spirit attacks. Tattooing may be considered as a means to reduce the permeability of the body and to reinstate boundaries of self and other, individual and society (Turner 2007).
Not only tattoo images are important in these contexts, but so are the process and practice of tattooing. In some societies, the relevance of tattoo is based on its being a proof that a specific ritual has been conducted. In others, tattooing is not considered as an individual practice and group tattooing is a rite of passage that creates group identity through shared pain experiences. Different stages of tattooing have to be taken into consideration when approaching tattoo, as suggested by Alfred Gell (1993). Tattoo narratives in such contexts may become part or constitutive of a person’s or group’s (oral) history.
Chapters in this edited volume will analyze the relevance of tattoos in the construction of socio-cultural bodies, lives and histories, both among individuals and groups, in the past and at present. As the editors seek to overcome a Eurocentric and North American bias in the study of tattoo, contributions from a diverse range of disciplines and research contexts are welcome.
Questions that the edited volume might address include, for example:
- How do tattoo images and practices facilitate representations of self and other? How do they performatively (re)create biographies and histories?
- How are tattooing experiences narrated and tattoo images discussed?
- What do tattoo aesthetics and practices reveal about the often separately used categorizations of life-writing and life-imaging?
- How does the permanence of tattoos affect the socio-cultural construction of bodies and histories? Do tattoos maybe even challenge ideas of permanence and continuance?
- How are images and practices of tattoos linked to other modes of body modification, such as piercing, scarification, branding, cutting, binding or cosmetic surgery?
We are looking forward to receiving relevant paper proposals from a wide range of theoretical positions and disciplines. We invite proposals of ca. 300 – 500 words, a tentative title and a short biographical note of the contributor(s) as a single pdf before August 31, 2017. Please send proposals and inquiries to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dr. Sinah Kloß, University of Cologne). Accepted contributors are expected to submit their full chapters of 6000 – 8000 words by February 28, 2018. The edited volume will be submitted for publication to a major academic publisher in early 2018. Routledge has expressed interest.
Dr. Sinah Kloß
Morphomata Center for Advanced Studies
University of Cologne