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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why People Get Tattoos, and Who Gets Them
The Tattoo "reflects an aspect of who I am, represents my inner personality, my interests, life goals, life philosophy."
By Cody Moulton

Tattooing has been going on for quite some time. People get tattoos for many different reasons. While doing some research on why people get tattoos and what kind of people get tattoos, I have found some interesting information. These five articles will focus mainly on race, gender, and age, and will bring to light why some people decide or don’t decide to get tattoos and which kind of people get them.

Article I
The convict body
Tattooing among male American prisoners
By Margo Demello

I read an article called “The convict body” which was a very interesting article discussing tattooing and how it is involved in prisons. The author spoke with inmates, convicts, ex-convicts, and even the guards at different prisons to retrieve his information.
Demello described tattooing in four different spheres. Prison tattooing is found at the bottom of all spheres because of the methods used to do the tattooing, the style in which they are warn, and the imagery portrayed. The other spheres he described were the professional sphere, semi-professional, street tattooing, and lastly prison tattooing. The spheres are broken down by the different classes of people whom get tattooed. Being part of a lower social position as an inmate or convict, the method used is different than you would see at your average tattoo parlor. Most tattoos are done by hand and with a few different methods. These tattoos are generally in areas on the body that can be easily seen, which prisoners often regret later on in life after being released. Tattooing starts out very young for some in the juvenile justice system, leaving many of people once released form prison, to get better quality tattoos later in life to cover up the poorly done ones. Even woman have been known to get tattooed in prison using the same poor methods which are by done by hand. Prisoners who get tattoos containing imagery are based on where the convict came from and on his present situation in prison. Tattooing is known as the second greatest hustle in prison, drugs being the first. There are many convicts who get involved with tattooing to receive drugs and money, and is also less dangerous than dealing drugs.
Apparently there is a distinct different between convicts and inmates. Inmates have no respect to where as a convict does. They have different positions or statuses within the jail walls. Whites, Chicanos, and Blacks all get tattooed, overall the average age seems to be somewhere between 20 and 35 for a prisoner to have tattoos. There is an honor system in prison about tattooing enforced by the older prisoners who will not let the younger ones be tattooed because they feel that they will regret their decision later in life. It was interesting to see that father instinct come into play by the older prisoners. Tattooing in prison has shown to reflect borders within and outside the prison. Prison tattoos also serve to identify as members of certain communities where loyalty to ones group is often a life or death matter.

This article can be found at

Article II
Tattoo in Early China

Carrie E. Reed
This article was a good read dating back a long time ago. Although the exact time in which it occurred is unknown, tattooing was used as a means of punishment in early china. This was looked at by society, and gave the punished peoples a certain status that was much lower than most. This was means to create public shame to those who not abiding by the law. The tattoo was a permanent mark that would be with the person their whole life. This not only brings shame to the person’s life, but also those who are related. Even princes would be punished by branding or tattooing if they had engaged in foolish activities such as drunken dancing, addiction to wealth, hunting, and women Ministers could also be tattooed if they were trying to influence the ruler and change his behavior. Slaves also would receive a tattoo on their forehead if they attempted an escape, labeling this person for life. After a Chinese women named Yuan Shao husband had died, she had five other ladies killed and their faces branded and mutilated so that they would not be appealing to her husband in the afterlife. The Chinese really did use tattooing as cruel means of punishment. This is an interesting way to use tattooing as a means of punishment. Instead of more commonly known reasons to get tattoos, which are all voluntary done, it is interesting to see it used as something done against someone’s own will as means of punishment.

This article can be found at¤tResult=00030279%2bap020323%2b02a00040%2b0%2cFFFF03&

Article III
This article covered some interesting aspects concerning upper classes and tattooing. It stated that in the late 18th century the upper class were lining up to get tattoos. Different social classes do look at tattooing differently, and I think those opinions have changed over time. The article stated in exact words that “the upper classes were queueing up to get tats.” I had to really think about what that word even meant. I then remembered in the UK a line is called a queue. Now days I would not consider the upper class to be seen in a modern tattoo shop getting inked. More recently the author feels tattoo trends are set much of the time by celebrities. Fashion is not the only reason people are getting tattoos. This article describes that people get tattoos as a statement of what kind of person they are and what their background may consist of. “What kind of person they are” and “background” could be describes in many different ways. Age, race, gender, and sex would all describe a person and their background. There are those people who get tattooed because they like the way it looks and want to express their individuality. This also would describe how people are different in looking at their motivations for getting a tattoo.

This article can be found at

Article IV
The Antisocial Skin: Structure, Resistance, and "Modern Primitive" Adornment in the United States.
Daniel Rosenblatt
Skin Shows: The Tattoo Renaissance

This was a very informational article discussing a drastic change in tattooing in the past 20 or 30 years. It explains how a while back tattoos were considered “disputable remarks” that only the lower class got. People like bikers, sailors, and carnival freaks got tattoos. But things began to change and more middle class ordinary people like Mexican factory workers and gas station attendants began getting tattoos. 99.9% of the people getting tattoos were male, since then things have really changed, dropping that percentage down drastically. This change started to develop in the 60’s and really took off in the 80’s and 90’s. Some tattoo artist would agree that the hippie movement and the growing awareness of Japanese style body tattoos in the west. Also the author himself felt that the punk movement got many people involved in getting tattoos. At this time more and more celebrities were getting tattoos which would have a drastic influence on how society views and accepts tattoos. This article lets its readers understand that people have been heavily influenced by these movements to get tattoos. There has also been significant change in the last 30 years in the different kind of people involved with getting tattoos.

This article can be found at

Article V
Tattoo. Pierce. How come?
A body of expression

This was another insightful article that discussed the motivations behind getting tattooed. Body modification was considered popular in the article and the author felt that not only peer pressure was behind its increasing popularity. Tattoos, along with other forms of body modification, have been created by society as a way to reflect a person’s identity. Also tattoos have been known to reveal aspects of a person and a person’s life. The article also talked about an inner personality that people desire to express on there skin. This inner personality would also relate to a persons interest, life goals, and life philosophy. The author described that tattoos were once just a mere presence image, but now tattoos are much more thought about and meaningful the person getting the tat. I partially believe this but I also have seen some pretty stupid tattoos with no significance other that the person thinking it looked cool. This article stood out to me because I had not yet found an article discussing why people decide to get tattoos from a modern viewpoint and timeframe. This article is similar to the majority of tattoo articles making it the least interesting, but was still informational and helpful to understand some more motivations people have while getting tattoos.

This article can be found at

Tattoos can be a great way to express a wide range of things on your body. Looking at ancient China it is very interesting to see how tattoos were no longer a voluntary choice, but they were used as a means to punish the criminals and slaves. This would permanently mark a person for a lifetime labeling them based on their past mistakes. It is a cruel way to punishment which I think would be very effective. Learning about tattooing in prison was also very interesting. Convicts can tattoo each other with very simple tools; this form of tattooing is found at the very bottom of all social classes. I learned from the other articles changes that the tattoo industry has encountered involing how different social classes, gender, and race view and tattooing.


Blogger Group 3 said...

Comment by Nathalie Pena
Posted by Cody Moulton
“Why People Get Tattoos, and Who Gets Them”

The information in all the articles was really interesting. Each article covers different points of view on tattooing. One’s class, race, and goals are taken into consideration when analyzing why people get tattoos and who gets them. From the Functionalist standpoint, tattoos serve as a way of integrating individuals with a specific group. For instance, in jail some people get tattoos to be part of a group. In that kind of environment, belonging to a specific group, gives the prisoner a sense of security. In China, in the past, having a tattoo was seen as a sign of punishment. From the Symbolic-interaction standpoint, that shows how reality is socially constructed. Now that famous artists have tattoos, society’s point of view about tattoos has changed. People now think that tattoos are “cool”. But this of course depends on one’s social position. Prisoners with no money get tattoos that are poorly done. As a result, if they go out on the streets, people will recognize them and point to them as ex-convicts. They will not be the “cool” celebrity with tattoos. Their master status will be the ex-convict with shameful tattoos.
It was really interesting to find out all this information about tattooing. I think the summaries were complete and the main ideas were clearly exposed. These articles contributed to a better understanding of tattooing from different points of view.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Layla, Matt, Gabrielle,Ryan said...

From Matt Olsen: In my work I see a few kids with tattoos and I agree that they can be for status in gangs as well as prisons. Many also get them either as a rebelion against their parents or to "fit in" with their peers. There is definately a structural-functional process regarding tattoos in maintaining a heirarcy within their groups.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Layla, Matt, Gabrielle,Ryan said...

There is definately something of structural-functionalism in tattooing in prisons and in gangs. The roles are very specific and tattooing can label them at a glance. I have found kids also use them as status symbols in gangs and to "fit-in" or be cool with their peers. It also goes to show that behaviors labeled as deviant can become accepted, if only to a limited extent.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Barry: Sociology said...

Excellent! You covered quite a bit of ground in your summaries, including history, motivations, and social influences. The punk subculture of the 1970s had a significant impact on youth culture and tattooing practices. While you didn't have to bring this into the discussion, the punk movement was related to, among other things, the economic and political strains of the times. By distinguishing themselves from dominant culture, those in the punk movement were creating an oppositional style fille with political commentary. This continues to be true of youth in contemporary US culture who identify with such struggles. In this way, tattooing is an expression of the challenges of the times and way of seeking a place in a postmodern world.


4:45 PM  
Blogger Sociology 201 Project said...

Review of Cody's Blog
Wow, what an interesting topic. I especially liked the article about tatooing as punishment in China. It's a very different perspective on tatooing. It is intersting to see the differences in tatooing relating to social class. Also seeing that the media is involved in changing the way that tattoos are viewed is something interesting, but not surprising.

9:58 PM  

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