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Identity and Authenticity: A Figurational Exploration of Tattooing Practices in Twenty-First Century Britain

Rees, Michael David (2015) Identity and Authenticity: A Figurational Exploration of Tattooing Practices in Twenty-First Century Britain. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,.


The body has become an increasingly important resource upon which individuals construct their self-identities. Whether it is through the clothes that we choose to wear, the hairstyles we adopt, or the size and shape of our bodies, consumer culture increasingly promotes the body as an entity of individual choice whose outward appearance reflects who we are on the inside. This thesis explores the relationship between the body and self-identity through an exploration of contemporary tattooing practices, and in so doing adds to the burgeoning body of work that has explored the relationship between the body and identity (i.e. Turner 1991; Giddens 1991; Shilling 2012), and the expanding corpus of literature that has explored tattooing (i.e. Sweetman 1999a, 1999b, 1999c; Atkinson 2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2004; DeMello 2000; Pitts 2003; Sanders 2008).

Data for this thesis was generated by conducting mixed-method ethnographic research in order to explore how individuals utilise tattooing as part of their individual body projects of self-identity. Adopting Norbert Elias’s figurational – or process – sociology I explore how and why tattooing has become an increasingly sought after and acceptable form of corporeal alteration that has moved from the social margins to occupy a place of heightened respectability, and why individuals choose tattooing over others form of body project available to them. I propose that a key reason for tattooing’s popularity in 21st century Britain is that is allows individuals to fulfil quests for authenticity that have become an increasingly central concern for contemporary citizens.

Concurrently, this thesis also explores the relationship between researchers and their research settings by examining the insider/outsider status of social researchers, and exploring themes of involvement, detachment, and reflexivity. It argues that the ideal of totally objective social research proposed by Weber is not obtainable, nor should it be. Instead, researchers should take into account their own biography and how this impacts upon the research process and the dissemination of findings, in order to produce object-adequate knowledge.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Shilling, Chris
Uncontrolled keywords: the body; identity; tattoos; tattooing; Elias; figurational sociology; process sociology; qualitative methods; reflexive sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2015 10:01 UTC
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2020 10:51 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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