Anthropology of Tattooing

There has been a sharp increase in the number of people with tattoos in Western nations. Tattooing and body modification is actually more common than not in most cultures, but there were strong norms against it in Western societies. Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University, says technology has changed how people feel about bodies.

“Because of advances in technology and medical science, people no longer understand the body as something natural that you’re born with and live with. Instead, we understand it much more as something that is changeable and mutable...

“People are no longer simply British or Australian or Californian. Our identities are far more particular, linked to our interests, affinities to cultural or spiritual traditions, tastes in music, and subcultural allegiances. The tattoo has become a vehicle for that sort of particular identification.

“Globalisation is exposing us to a whole range of traditions from many places. Body art is becoming the opposite of conformity, a sort of badge of travel, or internationalism. People visit places and make them parts of themselves, so that they will forever bear marks of their unique visit.”

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