Tattoos as art, work, decoration and defiance

Customizing the Body

The Art and Culture of Tattooing

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Revised and Expanded Edition

Clinton R. Sanders with D. Angus Vail

"The new material is a welcome addition. Much has changed globally with regard to tattooing in the 15 years since Sanders originally penned Customizing the Body. While the shifts in attitudes toward and practices about tattooing are too voluminous for any single book, Sanders and Vail have done admirably to note the major changes in tattooing cultures that have altered the business and the art in North America."
Michael Atkinson, Loughborough University

"These additions to the original version of Customizing the Body are important, timely, and well written. I was particularly fascinated by Sanders's accounts of his experiences since writing the original work, which were humorous and telling. I have always wondered what had happened to Sanders's tattoo interests after the publication of Customizing the Body and was glad to finally learn the story. Given my delight in reading his additions to the original, I am sure others are eager to see this new edition.."
Katherine Irwin, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Originally published in 1989, this ground-breaking ethnographic exploration of tattooing—and the art world surrounding it—covers the history, anthropology and sociology of body modification practices; the occupational experience of the tattooist; the process and social consequences of becoming a tattooed person; and the prospects of "serious" tattooing becoming an accepted art form. Curiously, despite the greater prevalence of tattoos and body modification in today’s society, there is still a stigma of deviance associated with people who get or ink tattoos.

Retaining the core of the original book, this revised and expanded edition offers a new preface by the author and a new chapter focusing on the changes that have occurred in the tattoo world. A section on the new scholarly literature that has emerged, as well as the new modes of body modification that have come into vogue are included along with a new gallery of photographs that shows some splendid examples of contemporary tattoo art. A directory of artists' websites invites readers to discover the range of work being done around the world—from “suits” (full body tattoos) to skulls.



Read the Preface (pdf).



Praise for the first edition:

"This is the most intelligent book available to date on the modern aspects of an increasingly popular form of body decoration."
Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating and well-written study, one that finely sharpens the distinction between deviance and respectability."

"The author, tattooed himself, knowledgeably discusses both the symbolic and social meanings of tattooing…[Customizing the Body] will give even those who think they know all about tattooing a fresh look at many aspects of the art and the people involved, as well as the relationship between practitioners and clients. Sanders' book is both intelligent and entertaining."

Praise for the revised and expanded edition:

"The book follows the historical, anthropological and social practices of body modification.... This second edition contains a new introduction and an interesting chapter entirely dedicated to the changes which took place over the past ten years in the world of tattoo. A new gallery of images shows some wonderful examples of contemporary tattoos."
Tattoo Life



Preface to the Revised and Expanded Edition
Preface to the First Edition
1. Introduction: Body Alteration, Artistic Production, and the Social World of Tattooing
2. Becoming and Being a Tattooed Person
3. The Tattooist: Tattooing as a Career and an Occupation
4. The Tattoo Relationship: Risk and Social Control in the Studio
5. Conclusion: Tattooing and the Social Definition of Art
Epilogue 2008: Body Modification Then and Now
Methodological Appendix
Selected Tattoo Artist Websites


About the Author(s)

Clinton R. Sanders is a Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Connecticut. His most recent book is Understanding Dogs: Living and Working with Canine Companions (Temple), which received the Charles Horton Cooley Award given by the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.

D. Angus Vail is Associate Professor of Sociology at Willamette University in Salem, OR. He is also co-editor (with Erich Goode) of Extreme Deviance.

Subject Categories

Cultural Studies
General Interest



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