"You've Got to Do This like a Professional, Not like One of These Scratchers." Reconstructing the Professional Self-Understanding of Tattoo Artists.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Irmgard STECKDAUB-MULLER, Institut für Soziologie, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen Nürnberg, Germany
You’ve got to do this like a professional, not like one of these scratchers!

Reconstructing the Professional Self-Understanding of Tattoo Artists.

Since getting tattooed as beauty service work has become increasingly popular in all social milieus, the number of tattoo artists has been growing continuously. Although tattoo parlours have sprouted like mushrooms and TV shows have been portraying tattoo artists and their work, tattooing as paid labour still doesn’t require a vocational training and approved licence in many countries. However, institutionalized capital and pursuing a ‘conventional’ occupation are crucial components of a person’s social identity. Therefore, the lack of qualifications and the negative reputation of tattooing in the past raise the question about the actor’s professional self-understanding within society. The analysis of narrative interviews with female and male tattoo artists of different age, national and social background on their work biography and work experiences plus ethnographic studies reveal that the construction of their professional identity is defined by a discourse of ‘professionalism’. Generally, the interviewed tattoo artists consider themselves ‘professionals’ by referring to their expertise, their responsibility, high hygienic standards and the level of artistical quality, which their clients expect them to deliver. Like all body work tattooing is ‘high-touch’ service work and involves the violation of the ‘territories of the self’ (Goffman). The tattooing act requires a professional framing, emotion work and communicative competences, which many interviewees compare to the profession of psychiatrists, psychologists and/or medical doctors. Furthermore, along with the process of their individual professionalization they develop a set of values, norms and competences as an ideal for their commitment to tattooing. This discourse of professionalism and expertise not only frames the self-understanding as an artist, craftsman and/or beauty service worker, but also serves as a powerful strategy of distinction and exclusion against ‘scratchers’ within the tattoo scene.