Blood and Lightning
On Becoming a Tattooer
Dustin Kiskaddon


Introduction: The Bumblebee Rides a Unicycle
chapter abstract

Establishing shot of the people, places, and processes most relevant to the book's major concern-the intersection of people, bodies, and money as experienced by tattooers. Explains tattooing from a Goffmanian perspective, exploring "regions" of "frontstage" and "backstage" work to produce "glamour" by tattooers—who I suggest perform "body labor" and whom become "embodied" over time. Frames the body as a physical and cultural phenomenon and highlights the masculinizing character of tattoo shop experience. Suggests tattooing is cooperative and insists tattooers are socialized agents interacting with conventions, including those related to "sensory socialization," emotions, and emotional labor. Introduces main characters and their struggles while instituting the book's through line arguments and metaphors.

1Enter the Apprentice
chapter abstract

Employs Durkheim's sociology of religion to describe apprenticeship entry as sacred ritual and shows the intimate character of tattoo/body labor. Explains the need for sensory socialization among tattooers who must embody tattooing's demands, including those of sanitization and cross-contamination prevention. Introduces my entry into the shop and uses "rapport" to describe affinity among people with shared social history, including in areas of gender, race, and class. Details Matt's apprenticeship program and situate it within in a broader, occupational struggle over apprenticeship ideals while illustrating the power of these ideals through an example of contention—when Matt nearly opened a "tattoo school" and broke conventions.

2You Should Be Scared
chapter abstract

Employs the concept "feeling rules" to illustrate the emotional quality of tattoo labor and to emphasize the "emotional labor" involved. Further describes the role of aesthetics in the production of masculinity and frames tattooing as a site to understand/trouble notions of "permanence" and time related to bodies. Distinguishes tattooing from other forms of body labor on the basis of considerations surrounding time and breaks the time associated with a tattoo into two parts—the object and process—while theorizing their relationship and impact on tattooer and client. Questions the role of fear and argues it serves as a signal for understanding and alignment with site specific conventions of feeling and practice.

3Noticing Bodies
chapter abstract

Suggests a strong need for "bodily awareness" in tattooing, both of the self and others, while forwarding the claim that tattooers learn to approach the body as an object of technical labor over time. Articulates the necessity to embody conventions of practice while showing how repetitive body labor can damage the body. Frames embodiment as "bodily capital" and illustrates the emotional demand of tattoo labor through a focus on client talk about any tattoo's meaning. Shows the dual quality of bodies (physical/cultural) and the relationship between the body and personhood by exploring a tension between bodily objectification and personal recognition. Details how tattooers understand and manage the pain they cause, arguing they routinize the experience.

4Touching Bodies
chapter abstract

Situates touch in tattooing as a sociological concern. Employs the "touching rules" concept, explores socialization required for proper touch, and details the cultural norms of appropriate touch with the concept, "touching right." Compares tattooers to surgeons to illustrate the aesthetic influence on appropriate—non sexualized—touch. Uses "affective centrality" to describe tattoo spaces and highlights cases wherein tattooers touched wrong to illustrate the porous boundaries between everyday life and tattoo worlds. Explores the "Me Too" movement among tattooers and frames appropriate touch in tattooing as "non-pampering," situating this in a history of pampering labor and its gendered qualities. Introduces the idea of "exhibition rules" in tattoo shops to convey the social expectations of nude bodily display.

5The Physical and Cultural Life of Skin
chapter abstract

Describes skin as a physical and cultural phenomenon. It is cultural in the sense that people ascribe meaning to its physical characteristics. Forwards tattooing as a practice that helps reveal the social quality of bodies and the skin's coloration in particular. Describes race as an outcome of an historical process of European, scientistic racialization and situates tattooers as people who become "tone-conscious" through their work—yet another aspect of their sensory socialization. Explores the impact of 2020's Black Lives Matter movement on tattooing and explains a light skin preference among some tattooers as newly troublesome in light of heightened public discourse. Situates technology as an agent of racial ideology, with Instagram use among tattooers as a focus.

6Mspld and Other Mistakes
chapter abstract

Explores the experience of making mistakes in tattooing, with emphasis on the connection between our understanding of the body, the life course, permanence, work, and emotion. Emphasizes the importance of impression management among tattooers and highlights the role of perceived permanence in distinguishing tattooing from other forms of body labor. Forwards a social approach to the conscience, drawing from theories of social interaction, including Irving Goffman, George H. Mead, W.E.B. DuBois, and pragmatist philosophy William James. Offers a riveting narrative of the pain derived from messing up someone's body at work.

7How Much for a Face Tattoo?
chapter abstract

Explores the moral side of tattoo labor, specifically the social production of right and wrong in relation to giving people tattoos and especially those that will likely impact the client in a negative way. Forwards an economic analysis of moral decision making at work, one that connects price, autonomy, care, and hierarchy to the notion of choice. Explains why tattooers are like everyone else—unlikely to be profit-maximizing in their labor, and frames this as an "ethic of refusal." Emphasizes that tattooers follow conventions to aid their moral decisions and highlights the potential risk of refusing to do certain tattoos, a risk amplified by broader arrangements of power in the areas of race and gender.

Conclusion: The Unleavable Field
chapter abstract

Re-establishes the books primary arguments, descriptions, and approaches to theory through a discussion of Matt and his enduring love for tattooing. Includes an account of how COVID-19 impacted tattoo worlds, with emphasis on the precarity of relying on carnal interaction for income. Adds a note about ethnography and specifically the notion of "the field." Historicizes the field and suggests embodied ethnographies have a unique field—the body. Notes how tattooing can harm the body over time and how, given that tattooing's demands can become routinized in bodily experience, a tattooer/researcher who leaves the field might carry it with them.

Appendix: Moral Conditions of Ethnographic Writing and Research
chapter abstract

Explains the research process with emphasis on the profound impact direct participation in tattooing had on the book's focus and publication. Draws on research about ethics and writing to describe the risk we open people up to by writing about their lives. Explores writing as clarifying and outlines a more academic take on methodology, particularly Wacquant's "sociology of flesh and blood." Explains the risks of doing embodied research—of tattooing people for research—and details the participants, data, and analysis used to produce the narrative.