«You’ve Got to Do This like a Professional – Not like One of These Scratchers!». Reconstructing the Professional Self-Understanding of Tattoo Artists

Irmgard Steckdaub-Muller


This article investigates the professional self-understanding of tattoo artists, an occupational group that has been expanding rapidly in recent years. Despite ongoing discussions on health and safety risks, tattooing does still not require a recognised licence in most European countries. Tattooists respond to public prejudices concerning their potentially dangerous work practices by referring to their responsibility towards clients and the complexity of their work, which qualify them as professionals. In narrative interviews, tattooists stress that the high standards of artistic quality, craft skills and service orientation, which their customers expect, require their individual professionalisation. Their accounts reveal their notions of professionalism and the rhetorical strategies of boundary work, which they employ to construct their professional identity. The study provides an example of how the practitioners of a non-regulated professional group, whose work has been considered as unskilled and even deviant, adopt and interpret the concept of professionalism to legitimise their status as professionals.


tattoo artists; professionalism; professional identity; biography; qualitative research; professionalisation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13128/cambio-23483

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