Role of tattoos in construction of coherent identity

December 23rd, 2007 - 3:50 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 23 (ANI): Getting tattoos is not just a fashion trend, for a new research by a University of Arkansas marketing professor has found that individuals use body art as a way to find meaning, permanence and stability.

Therefore, the tattoo provides a coherent identity in an increasingly complex and fragmented world.

Jeff Murray, marketing professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, explained why people buy certain products and demonstrated that marketers and retailers increasingly rely on narrative to sell all kinds of products.

The researcher said that each tattoo could be viewed as a symbol of an episode or scene in the narrative of ones life.

Possibly, more poignantly, Murray referred to the stories as personal myths, which other researchers have defined as stories that bring together a wide range of experience into a purposeful and convincing whole.

We continue to be struck by rapid and unpredictable change. Some theorists talk it about in terms of postmodernism, which is one way of saying that our culture has become fractured, Murray said.

Consumer culture reflects this situation, as consumers adapt to these changes by varying their lifestyle. They downshift, upgrade, change their hair, body, clothes, car, house, career, geographic location and even family. The result is a loss of personal anchors needed for identity. We found that tattoos provide this anchor. Their popularity reflects a need for stability, predictability, permanence and identity, he added.

In order to analyse persons individual life stories, Murray selected seven subjects, three women and four men, with a breadth of life experience.

The youngest was 22 years old; the oldest was 58. Two were married, three were single, one was a widower and one was divorced. Some had children, and others did not.

The volunteers represented diverse occupations, including college student, college professor, construction worker, medical courier, artist, waitress and manager of an exotic boutique.

In the study, Murray and his students conducted unstructured, in-depth interviews with the above subjects.

The interviews were audiotaped, and each interview lasted from one to slightly more than two hours.

The questions focused on the meaning of the tattoo design, the experience of being tattooed, perceptions of the body, words the subjects used to describe themselves and other biographical information. Then an interpretive group, consisting of Murray and three co-authors, met once a week to read the transcribed interviews aloud and discuss potential interpretations.

Focusing on temporal sequencing of key events and narrative movement leading to the formation of a personal myth for each subject, group members then sought common story lines between individual narratives.

Through the analyses, the researchers identified two predominant themes: stories of redemption and stories of contamination.

Narrative sequences of redemption moved from an emotionally negative or bad scene to an emotionally positive or good outcome. For example, one subject had several tattoos to symbolize her journey of healing from the grief she felt because of the death of her parents.

Conversely, narrative sequences of contamination moved from good to bad. In this case, positive experience was spoiled or contaminated by a bad outcome.

Our analyses revealed that identity is an ongoing negotiation between the individual who chooses to narrate particular scenes and the culture within which the individual lives. Redemption and contamination sequences as common story lines helped us better understand the long-term consequences of tattoos and their role in the negotiation process, Murray said.

Murray said that this process demonstrates the importance and power of narrative in the construction of personal identity, which, good or bad, says a lot about the types of products people purchase and their reasons for purchasing them. Many marketers and retailers understand this and increasingly rely on narrative to sell all kinds of products.

The study titled Inscribing the Myth: the Role of Tattoos in Identification, is published in Research in Consumer Behaviour. (ANI)

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