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Deviant Behavior
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flesh journeys: neo primitives and the contemporary rediscovery of radical body modification
Michael Atkinson, Kevin Young

University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK Version of record first published: 29 Oct 2010.

To cite this article: Michael Atkinson, Kevin Young (2001): flesh journeys: neo primitives and the contemporary rediscovery of radical body modification, Deviant Behavior, 22:2, 117-146 To link to this article:

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esh journeys: neo primitives and the contemporary rediscovery of radical body modi cation
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Michael Atkinson University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada Kevin Young Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK. Email:
Viewing the body as both an evocative social text and a vehicle of social resistance, this article explores recent developments within the Neo Primitive (NP) movement. As a segmented branch of the larger body modi cation cultural scene, Neo Primitives have created individuals have created a renaissance of deeply amboyant and often radical body marking practices. Members stress the spiritual, emotional, and practical rewards of body modi cation for those entrenched within (and ultimately oppressed by) hegemonic boundaries of physical expression in the modern metropolis, especially as those boundaries relate to codes of beauty, gender, sexuality, spirituality, and personal creativity. Building on qualitative data gathered in two Canadian cities, and viewing members of this subculture as active agents of counter-expression and dissent, this article explores the ideologies,
Received 10 February 2000; accepted 14 June 2000. This study was funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Paci c Sociological Association, San Francisco, California, April 15 –19, 1998. Address correspondence to Michael Atkinson, Department of Sociology, The University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4. E-mail:


or emotions over time— we are speci cally interested in the more radical modern varieties of tattooing. branding. Quite simply.118 M. Although no of cial statistic s exist to document the pervasiveness of tattooing or other forms of radical body modi cation today.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . Vale and Juno 1989). deviant images. While the long-standing argument that in Canada and other Western societies radical body modi cations. this categorizatio n often limits the analysis of the practices in Western culture as legitimate and We use the word ‘permanent’ cautiously here. by ‘permanent’ modes of body modi cation we imply practices such as tattooing that are intentionally designed to alter one’s esh and physical appearance in a lasting way. and economic status (Steward 1990. The focus of this article is on the third of these forms— body modi cation. more recently. Once associated exclusively with the social underbelly (gangs. and social stigma tend to go hand-in-hand maintains credibility (Gray 1994). sailors. and scari cation practices. ethnicity. the Canadian milieu of radical body modi cation appears to be in ux. body ornamentation. Myers 1997. piercing. outlaws). laser surgery. thoughts. 1 Although there are endless ways to consider how a body might be modi ed as part of a ‘‘ esh journey’’— the process of intentionally reconstructing the corporeal in order to symbolically represent and physically chronicle changes in one’s identity. Vale and Juno 1989). However. and revolutionize the esh. Mif in 1997.92. Rowanchilde 1995.59. Atkinson and K. for example. reports by Atkinson and Young (1998). or permanent modes of body decoration. reclaim. including skin grafts and. 1989) suggest that anywhere from 10 –20% of North Americans have engaged in the practices. relationships. gender. there have been medical and technical means of removing tattoos from the esh for some time. CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT OF BODY MODIFICATION It is generally agreed that the art of body decoration assumes three main forms: body painting. or what Myers (1997) refers to as nonmainstream forms of body modi cation. Young practices. sexual orientation. and lived experiences of NPs attempting to recreate. Camphausen (1997). a late twentieth century renaissance of radical body modi cation has ushered in a new era of cultural expression and ideological representatio n through body manipulation. and Sanders (1988. Where tattooing is concerned. It is also clear from the information available to date that the practices cut across demographic categories of age. and body modi cation (Camphausen 1997. prisoners. 1 Downloaded by [178.

namely.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 respectable forms of art or personal expression (Demello 1993. branded. b. this group is also alternatively known as Modern Primitives. the main purpose of this article is to explore what Elias (1987) and gurational sociologists might call the ongoing sociogenesis of the NP group in Canada by investigatin g the contemporary meanings and uses NPs ascribe to radical body modi cation. Friedman 1996. we draw upon several literatures—speci cally those examining the body. and Urban Primitives. In this article. cultural. Therefore.Flesh Journeys 119 Downloaded by [178. AIDS. it has been shown that the physical body is an evocative text. we brie y introduce the genesis of the NP movement in North America. In particular. deviance.59. The structure of our discussion is broken down into four main segments. pierced. or other illnesses) than on the socially constructed body — the body that is voluntarily sought out and manufactured as a site of social and cultural meaning. Leaning on terms and categories adopted by participants themselves.92. and represent one of the most outspoken groups of radical body modi cation enthusiasts in the new era. CONCEPTUAL AND THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS The Culturally Inscribed Body As sociologists. and religious signi cance (Frank 1991a. In a number of different ways. or scarred bodies.2 NPs are a growing strand within the body modi cation scene (Irwin 1977) in Canada. By inferring the physical body. Urban Aboriginals. 2 Though widely known as Neo Primitives. and social control— to explore the practices of a group of Canadian body modi cation practitioners who are at the forefront of the move toward incorporating radical body modi cation into everyday life. we are interested in how and why culture may be inscribed upon the physical body. 1995. political. Gallick 1996. the Neo Primitives (NPs). and examine how NPs’ understandings of their body modi cations are intersubjectivel y shared within the group. we then discuss six main rationales NPs promulgate for radical body modi cation. Following an overview of the relevant literatures and research methods employed in the study. our focus is less on the body that emerges biologically (such as the body experiencin g cancer. Turner 1984). and have encouraged Canadians to rediscover the cultural meanings of radical body modi cation. Vail 1999). . rich in social. they have challenged the deviant stereotypes associated with tattooed.

’’ and argues that such projects help symbolically construct an individual’s self and social identity. Deviance. or esh journeys.59. and contents are subject to reconstruction on an ongoing basis. Klein 1993. as Hebdige (1979) writes. While at rst glance seemingly dissonant. we have seen a proliferatio n of research on ‘body work’ in sociology and academia in general.120 M. appearance. the experience of the body in sport is subject to context-speci c de nition and interpretation . have been topics of investigation for sociologists. the body is always in a process of becoming. Young. individuals are often seeking to elicit a negative response from others. From this Downloaded by [178. An assortment of body projects. Hall and Jefferson 1975). Young and Gillett 1995)— the body is contested terrain. the cosmetically altered body (Balsamo 1996. and Gillett 1995). Atkinson and K. These include the hyper-muscular body (Bordo 1993. shape. As ideas about what constitutes deviance (i. Of course. Segal 1994). As has been noted in the sociological literature on another hugely popular culture practice— sport (Bourdieu 1978. Haraway 1991). what uni es these and other forms of cultural expression is the conscious attempt to alter the body’s natural parameters in some way. White. Research has shown that just as the meanings of sport in our society are disputed. Lupton 1996. Seid 1989). White. in relation to the body) are socially constructed and consciously resisted by social groups. we must consider how actors anticipate social reaction to their deviant bodily styles or conduct. Eichberg 1998. In presenting radical and confrontational style (such as nonmainstream forms of body modi cation). and the cybernetic body (Balsamo 1995. Young Chris Shilling (1993) refers to body modi cation as an intentionally designed ‘‘body project. The deliberate presentatio n of a profane or marked body is. Davis 1994).. altering the body voluntarily as a form of style represents only one aspect of a complex social process that must also include audience response. Gruneau 1983.92. Miller and Penz 1991. the emaciated body (Ellman 1993. As radical and nonradical ‘‘body work’’ (Miller and Penz 1991) has blossomed as a form of popular self-expressio n in North America.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . ‘‘given’’ to be deconstructed in a negative way. may be instrumental for those interested in resisting social norms and conventions (Clarke 1975.e. to inscribe upon the body a set of symbols that instantly distinguish it from the mainstream and connect it af liatively or disaf liatively with the other marked up bodies and groups. as its size. often in socially deviant ways. For Shilling. then. the trans-gendered body (Butler 1989.

Writing at the onset of the body modication renaissance in North America. Body Modi cation and the Social Sciences With the exception of Clinton Sanders’ work on tattooing. Research on radical body modi cation arising out of other academic disciplines is insightful. given the complexities of Canadian cultural history. and a boom in the tattooing of females. should be a starting point for anyone interested in the eld. Rubin 1988) or tattooing in other urban cultures (Martischnig 1987. and Roe 1971.59. Houghton et al. Verberne Downloaded by [178. Gell 1993. the work of some psychologists has severely limited a broader understanding of radical body modi cation (i. Unfortunately. he alludes to its changing signi cance in our culture. However. In our view. Vail 1999) and some historical accounts (i. Aside from a series of scattered ethnographies (i.e. Richie and Buruma 1980). Payne. Arguably. but may not re ect the contemporary cultural uses of body modi cation in Canada (including the NP practices). Exploring the tattoo as both a voluntary and involuntary mark of stigma.e. Rosenblatt 1997. Grumet 1983. cultural anthropology provides some interesting case studies on either the tribal uses of body modi cation (Camphausen 1997. Sanders effectivel y reintroduced the topic to sociologists. we argue that one of the fundamental sociological issues taking place in both the adoption of and response to radical body modi cation is cultural struggle over legitimate ways of using the body (Bourdieu 1978. Ebin 1979. Pitts 1998. Howell. 1991) provides important suggestions for structuring subsequent research on radical body modi cation. sociological inquiry into the practices is minimal. For example. Recognizing a return to alternative styles. Myers 1997.92. Shilling 1993).. McKerracher and Watson 1969. his text Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing (1989).66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . sociologists have been somewhat inattentive to the study of nonmainstream body-modi cation. McCabe 1997. Sanders (1989. a reinvigorated youth movement.. Clair and Govenar 1981. Newman 1982. 1996. Steward 1990).. Sanders’ work on tattooing represents the most comprehensive existing analysis of radical body modi cation in the West. St.Flesh Journeys 121 starting point. especially in the Canadian context.e. parallels between the case studies are insuf cient to serve as a framework for a contemporary sociological analysis of the practices in the late 1990s.

Such perceptions have done little to produce an accurate picture of the cultural meanings associated with body modi cation and do not allow participants to speak for themselves using their own terms and categories. This suggests that in our culture there may be a greater likelihood of tattooed persons having an abnormal personality than persons who are not tattooed. low self control or other behavioral disorders: Many Westerners do not belong to particular groups where tattooing is expected. observation.92.59. Theorizing that tattoos are physical indicators of individual pathology. whose own esh journeys include tattoos and piercings. and content analysis) in two major metropolitan areas in Canada (Toronto. while the existing literature on radical body modi cation has introduced the subject to sociologists. yet they resort to this primitive method of emotional expression. observations.3 Emphasis throughout 3 While both authors share a sociological interest in the subject at hand. Field relations were facilitate d by personal involvement in the radical body modi cation scene in Canada. has been directly involved in the body modi cation movement for several years. interviews. Young 1969). a portrait of the contemporary uses and interpretations of radical body modi cation (such as in the NP group) is only beginning to develop. semi-structured open-ended interviews. RESEARCH APPROACH Four conventional qualitative research strategies— participant observation.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . the rst author. Ontario and Calgary. Therefore. Atkinson and K. and content analysis). Downloaded by [178.122 M. observation. Emotional immaturity is the personality factor nominated as the primary trait associated with the urge to mutilate the body with tattoos (McKerracher and Watson 1969:167 –168). and content analysis— were employed in this research. Alberta). All of the direct eldwork (interviews and participant observation) has been conducted by him. Data were collected from body modi cation artists (using interviews. Many of these individuals congregate in institutions that cater for disordered social behavior. psychologists have often attempted to correlate tattooing homosexuality as well as criminal attitudes. and from those who engage in NP body modi cation (using participant observation.

Having rst developed acquaintances with tattoo and piercing artists at several studios where NP members gather.92. and asked if they would provide names of friends. with an age range of 18– 43. Of the clients interviewed. the focus in this particular study was on the self-described members of the body modi cation scene involved in the Canadian NP movement— estimated by Downloaded by [178. The principle methods of data collection have been participant observation and semi-structured interviews with body modi cation artists (n H 20) and their clients (n H 35). or acquaintances also involved in body modi cation practices. Thus. Of the artists interviewed . and observation of artists and their clients at body modi cation conventions (n H 4). focusing on questions that attempted to probe the meanings involved in ‘doing’ body modi cation. with a group age range of 19 – 37 years. and 5 (14%) African-Canadian interviewees. The sample of clients was somewhat more racially diverse. the sampling strategy was a combination of purposive and snowball sampling. 21 (60%) were male and 14 (40%) were female. and individuals involved. ideologies. Clients were generally met at the studios. including 21 (60%) White interviewees .66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . The interviews themselves ranged in length (from 30 minutes to. with only two exceptions (both of these individuals were AsianCanadians). 9 (26%) Asian-Canadian interviewees . and acted as invaluable sponsors in the sampling process.59. Interview schedules with NPs were relatively exible. Artists routinely provided the names of other artists. family. The interview data are supplemented with observations made at various body modication studios (n H 25). It is important to note that while many other artists and their clients were interviewed as part of a larger and ongoing research project. the names used in this paper are pseudonyms and bear no resemblance to respondents’ actual names. in some cases. contacts were subsequently established with clients. observation at rituals of the esh and group body modi cation events or ceremonies (n H 6). 5 hours) and 11 (55%) of the 20 artists interviewed (and 13 of the 35 clients—37.Flesh Journeys 123 the course of the research was on body modi cation artists who participate in the NP movement. The majority of artists interviewed were White (90%). This has been a tactical and practical sampling approach as these artists are at the forefront of the body modi cation scene in Canada. For purposes of con dentiality and to preserve anonymity.14%) were interviewed more than once. and hence have a great deal of knowledge about the practices. 15 (75%) were male and 5 (25%) female.

the cities chosen in Canada re ect the movement’s origins. just ten years ago there existed only one tattoo studio in Calgary. branding. Located in an af uent province of Canada. For reasons already described. the NP movement remains youthful in this burgeoning metropolitan area. However. it is useful to draw comparisons between the practices in both countries. there are obvious questions as to the generalizabilit y of our data. In 1999. Even though several conceptual and theoretical themes relevant to the study of NPs cut across the study of other groups which practice mainstream and radical forms of body modi cation. However.124 M. there were 17. with occasional references to its American counterpart. the city has an alreadyestablished body modi cation scene. Berlin) are ltered to body modi cation studios in Canada through the artwork emanating from Toronto’s studios. Artists and their clients in these cities are the target populations from which we have sampled. or scari cation). With a culturally diverse population of over 3 million and a continually expanding metropolitan base. Many of the NP body modi cation styles that become popular in other major metropolitan areas around the world (San Francisco. or scari cation only.000). normally by hiring other artists who specialize in a particular practice (most commonly. New York. In addition. particular styles of piercing. Most recently. Quite simply. and therefore served as the ideal launching point for the research. with numerous independent artists operating out of their homes or other quarters. we are focusing here on the NP movement in Canada. Young some NP artists to account for 5 –8% of all body modi cation enthusiasts in Canada.59. as they compromise a large portion of the population of NPs in Canada. studios now employ artists who specialize in piercing. Atkinson and K. Along with the majority of studios in Canada.92. many of them branched out into other forms of radical body modi cation. As Canadian body modi cation closely parallels the movement in the United States. research has been conducted where the body modi cation scene is vibrant.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . branding. While examinations of various factions of the larger body modi cation scene have been conducted throughout the research process. The faction of the NPs in Toronto is perhaps the nexus of the scene in Canada. London. the area acts as the broadcast beacon of radical body modi cation styles in Canada. the interpretatio n provided in this article is re ective Downloaded by [178. Los Angeles. Given the nature of the sampling procedure. the research has shifted to Calgary (population of approximately 850.

Lautman 1994. Rowanchilde 1995. Robinson 1998. often full body) designs resonating with ‘tribal’ lines and shapes that follow the body’s natural contours. Promoting the practice of radical body art as a method of self-expressio n and aesthetic experimentation .4 This was the stage for what might be described as the primitive revolution in North American body modi cation. 2) piercing— often complementing the primary activity of tattooing. and the Haida of North America). North American practitioners soon found that perceptions of body modi cation were changing. articulated by various tribal tattoo styles (the Maori of New Zealand. THE SOCIOGENESIS OF THE NEO PRIMITIVE MOVEMENT While primitive forms of body modi cation have never stopped being adopted as bridges to the past in some cultures (the use of tattooing in Maori societies of New Zealand is an obvious example).e. it seems. and Toronto (Camphausen 1997. four are most prevalent: 1) tattooing— characteristicall y done in black and red ink with (large. 4 There is insuf cient space here to precisely detail the history of NP body modi cation. Gray 1994. see Camphausen (1997). For in-depth overviews of this history..92. Rosenblatt (1997). New York. a resurgence in primitive body modi cation practices more generally (i. a new level of social acceptability and appreciation seemed to be emerging. the article is not intended as an account of all body modi cation practices or groups in Canada. the Western subcultural adoption of so-called primitive styles is a recent phenomenon (Rosenblatt 1997). The genesis of the NP movement in North America can be traced back to an interest in tribal lifestyles and artwork that developed in the late 1970s in major urban centers such as Los Angeles. NP body modi cation re ects diverse rituals of the esh. speci cally. Downloaded by [178.Flesh Journeys 125 of Canadian NPs only. and. 3) branding or burning— the most simple of all body modi cation practices but involving the most sensory and ritualistic methods of application. Of the radical forms of body modi cation practiced. Locations vary according to personal signi cance including. most areas of the skin.59. the Dayak of Borneo.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . or Vale and Juno (1989). Vale and Juno 1989). 4) scari cation —an historically meaningful cultural expression that has been traditionally shunned by Western culture and is hence prime for reinsertion into contemporary expressive practice. piercing. Essentially. Rosenblatt 1997. San Francisco. Rowanchilde (1995).

Vale and Juno (1989) argue that North American society is at a crossroads of body modi cation in that there is a desire to return to the primitive meanings behind body modi cation.59. body burning (i. Tattoos are placed in normally exposed areas such as hands. 5 Predictably. Piercings.e... bondage). and legs. Also germane in the body modi cation revival in North America. and bone manipulation).. The practices described in their landmark text include body encumberments (i.e. but rather relish in the exhibition of their modi ed bodies. Rosenblatt 1997). and a growth in related print media sources to promote and support an expanding social appetite for information on the movement (i. and body penetration (i. scari cation. piercing. Body Play and Modern Primitives.. Vale and Juno’s Modern Primitives (1989) underlined the scope and potential of body modi cation techniques. face. branding). tattooing. Vale and Juno 1989). along with tattoo artists such as Ed Hardy. Importantly. Rosenblatt 1997). Their work stressed the signi cance body art has played in human history (Myers 1997..5 As one of the pioneers of the American Neo Primitive movement. Jim Ward and Leo Zuluetta. Cliff Raven. While Musafar has been criticized by some in the body modi cation community for promoting unsafe practices. practiced. and Tattoo Savage). Piercing Fans International Quarterly. Young branding. Fakir Musafar has researched. NPs widely use the internet to publicize their activities and educate others about the cultural signi cance of radical body modi cation.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . Arguably. he has.e. Part of the NP return to primitive sensibilities about radical body modi cation has included a reconceptualizatio n of how the modi ed body is displayed to others. arms. plastic.e. necks.e. body suspension (i. or bone (in the form of rings. As such. a similar boom has also occurred in the growth of websites focusing on radical body modi cation practices. and promoted radical body modi cation for years (Rosenblatt 1997. Downloaded by [178. niobium. body compression (i. labored to emphasize reveal the historical signi cance of body modi cation.92. Atkinson and K.e.. Musafar has done more than almost any other person in teaching the cultural meanings and psychoemotional potential of radical body modi cation (cf. scarring).126 M. the outward and often public display of these modi cations is perhaps one of the de ning aspects of the NP approach to body modi cation. NP group members do not hide or ‘‘pass’’ (Goffman 1963) their physical differences. made from stainless steel. neck encasements). through the use of hooks penetrating the esh).

As it is dif cult to speak of the group as a distinct subculture with well-de ned boundaries. and sexual orientation. In the words of one of our Downloaded by [178.59.Flesh Journeys 127 barbells. the use of branding and scari cation by NPs can present socially disruptive images of the body. what de nes an individual as an NP is both an identi cation with a set of focal concerns expressed by the group (including the alienatio n and isolation originating out of the experience of urban culture) and the active participation in ‘alternative ’ social activities such as body modi cation. Pitts 1998). or genitalia) or where the skin can be stretched or manipulated to accommodate a piercing (such as eyebrows. it is perhaps more accurate to characterize the NP movement as an urban scene (Irwin 1977). can heal with less than artistically pleasing results. but share a common preference for urban life. Generally. . normally metal. Another central characteristi c of the NP group is the diversity of its members. then. support the claim that body modi cation is a viable means of reclaiming signi cant individual expression while developing a symbolic cultural cohesion among the group: Urban Primitives live in cities and modify their bodies in ways that have symbolic and signi cant meaning . links these practices and their associated meanings to current social and political concerns. This seems especially true where gender codes are concerned. and scari cation involves cutting a pattern or design into the skin with a sharp. and transformation (Rowanchilde 1995). According to the respondents in the present study. and do not have long-standing traditions in North America. [They] participate in painful rituals of the esh for reasons of personal growth. Neo Primitivism incorporates traditions of body modi cation from various tribal cultures. NPs come from a cross-sectio n of social backgrounds representing variations in age. Vale. As a social movement. occupation.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . NP practices.92. nipples. promulgated by key gures such as Musafar. or the neck). Branding involves burning a forged metal design into the skin. cheeks. implement. these include bodily protrusions (such as ears. and plugs) are inserted into various parts of the body. screws. ethnic background. self-healing . lips. and does this all within the framework of a futuristic vision of popular cultural expression. and Juno. As the practices can be quite painful. publicly displayed multiple tattoos and piercings represent a direct affront to traditional notions of femininity (Mif in 1997. In a culture still deeply strati ed along gender lines. nose. .

Later British subculture theorists (Cohen 1972. physical endurance and pain thresholds. or political experiences and goals bond in a way largely perceived to be deviant to collectively oppose or transform the hegemonic order.59. beauty and art. but rather from those accounts themselves and from the ‘insider’ vocabularies that comprise them. and a billboard to be displayed socially. they are thus resonant both culturally and historically . Young respondents.128 M. collectivize d body modi cation celebratin g tribal styles may be understood as a group signifyin g practice (Hebdige 1979) that helps members cohere through a sense of problem sharing and solving. Merton (1938) was one of the rst to describe such opposition as a form of adaptation to a cultural system. economic. the esh is simultaneously an accessible canvas to be manipulated in a deeply personal. For the most part. Downloaded by [178. Our data suggest that these experiences and intended outcomes may be classi ed into six main areas: subcultural membership and resistance. but are linked in the sense that they attempt to align modern forms of body modi cation with historically meaningful practices. ‘‘we are not interested in the return to the primitive. Writing mainly about delinquency. personal status passage. NEO PRIMITIVE BODY MODIFICATION: INTERPRETATIONS AND MEANINGS It is clear that the rationale of NPs for participating in what we call esh journeys involves several rich and multi-layered meaning structures.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . These are grounded in diverse cultural philosophies and ideologies. Willis 1978) conceived of deviance as a signifyin g practice that allows members of a community to resist feelings of social disenfranchisement . For NPs. NPs would argue that while the technology used for performing body modi cation is markedly different from tools used in the past. private way. Atkinson and K. In this sense. the purposes behind doing body modi cation remain strikingly similar. creativity and individuality. These headings derive not from our manipulations of NPs’ accounts. Hall and Jefferson 1975. Hebdige 1979. Subcultural Membership and Resistance Sociology is replete with research on how individuals sharing social. De Certeau (1984) argued that people make cultural statements using what they possess. and spirituality. we are interested in the return of the primitive’’(Jane 29).92.

Drawing heavily upon the body modi cation imagery and styles of Polynesians. we cling to one another in times [of] doubt and pain. bricolage refers to the process of creating new (and often socially deviant) uses and meanings for cultural objects. I nd solace in the fact that I know so many others who share my perspectives on life. There’s a family of members here that know things about me. it serves the fundamental purpose of designating membership both to insiders and to nonmembers. These images and styles have been appropriated by Canadian and American NPs. a coming of age that no one can take Downloaded by [178. Adopting a largely voluntary social stigma by acquiring and displaying profane body marks. . NP body modi cation re ects eclectic in uences. individuals establish bonds with others who are not only irreverent to such social stigma. The concept of ‘‘bricolage’’ is central in understanding how the NP members create a common set of symbols that are intersubjectivel y meaningful. 1969). giving new meanings and rationale for wearing the designs. North American Native cultures (such as the Haida).59. something you don’t experience if you go down to Smoky Joe’s tattoo shop and get ‘Number 23’ off the wall and never speak to anyone there ever again.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . The use of primitive body modi cation styles and techniques attempts to recapture the collective sense of community and belonging the NPs believe was achieved through tribal uses of body modi cation: In other cultures. and various African tribes. but relish in the aura of being socially distinct: No matter how much disdain people show me for my tattoos and brandings.Flesh Journeys 129 During the interviews. the Aztec. Originally attributed to the cultural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1966.’’ It’s a mark of pride. Melanesians. the Dyak of Borneo. and I know intimate personal details about them as well. getting a tattoo means that you’re ‘‘one of us. There’s a great sense of community that emanates out of this studio . That’s what these [points to tattoos] stand for (Phil 30). NPs frequently spoke of their personal dissatisfactio n with contemporary Canadian urban life. Their physically marked bodies are literally designed to be socially disruptive markers of discontent. .92. While body modi cation itself is not the only practice or value members collectivel y share.

Even though journeys of the esh are deeply personalized and unique. and like. ashamed. Psychobillies. you know. bring it back to my control. North Americans’ body projects are often highly individualized.92. body modi cation rituals help to resolve such experiences and purge the associated trauma. In this sense.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . and Skinheads) use radical body modi cation as an integral aspect of group membership and disafliation with other groups (Polhemus 1994). Atkinson and K. I went in one day with a friend of mine who was getting a tattoo to commemorate the passing of her dad. . repression). sexual or physical abuse. Young away from you after it’s over. and after speaking with a couple of the receptionists and one of the artists. Some members of the NP movement claim that for people who have endured emotional pain (such as illness. Personal Status Passage Since it is both an individual and collective form. Ravers. Then I met the people at [NP studio]. this involved coming to terms with an experience of sexual assault: I can’t believe it. one of the pack (Renata 25). Also key here is that group members experience and understand body modi cation in an intersubjectiv e sense. . I wanted to crawl out of myself . Therefore. I can’t really nd any other way of explaining this to you than by saying I felt numb. I lost my body when I was raped. even now when I’m sitting here talking to you [about the assault]. a new identity. I tried not to think about my body because I felt dirty. Downloaded by [178. for example. NPs use radical body modi cation for personal catharsis. Skaters. I love that about my tattoos. . many modern subcultures (such as Goths. Club Kids. body modi cation is clearly not utilized universally or with the same rationale or intent across social groups. re ecting an individual’s private search for a new self. I feel as if I’m a member of a tribe.59. . group members explore the expressive capabilities of the modi ed body by sharing their experiences with others similarly committed to body modi cation. I started thinking about getting a tattoo. I was out of my body for almost two years. but is ultimately crystallize d and understood within a group context.130 M. you know. . As Shilling (1993) comments. I thought a tattoo might help me reclaim my body. For some female respondents. the meaning behind the modi cation of the body certainly re ects unique personal biographies. Signi cantly.

. NP esh journeys represent personal status passages that involve the ritualistic purging of painful emotional experiences. . or may be openly discussed as a means of encouraging others to explore the potential for personal growth associated with the practices. I don’t think any amount of talk. 31). a vital part of the body modi cation process for many members of the NP movement is the ritual cleansing of a previously damaged body and self identity.or herself to a desire to move beyond a former identity or experience. I cried the whole time I was being tattooed. .S. could have forced me to get back in touch with my body like that. I consider that day my second birthday. Downloaded by [178.92. For some gay male respondents. In either situation. A status passage can be kept private and hidden. body modi cation is both an inward and outward symbol that the person has made a conscious life choice that binds him. after almost 15 years of hiding who I am. and sorrow came to the surface. being shared with only a few intimates. and hate. and every time the needles struck me I relived the pain of the rape.59. a symbolic point of departure from one self to another. he moved to Canada and in with me. with whoever. radically modifying the esh along tribal themes served as a marker of their coming out. . all of the fear. My tattoo [of a Gay Pride ag/banner] symbolizes the commitment I have made to C and to myself. . This is me. . . In brief. Marking the skin becomes a text to chronicle the passage from one point in a person’s life to the next.Flesh Journeys 131 I was a stranger in my own skin . . and as part of the declaratio n of their gay identity: I nally mustered up the courage to come out to my family and friends about three years ago. this is who I am and I want people to know that I’m not living in shadows anymore (Buddy. and after several months of enduring a long distance affair. In these ways. how publicly an individual chooses to display the passage is unique in each case. Ultimately. the day I really started to move on with my life (Jenny 24). I’d just entered into a serious relationship with a man I met in the U. . I love C and want to be with him the rest of my life.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 .

taking into consideration the idiosyncratic biography of the person. . brandings. a healer. credit cards. and piercings are typically designed for (and sometimes by) the individual. This is like. .92. As the sense of community is in decline in the modern urban metropolis and people are being dehumanized through technology and computers (for instance. Tattoos. NPs claim that they are searching for a method of reinjecting individuality into Canadian culture: See this.59. it’s all about me (Brian 27). . ever. . like another way to introduce myself. most of the body modi cation work done is understood as a one-time design. Ironically. No one else will look like this. and drivers’ licenses). the contours and shape of his or her body. So. Atkinson and K. as noted by a 29-year-old artist: Every person that walks through the door comes in because they’re searching for something. I have to get to know them. that’s what we believe in . it’s like another signature or thumb print. My job is to lead them down the path of discovery. and a soothsayer that guides a mystic journey. and artist-clien t negotiated ideas about the aesthetic appearance of the prospective work. Though in uenced by tribal body modi cation styles around the world.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . The mark that remains in the skin is only the end of the process. or to mark Downloaded by [178. it remains when the journey is over. Young Creativit y and Individualit y For NP members. Feeling that they are prisoners social to conformity. this is about me and nobody else. For this reason. I think an artist needs to be a shaman. the standard forms of body modi cation NPs adopt are predominantly custom work. PINs. to become friends so I can get into their heads and help them become who they want to be. man.132 M. they actually perceive individuality to be in decline in the modern global village as spatial areas and cultural differences are fused. email addresses. . another name I have. because the designs I have done are custom. while NPs believe that Canadians are more tolerant than other cultures toward diverse cultural beliefs and expressions. members claim that many people feel limited in the potential range of personal (bodily) expression available given the mores of Canadian institutions and settings. radically modifying the body often represents a political statement against limitations to personal expression and creativity . all of this.

radical body modi cation carries social messages about the wearers’ abilities to experience and relish in practices to which many people show a personal and social distaste. Rowanchilde 1995. Body modi cation experiences. as they see it.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . The outwardly expressed physical body transmits a language of common symbols and codes between group members that establishes or represents a group af liation. Radical body modi cation serves a two-fold task for NPs in this respect. Rosenblatt 1997. The modi ed body and its physical markings help represent relationships that are established in response to a collective rejection of social limitations to personal creativity and expression. to participate in group-based and individual pain rituals (Atkinson and Young 1998. marks of af liation also represent symbols of disaf liation that distinguish group members from nonmembers or. Robinson 1998. provide members with contexts to learn how to understand pain as a sensory experience open to social construction and interpretation. such as NPs. and it is not uncommon for modi cations to take place only after several consultations. and again especially the more radical forms (such as tattoos located on tender skin).59. Physical Endurance and Pain Thresholds One of the most obvious possibilities open to radical body modi cation practitioners is to allow insiders. the general pattern or structure of the NP style is generic enough that members of the group are able to recognize. This is partly achieved through a collective knowledge of primitive (i. As markers of physical toughness and the ability to endure painful ordeals. and it’s why we sit down together and draw out something unique for every soul who walks in here (Aaron).92. NPs are well acquainted with the artist performing their work.e. For NPs.Flesh Journeys 133 that it [the journey] has only begun. they accent the active desire to experience and embrace physical pain as a means of personal growth.. Myers 1997. and decode the symbols. That’s why I don’t tattoo designs off the wall. the experience of Downloaded by [178. Normally. pain not associated with childbirth). Vale and Juno 1989). Even though the markings are unique to the individual. For example. rituals of the esh are used to challenge Western notions of the physical capabilities of the female body to endure pain (that is. tribal) art and the personal relationships fostered between many NPs. At the same time. those who ‘buy into’ more conventional forms of body display. read.

The view that the self is in some way diminished by a marred or compromised physical body highlights dominant Western beliefs that a ‘perfect’ (i. appreciate. . but rather collectively respected as an austere illustration of personal integrity and growth: We revel in the discussion of emotional pain but treat the topic of physical pain like it’s fucking deviant. it hurts but it’s sweet. by participating in painful esh journeys that are widely believed to help individuals actually expand the capabilities of their bodies and selves: Every time I’m pierced there’s a rush of adrenaline. muscled. . Just as the tattooed image or piece of surgical stainless steel inserted under the skin can be read by audiences. I want everyone I talk to. with elite performers.134 M.59. Research on sports-related pain and injury has uncovered the dimensions of how pain is socially constructed and experienced. these deconstructions are used as an integral part of forming a collectivit y of individuals who coalesce around intersubjectiv e understandings of the body. and even hierarchize each others’ experiences. Atkinson and K. so can the implicit experience of pain behind the marks. beautiful. to understand that when you feel that steel slip through your skin you have to embrace it and understand what you will be after its over— changed for life (Sue. .e. The process of accepting and using the pain associated with body modi cation is another facet of the group af liation process. Young. their material livelihoods) are closely tied to the ability of their bodies to perform. this literature has shown how the injured or pained athletic body can be as damaged socially as it is physically.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . Members of the NP movement read. Some people get on roller coasters and Downloaded by [178. understanding in an instant the kind and level of pain implied by particular markings. For example. Again. and McTeer 1994). Young physical pain is seen as a vehicle to conjure altered physical and mental states. a disabled body can lead to a discredited self and a spoiled identity (Sabo 1986. White. In their own way. NP members seek to turn this cultural understanding of pain and injury on its head. right?. 33).. I’m so ‘jacked up’ because the feel of the cold needle is like a drug. Since athletes’ identities (and often.92. athletic) body is an outward representatio n of an equally admirable inner self. it is not to be avoided and feared.

hidden. Rather than passively accepting dominant social constructions about how bodily pain is to be avoided.’’ I don’t mind if people ask if a tattoo hurts. but rather a means of constructing physically stronger bodies and emotionally empowered social selves. may also be physically painful. . White. the enlarged breast— that is the catalyst to increase esteem. Thus. or reluctantly accepted. when I look down at myself and see what I have created. but you don’t have anything more than a memory after you do it. I like it (Jay. it does hurt. usually male athletes (Young. they are discussed almost as a black eye or a lacerated face is to be displayed as a badge of honor to some. . I’ve got seventeen piercings and I’ve been tattooed ten times just to feel it. I had to get used to it about ve years ago when I rst started [as a tattoo artist] ‘cause it’s [the question] the rst thing out of most people’s mouths. in fact.92. . My perspective is that it sets me apart from people who are afraid.59. not the pain process itself. Although other forms of body modi cation intended to empower the individual (such as plastic surgery). In one NPs’ words: I have a T-shirt that simply says ‘‘Yes. Beauty and Art Perhaps the most cited rationale NP members provide for engaging in forms of body modi cation is their desire to provide alternative de nitions of beauty and art: Downloaded by [178. 25). often shunned as repugnant self-mutilation . NP pain rituals are intended to be brought to the fore. I don’t think I’m stronger and more con dent as a person. I know it! You know. The pain associated with a piercing or a tattoo is far less an unfortunate consequence of the body modi cation process than one of the core reasons for participation.Flesh Journeys 135 some jump out of airplanes to feel it. My body is a living testimony to my desire to push the envelope. 25). it tends to be the outcome of that practice— the thinner thigh. and a tattoo wouldn’t mean really as much (Mike. and I suppose if it didn’t hurt. painful forms of radical body modi cation are not viewed by NPs as acts that symbolically destroy the self. and that’s cool. and McTeer 1994).66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . everyone would have one.

’’ All of my life I’ve wanted this. She said it made me look like trash or something . All the kids did it. . design my body into artwork. So after I had my rst tribal tattoo nished. this is me. but ultimately seeks to regulate. Young There’s an elegance but [also] a raw. . primal lure that invigorates every hormone racing through my body.92. Atkinson and K. All my life I’ve wanted to color myself.136 M. . . and when I got to be older I started to wear a pound of make-up everyday. to be a piece of art. I said to myself. But my mom would tear a strip off me when I came home after school and she found pen all over me. 27). Remember that? I bet you did it. restrict. NPs utilize the radical modi cation of the Downloaded by [178. a good shaking up (Peter. As the body is a principal canvas upon which normative cultural expectation s of gender are inscribed. Attempting to break free from what they see as repressive Western conceptualization s of beauty and art NPs stress the importance of taking personal control over the body in a culture that certainly tolerates a degree of individual body play.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . ‘‘This is beautiful. NP members are adamant about how their practices of body modi cation challenge gender codes regarding appropriate femininity(ies ) and masculinity(ies) . Like people have the right to make me toe the line with what they think is beautiful. It’s exactly what the stale brand of beauty we revere desperately needs . In this pursuit. the body modi cation of NPs consciously symbolizes a form of resistance against puritan ethos of the body that members feel sti es human expression and individuality. and prohibit the completely free pursuit of bodily jouissance: When I was a kid. and people had problems with that. . . and now I am (Erin. 25). NP members place importance on considering traditionally deviant forms of body expression and appearance as appealing. and it ain’t coming off no matter how much people complain. Collectively rejecting mainstream notions of what is aestheticall y pleasing as banal and uninspired. you know? But every time I tried people hassled me saying it wasn’t appropriate or it looked tacky. According to Erin and her peers. . I think they’re [piercings] more beautiful than anything you’ll ever see in Vogue.59. I always used to draw on my jeans. calling me a whore or a tramp.

both voluntarily and involuntarily.’ Women in the NP movement are key in this social drama as extravagan t forms of body modi cation explicitly subvert Western conceptualization s of the ‘beautiful’ feminine body: I’m so encouraged that more and more women are turning to body mod as a way of exing their feminine muscles. . I think women who are painted [tattooed] are beautiful because the tattoo just exudes con dence. the contemporary renaissance in tattooing. ‘‘I’m a helpless bitch’’ way (Renata.6 In these ways. only women engaged in the practice and used the tattoos as emblems of fertility and sexuality (Rowanchilde 1995).92. Downloaded by [178. In ancient Egypt. Women in Borneo tattoo designs on their body as indicators of their social lineage. and branding practices 6 Mif in (1997). NPs point out that women have participated equally with men in all forms of body modi cation around the world. Rowanchilde 1995). So it’s beautiful. women were widespread users of tattooing. piercing.Flesh Journeys 137 esh to undermine constraining codes of bodily idiom and conventional ways about being ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine. men were not allowed to be tattooed. and scari cation to aesthetically enhance the body (Camphausen 1997. nally. There’s a new understanding that Canadians have about what a woman can be. Emphasizing tribal traditions behind NP body modi cation (replete with varied notions of femininity and female sexuality) . and certainly not in any bubble-gum. Sanders (1991). In the Mayan culture. and as Mif in (1997) and Pitts (1998) have suggested. ‘‘our bodies our selves’’ is more than a catchy feminist slogan. and fearlessnes s (Rowanchilde 1995). courage. Nubian women scar themselves to represent their fertility to males (Lautman 1994. but not in the traditional way that women were tattooed as biker mauls or circus freaks. Betty Boop. And. and I hope that we [at the studio] are playing a role in educating women that. 25). Rowanchilde 1995).59. female members are quick to underscore that cultural expressions of beauty and the female body are historically varied. . . piercing. Tiv women endure painful rituals of the esh such as scari cation to proclaim individual qualities such as strength.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . For example. and especially Camphausen (1997) provide detailed examinations of the multi-faceted historical roles women have played as practitioners of body modi cation.

emotionally]. and masculinity: People already think because I’m gay. body modi cation becomes a conscious attempt to resist oppressive cultural ideology regarding what counts as beautiful and artistic. Atkinson and K. Through the use of body modi cation. NP members demonstrate that the male body is a cultural site and that codes of acceptable masculinity are as equally contested as codes of appropriate femininity. That’s why I admire male bodies that are marked [tattooed] in ways that question what we consider to be manly. I’m less of a man. Herek 1987.59. While both male and female NPs use body modi cation to contest dominant gender codes the point is perhaps made more obviously by women. 27). Spirituality The NP quest for meaning is grounded in an attempt to collectivel y overcome dif culties associated with the fragmentation of life in the late modern urban setting while providing members with a set of practices that promote personal growth. Young Downloaded by [178. In an increasingly secular society. but don’t have to be overbearing and aggressive to prove it (Cole. Thus. NP members place kudos in the rediscovery of a . They think I’m not classically ‘‘macho’’ because I’ve chosen a lifestyle that runs contra to what we consider to be manly. . or perhaps provocatively ‘‘grotesque’’ (Bhaktin 1984) when compared to traditional gender expectations. for NPs. . whose marked bodies are deconstructed more ambiguously in Western culture. In the sociological literature. For all NPs.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 confront notions of docile femininity by appearing at least playfully theatrical. People need to know that gay men are strong [physically. . modifying the male body can also represent a deliberate attempt to overturn hegemonic notions of power. Similarly. But I think I appreciate the male body and being masculine more than others because I truly love the male body in all its forms.138 M. and point out that gay men possess qualities of strength and courage that straight men egotisticall y claim ownership over. Pronger 1990). however. sexuality. ‘queer theory’ has repositioned the study of the male body by focusing on how hegemonic masculinity (Donaldson 1993) typically marginalizes certain types of male bodies (Connell 1995. male NP members stress that body modi cation can be used as a means of exploring a variety of masculine styles and identities.92.

body modi cation is used by NPs to mark the important individual and group events in their lives and symbolically tie the individual to something greater than the present-centered individual self: We connect to each other and to the history of the planet through body marking. a process involving bricolage. .59. One of the rst to attend to the declining signi cance of traditional religions in Canada. some have stated that the cultural appropriation of tribal symbols and identities (encapsulated in their forms and styles of body modi cation) disrespects the very cultural traditions the NP members venerate. NPs question the authenticity of style. so we do what they did. the importance of using forms of body modi cation as a vehicle for pursuing individual meaning in a group context is evident. Bibby (1987) predicted that Canadians would eventually turn to alternative forms of religious or spiritual expression.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . Again. . Body modi cation practices allow the individual to enhance his or her sense of individuality and spirituality. In order to reclaim the spiritual purpose of our tribal ancestors.’ but by anchoring his or her practices in historically grounded behaviour. culture. Essentially this has been. explore ourselves by exploring the past and how our ancestors fought to make something uniquely human out of life (Joanna. NPs draw on a diverse set of religious and philosophical doctrines to create a new age spirituality that re ects contemporary concerns. In response. The spirits of our ancestors are swirling around us in the breeze and if we ignore them we are ignoring ourselves . Characteristi c of the late modern era. 21). and art are developed from a pastiche of historical in uences that imply a postmodern spirituality. not by consolidating the ‘here and now. As Elias (1987) notes. NP perspectives on the body. new forms of spirituality are currently being explored by Canadians. once again. However. it is inconceivable to speak of the individual attaining a sense of individuality outside of the group context. as critics claim that NPs poach images and ideologies from others. arguing that most forms of cultural style are derivative: Downloaded by [178.92.Flesh Journeys 139 particular kind of what Gisele (28) called spirituality. Meaning is gleaned from the practices by referencing the individual’s experience within a broader time-space continuum of other individual experiences.

commodi ed. NPs reshape iconography from other cultures in order to signify a new spirituality in the West built on a respect for the past and other cultures. . Young Downloaded by [178. and social discovery through their body marking. .. CONCLUSIONS: THE NEO PRIMITIVE SCENE In juxtaposition to other research on radical body modi cation.140 M. As part of a collective search for identity in an increasingly mass-marketed.59. and I’ve run through an entire gamut of emotions about the accusations.e. and fragmented world.92. Sanders 1988. this article presents a snapshot of the contemporary modi cation scene in Canada. 32).66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 I’ve heard the complaint a million times. which highlights American contexts and experiences. so I know that [tribal] designs and customs have evolved over centuries. and speci cally of one rather amboyant branch of that scene known by members as Neo Primitives. or whether they just can’t understand that we have so much respect for people all over the world. we have also sought to situate our investigatio n of Canadian NPs in contemporary theoretical debates on the body. While much of the extant research has couched particular pockets of tattooing and body alteration in the deviancy literature (i. we are certainly concerned with the ways in which body modi cation in all its varied guises continues to be perceived as deviant and untrustworthy (Gray 1994:15). Of equal sociological importance to us. NPs articulate this respect by conducting voyages of spiritual. I’ve heard so much about the raping and pillaging of cultures that Neo Primitives do. The main purpose of the study has been to examine how Canadian NPs socially construct the meanings of their particular styles of radical body modi cation and account for them using insider vocabularies. I don’t know if it’s jealousy over the attention people in the community have given us. is to conceive of modifying the skin as a ‘‘body project’’ (Shilling . In this sense. and I defy anyone to nd a culture that hasn’t taken inspiration from others. Regardless of criticism. personal. that it makes me sick to think people have such blatant misconceptions about our admiration of body art. I have a degree in cultural anthropology. however. Atkinson and K. Gray 1994). It’s particularly disconcerting and professionally de ating when it comes from other body modi cation artists (David. . 1989.

has reached urban Canada. or the passing fancies of hyper-commercialism. Whether we reduce radical body modi cation practices to naive individualism. and interpretations of what primitivism has to offer are being promulgated by groups such as the NPs.92. Given historically conservative codes of body representatio n in Canada. Members stress the spiritual. As a segmented branch of the larger body modi cation scene. The practices are carefully scripted joint activitie s replete with agreed upon meanings and goals. signi ed by the speci c styles prevalent in the scene. However. intolerant attitudes to the practices would seem to make sense.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 . gender. this social commentary is grounded in the NP intent to explore the skin as a means of personal growth. This research also suggests that body alteration practitioners consciously develop and share understandings about their respective esh journeys. NPs have created a renaissance of innovative and amboyant marking practices. it is apparent that body modi cation. sexuality. especially as those boundaries relate to codes of beauty. In combining both approaches— viewing the body both as an evocative social text and a vehicle of social resistance —we have traced recent developments in meaning and form within the NP subculture in Canada. Western society seems clearly ambivalent about the meaning and implications of altering the surface of the skin. Downloaded by [178. Radical body modi cation is constructed to express an intersubjectivel y shared social commentary. The evidence produced by sociologists and anthropologists suggests that these creative esh journeys tend to be met with disdain and distrust. In experimenting with tribal expressions. emotional. As suggested by the data.59.Flesh Journeys 141 1993) and form of ‘‘identity work’’ (Pitts 1998). and personal creativity . including its more profane forms is growing in appeal to Canadians. the NPs have clearly expanded the potential uses of the body for those interested in using the skin as a personal and social journey and sign. and as a political canvas upon which resistance to certain aspects of mainstream culture can be etched. and practical rewards of modi cation for those entrenched within and ultimately oppressed by hegemonic boundaries of physical expression in the modern metropolis. while exact participatio n rates remain unclear. we can acknowledge that the ‘primitive revival.’ recognized and researched in the Unites States for some time (Rosenblatt 1997). This study points to the changing nature of body modi cation in Canada. At the very least. the impetuousness and egocentricism of youth.

92. NPs acknowledge that in most body modi cation studios around the world. it will be interesting to watch the fate of the NP movement. and what those uses imply about gender sexuality.’’ Paper presented at the Paci c Sociological Association meetings. As the individual ‘becomes’ over the life course.59. beauty. tribal styles are increasingly popular and visible. and prisoners and such identity work among these groups is already well documented (Demello 1993.66] at 11:01 10 February 2013 REFERENCES Atkinson. NPs mark signi cant events in their lives by developing the esh. April 15 –18. Michael and Kevin Young. However. Young Validating Shilling’s (1993) wider conceptual notion. Similar philosophies toward synchronizing social experience and the esh have of course characterize d other North American groups such as gangs. it is also at least as politically charged and subject to similarly suspicious audience readings. But if the NPs are committed to changing cultural perceptions regarding uses of the esh. However. as our respondents contend. Critics already claim that the NP movement is dead. NP behavior indicates that bodies are always involved in a process of becoming. strength. CA. we suspect that this may be in part precisely what the NPs are seeking. ideologically diluted by commercial co-option and incorporation. Resistance theorists have often noted that profane styles inevitably become part of popular culture (Hebdige 1979). 1998. ‘‘Flesh Journeys: Neo Primitives and the Gendering of Body Alteration. In the years to come. In this sense. Using the body as a principal site of identity work. . On this matter. Even if this were to happen.142 M. sailors. a mass turn to body modi cation and to primitive style might be instrumental in realizing the group’s goals. This suggests that counter-hegemonic scenes must necessarily remain isolated from the mainstream to retain their authenticity. and other issues. San Francisco. Steward 1990). the body is used to chronicle the maturing self and its varied triumphs and tragedies. Downloaded by [178. the self and esh that acts as its marker grow conjointly rather than being ritually separated. whether or not the styles NPs outwardly present become fully co-opted as a form of popular culture remains to be seen. it may be that their amboyant tribal use of body modi cation is not only more inclusive across a greater diversity of social groups. Atkinson and K. suggestin g that it has become a part of mainstream fashion.

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