Masters Thesis

Personal agency and the tattooed body: individual identity communicated through voluntary and involuntary tattoos

This paper examines the concepts of identity and ownership of one’s body in relation to voluntary and involuntary tattoos. When personal agency has been removed through forcible tattooing, individuals can ultimately create new meaning for their involuntary tattoos. The study begins with analysis of the skin as an influence on personal identity, drawing primarily upon the theories of philosophers published in books and scholarly journals. The next section details how tattoos communicate individual identity and group membership with emphasis on the voluntary and involuntary tattoos on the historically marginalized groups of prison inmates, women, and more recently, victims of human trafficking. The final two sections examine the related concepts of tattoos that show ownership of the body and tattoos that mark the body as property of another, more powerful, individual or group. This study concludes that tattoos can be used to injure as well as repair the souls of tattooed individuals.