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Wrapping in images : tattooing in Polynesia / Alfred Gell.

By: Gell, Alfred.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookSeries: Oxford studies in social and cultural anthropology: Publisher: Oxford : New York : Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press, 1993Description: xi, 347 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 0198278691 (acid-free paper) :.Subject(s): Tattooing -- Polynesia | Human body -- Social aspects -- Polynesia | Art and anthropology -- Polynesia | Symbolism in art -- Polynesia | Human body -- Social aspects -- Polynesia | Art and anthropology -- Pacific Area | Symbolism in art -- Pacific Area | Polynesia -- Social life and customs | Pacific Area -- Social life and customsDDC classification: 306.4/7
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

In traditional Polynesian societies, tattooing has played a key role in the social construction of the individual. This is the first study to provide a comparative analysis of tattooing in its original setting--based on a comprehensive survey of both written and oral sources. Drawing on modern social theory, psychoanalysis, and anthropological studies, Gell demonstrates the role of tattooing in the complex array of controlling sacredness and protecting the self.

Includes bibliographical references (p. [333]-342) and index.

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Reviews provided by Syndetics


Polynesians of the 18th and 19th century, as known through the writings and drawings of European explorers, missionaries, and early anthropologists, developed tattooing into a major art form and gave both the practice and the word itself to the Western world. But why has tattooing in the West been found predominantly among sailors and criminals? And can the factors that account for this distribution in the West also account for the very different distributions of tattooing among social and gender categories in the distinct societies that constitute Polynesia? Gell (London School of Economics) poses these questions and provides meticulously supported answers that are quite unexpected. His attempt to develop a psychoanalytically informed theory of tattooing as a social practice represents a stimulating, if somewhat paradoxical, blending of modernist and postmodernist concerns. Linking the tattoo with a style of life and a mind-set describable in universal terms such as marginality and subordination is consistent with the aims of modernist ethnology, but Gell is careful to point out and reject naive assumptions, e.g., unilinear social evolution and the equation between posited stages in individual life cycles and the histories of societies, that early ethnological theorists accepted. On the other hand, Gell's focus on image, the role of images in self-concept and social category formation, and the movement of images across societal boundaries is highly relevant to postmodern analysis. Along with a detailed analysis of tattooing practices, associated myths, and design motifs, Gell provides concise, comparative descriptions of social organization in Polynesian societies. The result is a significant contribution to Pacific history and the anthropology of Polynesia. Advanced undergraduates and above. A. Arno; University of Hawaii at Manoa