In(k)scribed Identities: A Sociological Analysis of Catholic Croat Tattoos

Timea Barabas


For centuries, a number of Catholic Croat women from the territory of modern day Bosnia and Herzegovina have participated in a traditional form of tattooing. Rooted in the socio-political context marked by the rule of the Ottoman Empire (16th–19th century), it was believed that the symbols would offer protection against kidnapping by the Turks. While the practice carried on, outliving the context of its creation, it entered into a slow decline; today not more than a handful of people still bear these markings. Using interviews collected by Ilinčić (2016) as secondary data, I apply Foucauldian discourse analysis to follow the construction of meaning associated to tattoos along the interpersonal-intergroup continuum. Drawing upon structuralism and feminist theories about the body and social identity theory, I focus on how tattooing is used as a communicative signifier of social and or self-identity.


Article received: December 10, 2018; Article accepted: January 23, 2019; Published online: April 15, 2019; Original scholarly paper

How to cite this article: Barabas, Timea. "In(k)scribed Identities: A Sociological Analysis of Catholic Croat Tattoos." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 18 (2019): 33–50. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i18.297


tattooing; identity; social identity theory; structuralism; discourse analysis

Full Text:



Ashforth, Blake E., and Fred Mael. “Social Identity Theory and the Organization.” Academy of Management Review 14, 1 (1989): 20–39.

Atkinson, Michael. “Pretty in Ink: Conformity, Resistance, and Negotiation in Women's Tattooing.” Sex Roles 47, 5–6 (2002): 219–35.

Brain, Robert. The Decorated Body. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Brandel-Syrier, Mia. “The Harem as a Socio-Cultural and Political Institution in the Ottoman Empire.” Journal of Islamic Studies 2 (1982): 40–0_2.

Carmichael, Cathie. A Concise History of Bosnia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Craighead, Clare. “(Monstrous) Beauty (Myths): The commodification of women’s bodies and the potential for tattooed subversions.” Agenda 25, 4 (2011): 42–49. doi: 10.1080/10130950.2011.630530

Dann, Charlotte, and Jane Callaghan. “Embodiment and excess: Constructions of tattooed mothers in the UK.” Psychology of Women Section Review 19, 1 (2016): 43–51.

Davis, Kathy. “Embody-ing Theory. Beyond Modernist and Postmodernist Readings of the Body.” In Embodied Practices: Feminist Perspectives on the Body, edited by Kathy Davis, 1–26. London: Sage Publications, 1997.

DeMello, Margo. “Anchors, Hearts and Eagles: From the Literal to the Symbolic in American Tattooing.” In Literacies: Writing Systems and Literate Practices, edited by David Schmidt and Janet Smith, 93–110. Berkeley: University of California, 1991.

DeMello, Margo. Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

DeMello, Margo. 2014. Inked. Tattoos and Body Art around the World, Vol. 1. California, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2014.

Durham, Mary Edith. Some Tribal Origins, Laws and Customs of the Balkans. London: Unwin Brothers Ltd., 1928.

Ebin, Victoria. The Body Decorated. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979.

Foucault, Michael. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.

Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Oxford: Blackwell, 1977.

Foucault, Michael. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Foucault, Michael. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1927–1977. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Foucault, Michael. Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977–1984. New York: Routledge, Chapman, Hall, 1988.

Glück, Leopold. “Tetoviranje kod katolika u Bosni i Hercegovini.” Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja I. Sarajevo, Zemaljska Štamparija, 1889.

Goffman, Erving. Asylums. New York: Anchor Books, 1961.

Ilinčić, Nataša. Il tatuaggio tradizionale femminile nei Balcani Jajce, un caso studio in Bosnia ed Erzegovina. Tesi di Laurea. Corso di Laurea magistrale (ordinamento ex D.M. 270/2004) in Antropologia culturale, etnologia, etnolinguistica, percorso storico – geografico. Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia, 2016.

Krutak, Lars. The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women. London: Bennett & Bloom, 2007.

Kuzmanić, Marija. “Collective Memory and Social Identity: A social psychological exploration of the memories of the disintegration of former Yugoslavia.” Horizons of Psychology 17, 2 (2008): 5–26.

Malcolm, Noel. Bosnia: A short history. New York: New York University Press, 1994.

Ménage, V. L. “Some Notes on the ‘Devshirme’.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 29, 1 (1966): 64–78.

Mifflin, Margot. Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. New York: Power House Books, 1997.

Moulines, C. Ulises. “Introduction: Structuralism as a Program for Modelling Theoretical Science.” Synthese 130 (2002): 1–11. doi: 10.1023/a:1013892808077

Petrić, Mario. Običaj tatauiranja kod balkanskih naroda: karakteristike, uloga i porijeklo. Sarajevo: [s. n.], 1973.

Pitts-Taylor, Victoria. In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Sanders, Clinton. Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.

Sargent, Carey, Sarah M. Corse. “Picture My Gender(s): Using Interactive Media to Engage Students in Theories of Gender Construction.” Teaching Sociology 41, 3 (2013): 242–56. doi: 10.1177/0092055X13480050

Shilling, Chris. The Body and the Social Theory. London: SAGE Publications, (1993) 2003.

Stryker, Sheldon. Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version. Palo Alto, CA: Benjamin Cummings, 1980.

Swami, Viren, Adrian Furnham. “Unattractive, promiscuous and heavy drinkers: Perceptions of women with tattoos.” Body Image 4, 4 (2007): 343–52. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2007.06.005

Tajfel, Henri, and Johan C. Turner. “An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict.” In The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, edited by William G. Austin and Stephen Worchel, 33–47. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1979.

Tajfel, Henri, and Johan C. Turner. “The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behaviour.” In Psychology of Intergroup Relations, edited by William G. Austin and Stephen Worchel, 7–24. Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1985.

Thomas, Nicholas. Body Art. London: Thames & Hudson world of art, 2014.

Truhelka, Ćiro. “Tetoviranje katolika u Bosni i Hercegovini.” Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja VI. Sarajevo, Zemaljska Štamparija, 1894.

Willig, Carla. Introducing Qualitative Research in Psychology. Berkshire: Open University Press, 2008.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2019 AM Journal of Art and Media Studies

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

AM Journal of Art and Media Studies ISSN 2217-9666 - printed, ISSN 2406-1654 - online, UDK 7.01:316.774


Publisher: Faculty of Media and Communications, Singidunum University, Belgrade, Serbia

Indexed in: ERIH PLUSEBSCODOAJ, and in The List of Scientific Journals Categorization of Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Republic of Serbia (M51-2019). Beginning with No. 12 2017, AM is indexed, abstracted and covered in Clarivate Analytics service ESCI.