Dustin Kiskaddon, "Blood and Lightening: On Becoming a Tattooer" (Stanford UP, 2023)


Any tattoo is the outcome of an intimate, often hidden process. The people, bodies, and money that make tattooing what it is blend together and form a heady cocktail, something described by Matt, the owner of Oakland's Premium Tattoo, as "blood and lightning." Faced with the client's anticipation of pain and excitement, the tattooer must carefully perform calm authority to obscure a world of preparation and vigilance. "Blood and lightning, my dude"—the mysterious and intoxicating effect of tattooing done right.

In Blood and Lightening: On Becoming a Tattooer (Stanford UP, 2023), Dustin Kiskaddon draws on his own apprenticeship with Matt and takes us behind the scenes into the complex world of professional tattooers. We join people who must routinely manage a messy and carnal type of work. Blood and Lightning brings us through the tattoo shop, where the smell of sterilizing agents, the hum of machines, and the sound of music spill out onto the back patio. It is here that Matt, along with his comrades, reviews the day's wins, bemoans its losses, and prepares for the future.

Having tattooed more than five hundred people, Kiskaddon is able to freshly articulate the physical, mental, emotional, and moral life of tattooers. His captivating account explores the challenges they face on the job, including the crushing fear of making mistakes on someone else's body, the role of masculinity in evolving tattoo worlds, appropriate and inappropriate intimacy, and the task of navigating conversations about color and race.

Ultimately, the stories in this book teach us about the roles our bodies play in the social world. Both mediums and objects of art, our bodies are purveyors of sociocultural significance, sites of capitalist negotiation, and vivid encapsulations of the human condition. Kiskaddon guides us through a strangely familiar world, inviting each of us to become a tattooer along the way.

Dustin Kiskaddon is a cultural sociologist whose work can be seen on Instagram, @Dustin.Kiskaddon. After nearly a decade of teaching and a few years of professional tattooing, he now uses his expertise in culture, the economy, and technology to conduct applied research.

Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is a Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University. He is the author of The Social Construction of a Cultural Spectacle: Floatzilla (Lexington Books, 2023) and Community Media Representations of Place and Identity at Tug Fest: Reconstructing the Mississippi River (Lexington Books, 2022). His general area of study is about the construction of identity and place. He is currently conducting research for his next project that looks at nightlife and the emotional labor that is performed by bouncers at bars and nightclubs. To learn more about Michael O. Johnston you can go to his website, Google Scholar, Twitter @ProfessorJohnst, or by email at johnstonmo@wmpenn.edu.

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Michael Johnston

Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University.

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