Feb. 6, 2003, Gazette
|Photo by Chris Hammond
Dr. Michael Atkinson, Sociology, is studying
body issues, mens cosmetic surgery, and voluntary self-maiming.
Underground and fringe cultures are the focus
of much of Dr. Michael Atkinsons research. Assistant professor in
the Department of Sociology at Memorial, his work is intriguing and varied,
and generally related to social deviance. He delineates three main areas
of current interest: social deviance as it relates to body issues, mens
cosmetic surgery, and voluntary self-maiming.
Dr. Atkinsons PhD dissertation, completed at the University of Calgary
in 2001, concerned contemporary tattooing forms and practices in Canada.
His fieldwork led him to extensive participant observation as well as
numerous interviews with tattoo enthusiasts. His research will be published
in a forthcoming book, Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art
(University of Toronto Press).
The book looks at the social evolution of the tattoo as a symbol of difference,
focusing on its shift as a symbol of the outsider, to becoming
a culturally mainstream form of interpersonal difference.
Conducting his research in tattoo parlours, Dr. Atkinson was introduced
to the sub-culture of self-maiming and body modification, such as burning
or nailing body parts, castration, and other forms of self-mutilation.
While conventional psychological wisdom indicates that people involved
in such practices typically exhibit pathological or other psychologically
deviant traits, Dr. Atkinson found that most people he met who engaged
in these practices were, in fact, pro-social people.
These people were making statements about cultural ideas of pain,
tolerance, the physical aspects of humanity. For the most part, they felt
they were making social commentary.
Dr. Atkinson plans to pursue his research on this topic from that particular
Research into sub-cultures has also led to work in the realm of Straightedge,
a form of the punk movement that eschews typical excessive consumptive
punk-related behaviour. Kids in the Straightedge movement reject alcohol,
premarital sex and drugs, thereby turning this philosophy into what Dr.
Atkinson refers to as an orienting lifestyle.
The flip side of Dr. Atkinsons research coin is his work in the
area of sport; more specifically, the social construction of criminal
behaviour in sport, as well as post-injury body image of female athletes.
Both topics relate to the socialization of athletes, who may learn a different
construction of normalcy through their involvement in sports.
Criminal behaviour in sport is any action that goes beyond sanctioned
activity within the rules of the game. There tends to be a reluctance
to define excessive player violence as criminal, and Dr. Atkinson is interested
in examining why this behaviour is supported by the fans as well as player
The other area of sport behaviour Dr. Atkinson is currently researching
relates to how female athletes respond to their bodies after they have
had serious injury or surgery. Thus far, he has found that, in a similar
way to their male counterparts, these women treat their scars as a badge
of honour, treating their bodies as tools, mechanisms to complete their
goals. He has concluded that the socialization of athletes takes precedence
over any gender differences that might otherwise prevail in terms of body