• Efrat ShohamEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Criminology book series (BRIEFSCRIMINOL)


The postmodernist theories regard the human body as a text upon which cultural subtexts are inscribed. The body serves as an object for observation, from which it is possible to read truths, values, and social norms. The criminal world universally considers tattoos, an inseparable part of their symbols. In the criminal world, tattoos have always been constituted a metaphor for difference, segregation, and something set apart from the whole. By virtue of the fact that it is permanent, painful, macho, and perhaps even somewhat sexy, it is not only pigment that is embedded in a tattoo, but also meanings and layers of meanings, which like the tattoo itself are underneath the surface. Tattoos simultaneously symbolize a group-organizational association and the hierarchical status of an individual. Prisoners use tattoos to represent their strength and status, to mark their belonging to a certain group, to create a unifying symbol and to define their status and position within their group. The hierarchical, brutal, and unique properties of the Russian criminal world were developed during the 1920s, after the Soviet revolution and the waves of political arrest that followed it during the 1920s and 1930s. The protest against the regime, the high level of freedom given to prisoners in managing their lives within the labor camps and the need to create a clear visual distinction between political and criminal prisoners led the criminals to develop a rich system of codes and values aimed at supporting and reinforcing their criminal world and declaring their level of commitment to this world. The system of codes of the criminal underworld, which developed under the intolerable conditions of the Soviet forced labor camps, includes a long list of behavioral duties, express in the tattoo inscriptions that adorn the bodies of criminals.


Criminal History Inseparable Part Labor Camp Unify Symbol Tattoo Removal 
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© The Author(s) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of CriminologyAshkelon Academic CollegeAshkelonIsrael

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