The article deals with the phenomenon of modern tattoos. It presents a typology of modern tattoos in place in a social space: tattooing in a «big» society and tattooing in «closed» social groups (army, navy, prison). A brief history of tattooing of both types shows that tattooing in «closed» groups and tattooing in the «big» society has both distinctive and similar functions.

Drawing on survey among Moscow students (N=300) and expert interviews (N=40) the author shows the ambivalence of perception of tattooing in the «big» society of Moscow students, and the ambivalent portrait of the tattoo culture in the media.

The author analyzes common sociological approaches to the study of modern tattooing. It is shown that the basis of the majority of explanatory models of tattooing is a common sociological typology of societies: at one pole, «traditional», «gemeinschaft» societies with «mechanical» solidarity, on the other the modern «gesellschaft» society with «organic» solidarity. The process of tattooing is represented discretely: bracketing «traditional» society to a greater or lesser extent, modern tattooing is interpreted in the context of theories of «high modernism» / «postmodern» society. Conceptual schemes are built around the concepts of «market capitalism», «consumer culture», «market-based mechanisms to regulate behavior», «subcultural escapism», «protest behavior», «reflexive body techniques» and «gaining freedom» within the «identity construction». The gap between «traditional» and modern societies is thought as a radical one, which leads to a simplified understanding of modern tattooing. In this regard, a comprehensive program of historical and sociological study of tattooing in traditional and modern societies is needed to make generalizations about the nature of tattooing. The author urges to use a universal categorical apparatus that would allow bringing research to the level of theoretical generalizations.

Keywords: tattooing, tattoo, tattoo culture, body practices, sociology of the body