Oct. 29, 2004

McMaster researcher wins national research prize

Sociologist studies male cosmetic surgery phenomenon

McMaster Image
McMaster sociologist Michael Atkinson has earned a reputation as a pathbreaking researcher in the fields of social control and social deviance for his research of tattooing, body modification and violence in sport. His latest research centres on young men's use of over the counter exercise/body-building supplements and the culture of masculinity in "recreational" gyms.

Hamilton, ON - In the early 1990s Michael Atkinson walked into a dank tattoo studio on a pier in downtown Halifax and, as he describes it, entered into the "first significant agreement I had ever made with my skin." It’s unlikely the now assistant professor of sociology knew then that this "agreement" would help to ink his reputation as an award-winning researcher and earn him the 2004 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Aurora Prize.

But only three years after receiving his doctorate, Atkinson has already gained a reputation as a pathbreaking researcher. His analyses of social control and social deviance as revealed in tattooing, body modification and violence in sport demonstrate the creative thinking, rigorous fieldwork and theoretical sophistication that made him the unanimous choice for the SSHRC award which he received last night at a gala in Ottawa. The prize, valued at $25,000, celebrates an outstanding new researcher who has demonstrated particular originality and insight in social sciences and humanities research.

Atkinson‘s latest research centres on the rapidly increasing numbers of Canadian youth and men who choose to undergo cosmetic surgery.

"There are indications," says Atkinson, "that, as a society, we are imposing ideals of beauty that most people simply cannot attain, that we are privileging form over function and style over substance. This raises hard questions about the values and priorities we unconsciously learn from the society in which we live."

Atkinson won’t draw premature conclusions, but it is clear that his ongoing research will have a lot to teach Canadians about the significance of popular social practices that most of us take for granted.