Thursday, July 7, 2011

The new social sciences – history, ethnography and social construction theory in masculinity studies (in R.W. Connell's "Masculinities")

R.W. Connell proceeds to discuss new current development in the science of masculinity manifested in history, ethnography and sociology.

Connell describes how the 70's second wave feminist trend of writing the unspoken history of women led to a subsequent trend of writing the "history of men". Since there was already a none-gendered history which predominantly, of course, occupied with the doing of men, the idea now was to write the history of masculinity.

Some of this historical writing, Connell says, came from the starting point of gender role theory and attempted to show how historical frameworks have shaped masculinity, the expectations of men and their positions in society.  These studies, Connell argues, clearly show that the definitions of masculinity are tightly bound in the history of institutions and economic structures. They show how masculinity is not just a personal identity but something anchored in organized social relation – the economy and labor as well as the family.

Connell relates to J.O.C. Phillips's study of the colonial New-Zealand settlement. A chaos formed due to the excess of men in the front let authorities to encourage family based settlement in order to restrain the settlers, connecting domesticity with a more level-headed lifestyle. The second phase of the world wars required a more violent masculinity as this was achieved by encouraging a warrior myth which was constructed, among other things, by encouraging rugby. Philips's study demonstrates for Connell how masculinity is produced as a cultural form in the wake of social and political systems. Connell further holds that the production of a certain type of masculinity as the preferred model involved a political struggle which marginalized other historical alternatives.

The Ethnography of the Other
At its beginning ethnography attempted to identify the differences between cultures that were under the colonial rule and western cultures, with one of its interests being kinship relations, an interest which led, according to Connell, to the accumulation of information regarding gender which was utilized by feminism, psychoanalysis and gender role theory.

The use of ethnographic gender information has led to a comparative examination of masculinity and especially the (varying) cultural images of manhood. For example, Connell cites ethnographic data that shows a link between aggressive masculinity and homosexual practice which undermine the western association between homosexuality and femininity or wimpishness.  

Connell describes and criticizes the positivistic attempt to find a unifying principle of masculinity based on ethnographical study such as the work of David Gilmour who determined that masculinity is something which is always hard to obtain,  that its conquest involves initiation ceremonies and that it serves as a psychological defense against relapsing into pre-oedipal identification with the mother. Connell criticizes Gilmour for this positivistic approach, which she believes originates from gender role theory, for the ill attempt to formulate masculinity in terms of a cross-cultural generalization. Connell's critique again relates to the issue of gender role polarization, and she offers examples of ethnographic studies which prove otherwise.

R.W. Connell thinks that ethnography can contribute to the study of masculinity provided that it recognizes the social relations that condition the production of ethnographic knowledge, and the historicity which positivism wishes to repress by ignoring the effect of the colonial master's gaze on the subject of his ethnographic research.

Social construction and gender dynamics
Sociology, according to Connell, was the first to turn its back to her own gender role theory in favor of discussing the construction of everyday masculinity in relation to social and economic institutes and recognizing the dynamic and embroiled nature gender, thus acknowledging that gender identity does not precede society but is rather generated through it.

Norms of masculinity are now examined not as passive and pre-given but rather as an active practice, which leads according to Connell to an interest in the politics of norms. One of the fields of this sociological trend is the study of the manner in which masculinity is constructed in different social classes, that is, a discussion of class-dependant masculinity. Connell notes studies such as Paul Willis's "Learning to Labor".

These ideas have eventually led to the formation of the notion of hegemonic masculinity and the acknowledgment of not only a variety of different masculinities but also of the need for understanding the relations between these different types of masculinities, relations such as alliance, domination and subjection. These developments, Connell holds, show that the relations that constitute and construct masculinity are dialectic in nature, and do not abide by the one-way causal model of socialization theory. Masculinities, in other words, are not fixed categories.   

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