Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": Science of masculinity - summary

Masculinities: Second Edition

In chapter one of her book Masculinities titled "science of masculinity" R.W. Connell examines the production of knowledge regarding masculinity, arguing to its ambiguous nature and problems with its claim for objectivity on account of its gendered practices of research and production of knowledge about masculinity and gender differences.
Connell surveys three main attempts to form a science of masculinity in the 21st century: the clinical (psychoanalysis), the one of social psychology and gender role theory and the one of sociology, anthropology and history (see hyperlinks for detailed discussion).

Albeit the lengthy discussion of these forms of organized knowledge about masculinity, Connell suggests that other, none clinical or academic, forms of knowledge about masculinity have accumulated, namely the form of political knowledge.

This type of knowledge about masculinities accumulated in various political spheres with the most important of them being the gay liberation movement and the women's liberation movement.

The gay liberation movement, by the way of coining the term homophobia, realized that homophobia and gay persecution are related to dominant and hegemonic forms of masculinity. Connell notes that one of the interesting products of the gay liberation movement and the discussion of homophobia was the blurring of the distinction between the men/women polarization and the homosexual/straight polarization. In this respect it is interesting to see the onward attacks on gender conventions, such as drag, which formed the queer style.
Second wave feminist thinking initially dealt with the concept of patriarchy and at some point turned its attention to male violence. The theory of gay liberation shares feminists' take on mainstream masculinity as an institution which is essentially related to power, is organized for the purpose of domination, and which resists any change out of allegiance to existing power relations.

At the end of chapter one of "Masculinities", "The Science of Masculinity", R.W. Connell wonders if masculinity is the problem of gender politics, or whether the problem is not masculinity (or hegemonic masculinity) itself but rather the institutional arrangements which produce inequality and bring forth the need to scrutinize masculinity.

Connell believes that masculinity is shaped out of the reciprocal relations between the personal and social dimensions, and she therefore wonders if this type of dynamic interaction allows for a stable object of knowledge, and if the science of masculinity is at all possible?

As far as positivistic science of masculinity is concerned than Connell's answer is a definite no, unless we are willing to reduce this science to biology only while excluding psychoanalysis, sociology and ethnography.
With masculinity being a relational concept, for masculinity and femininity only exist in relation to one another, masculinity as an object of study will always be masculinity in relation. The science of masculinity for Connell will always be the science of gender relations.

As elaborated later on in chapter three, R.W. Connell defines masculinity as practice configurations which are structures by gender relations. Masculinities according to her are essentially historical constructs, and their changing invention is a political process which influences the balance of interests in society and the courses of social change. Knowledge about masculinity can never be positivistic, and it can never be objectively reflective – it must be critical. 

Raewyn Connell – "Masculinities", 1995
Chapter 6: A Very Straight Gay
Chapter 7: Men of Reason

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