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Men and Masculinity

Global Perspectives

Until recently, most of the research on, and debate about, masculinity has been about men in First World countries. We need to think beyond this context; and even within it, we need to consider the situation of local masculinities in a global context. Global history and contemporary globalization must be part of our understanding of masculinities. Individual lives are powerfully influenced by geopolitical struggles, imperialism and colonialism, global markets, multinational corporations, labor migration, and transnational media. Not only ethnographic but postcolonial studies are important for understanding the cultural dynamics of contemporary masculinities.

There has been some research on immigrant men in First World contexts. However, up to the 1980s little research was carried out on masculinities in Third World and/or postcolonial countries, and what was done was affected by Eurocentrism. In his excellent ethnographic study of men in Mexico City, The Meanings of Macho (1996), Matthew Gutmann criticizes the tendency of Anglo researchers to characterize Latino men as "macho." More recent studies have acknowledged the great variety of masculinities throughout the Latin American world. For example, a remarkable series of studies coordinated by José Olavarría, focused in Chile but involving researchers in other countries, has documented diversity in relation to identity, fatherhood, violence, and sexuality. Olavarría's exploration of the dilemmas of Chilean youth as they attempt to construct a path toward fatherhood in a country undergoing globalization is particularly important.

More work is now being done in other regions outside the metropole—for example, by Japanese and Middle Eastern scholars. The importance of race and class in shaping gender patterns is strikingly shown in southern Africa. By the late 1990s, South Africa had the highest rates of violent death and rape in the world, the second highest number of gun-related homicides, and one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection. These are connected with a turbulent gender politics in which different patriarchies contest, and different agendas for reform are found. South African masculinities, as shown by Robert Morrell's collection, Changing Men in Southern Africa (2001), are both diverse and contested.

In the contexts of the developing world, as Morrell points out, gender work on men and masculinities must focus on very different issues from those in the developed world. For this reason, researchers in postcolonial contexts do not necessarily adopt theories of hegemonic masculinity or of new masculinities on the Western model. The idea of the "new man" popular in First World media has little relevance beyond the lives of such white, middle-class, urban men. How to make use of the new research is still uncertain. A controversy has developed about how men ought to be included in research and policy about gender and development. As Sarah White shows in a recent review of the argument, complex political issues arise here in a field that has sought, with some recent success, to place women's interests on the agenda of development agencies.

Attention is now being turned to the patterns of masculinity in transnational agencies and institutions. There is some reason to think that older models of bourgeois masculinity, embedded in local ruling classes and conservative cultures, are being replaced by a transnational business masculinity. Compared with older hegemonic masculinities, the new model is more individualist, liberal in relation to sexuality and social attitudes, and oriented to power through markets rather than through bureaucratic domination. This model has been criticized, and plainly the interplay of masculinity with globalization needs much more investigation.

At the same time, as the return to military intervention abroad by the U.S. government suggests, there is cultural and political space for a reassertion of "hard" masculinities. The unevenness and relentlessness of change on a world scale are well captured in the 2001 volume A Man's World? Changing Men's Practices in a Globalized World, edited by Bob Pease and Keith Pringle. The issues reviewed in this article are currently the subject of active debate and research, with global issues an important focus.


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R. W. Connell

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMen and Masculinity - Stories Of Men, Questioning Masculinity, Vaerting, Freud, Adler, Other Psychoanalysts, Sex Differences And Ethnography