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Theme 2: Deconstructing the Hegemony of Men and Masculinities: Contradictions of Absence

Theme duration:
Aug 2008 - Aug 2009

This program approaches theorising of gender and sexualities through a focus on the concept of hegemony in theorising men. The place of both force and consent of men in patriarchies is illuminated by such a concept that can assist engagement with both material and discursive gender power relations. Recent conceptual and empirical uses of hegemony, as in ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in the analysis of masculinities, have been subject to qualified critiques over the last ten years or more. This program examines the shift from masculinity to men, to focus on ‘the hegemony of men’.

Hegemony addresses the relations of power and ideology, including the domination of what is ‘taken-for-granted’, and ‘commonsense’ definitions of the situation. It particularly highlights the importance of consent, even if that is provisional and contingent, and even if that consent is backed by force. In this sense, hegemony speaks more to complicity than to brutal enforcement. It refers to and reinforces what has been called the “fundamental outlook of society” (Bocock, 1986). In this sense, it is performative, but not simply a matter of performance. Hegemony encompasses the formation of social groupings, not just their operation and collective action. It is a structural concept, or at least invokes assumptions of structure, but is not structuralist.

Theorising on hegemony can be understood in terms of different theories of ideology within Marxian analysis. Nicholas Abercrombie and Bryan Turner (1978) showed how Marx presented two rather different theories of ideology. In the first, set out in the Preface (Marx, 1959/1975), “social being determines consciousness”: the particular social experience of particular social classes determines the ideas of the members of the class. Ideas follow immediate material relations, in terms of both general economic and social structural locations, and the conduct of everyday economic and social life. This approach lays the basis for the articulation of several class-based systems of ideas, even a relatively pluralist analysis. In the second, also set out in the Preface, but more famously in The German Ideology, “the economic structure, the real foundation” determines “a legal and political superstructure”, such that the ideas of “the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” (Marx and Engels, 1845/1970). This notion of ideology, like the first, embodies both material and intellectual force. It is, however, more deterministic, more concerned with the social formation rather than activities of particular classes and class fractions.

The Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci (1971), took the latter mode one step further, rejecting economic determinism. He saw politics and economics, in his historical frame of 1920s Italian Marxism and communism, set within wars of position and manoeuvre. In his view of hegemony the cultural and intellectual realm was more important, with greater political impact than as an effect of economic structure and relations. Hegemony encompassed the range of social arenas – material, economic, political, cultural, discursive  – rather than prioritising the economic or the cultural.

Mike Donaldson (1993: 645) summarises some of the main features of hegemony as:
“… about the winning and holding of power and the formation (and destruction) of social groups in that process. It is about the ways in which the ruling class establishes and maintains its domination. The ability to impose a definition of the situation, to set the terms in which events are understood and issues discussed, to formulate ideals and define morality is an essential part of the process. Hegemony involves persuasion of the greater part of the population, particularly through the media, and the organization of social institutions in ways that appear “natural,” “ordinary,” “normal”. The state, through punishment for non-conformity, is crucially involved in this negotiation and enforcement.”

Applications to men and masculinity
As noted, the notion of hegemony has been a key focus of recent research and debates on men and masculinities. There have been a number of ways in the notion of hegemony has been used in studying men, as, for example, in ‘hegemonic heterosexual masculinity’ (Frank, 1987), ‘male hegemony’ (Cockburn, 1991), ‘the hegemonic male’ (Vale De Almeida, 1996), ‘hegemonic men’ (Dominelli and Gollins, 1997; Lorber, 2002), ‘hegemonic male sexuality’ (Mooney-Somers, 2005), and ‘hegemony masculinity’. Of these, this last use, that of hegemonic masculinity, has been by far the most popular and influential over the last twenty years of more.

The notion of hegemonic masculinity has been develop as an outcome – one might say more accurately an offshoot - of R.W. (now Raewyn) Connell and colleagues’ work on gendered social processes within patriarchy. In various publications Connell and colleagues have emphasised processes of hegemony, dominance/subordination, complicity, marginalisation (for example, by class or by ethnicity), as well as other processes of resistance, protest and ambivalence (Connell, 1995). This process usage of hegemony has been by no means as popular or influential as another usage employed by Connell and colleagues, namely in terms of linking hegemony to masculinity. In this, ‘hegemony’ as one key social process mutates to ‘hegemonic’ as a descriptor of certain (multiple) masculinities. In this latter and very powerful scheme, forms of masculinity that have been recognised principally:
• hegemonic masculinity, legitimating “patriarchy”;
• complicit masculinity, bringing benefit without effort;
• subordinated masculinity, by gender-related relations, for example gay;
• marginalised masculinity, by, for example, class or ethnicity;
Sometimes there are also references to resistant, protest or ambivalent masculinities.
However, as suggested above, seeing hegemony as a process is rather different from seeing hegemony in terms of forms of masculinity.

Interestingly, the first published use of the term, hegemonic masculinity, was by Connell in 1979 in the paper, “Men’s bodies”, and republished in Which Way Is Up? in 1983. Its background was debates on patriarchy. The paper was published alongside two others on theories of patriarchy and empirical research on boys and girls in schools. In a further paper on the theory of social reproduction, he critiqued functionalist take-over of the term “hegemony” (Connell, 1983: 156). From this first use, the hegemony at issue in relation to masculinities was the hegemony involved in the patriarchal system of gender relations. In a personal communication Connell in 2000 reported that  “I was trying to direct attention onto the patterns of conduct and emotion involved in men’s activity in a patriarchal system, including some of the complexities, division and contradictions – as I was also at the time trying to get a theoretical handle on the process of historical change in patriarchy.”

The “Men’s bodies” paper is very interesting in a number of respects. It considers the social construction of the body in boys’ and adult men’s practices. In discussing “the physical sense of maleness”, Connell marks out the social importance of sport as ‘the central experience of the school years for many boys’ (1983: 18), emphasising the practices and experiences of taking and occupying space, holding the body tense and skill, as well as size, power, force, strength, physical development and sexuality. In addressing the bodies of adult men, he highlights the importance of physicality within three realms: work, sexuality, fatherhood. Above all, Connell stresses that:
“the embedding of masculinity in the body is very much a social process, full of tensions and contradiction; that even physical masculinity is historical, rather than a biological fact. … constantly in process, constantly being constituted in actions and relations, constantly implicated in historical change.” (p. 30).

The use of hegemony is developed in the much more well-known paper published in 1985. Here, Carrigan, Connell and Lee write that hegemony
“always refers to an historical situation, a set of circumstances in which power is won and held. The construction of hegemony is not a matter of pushing and pulling of ready-formed groupings but is partly a matter of the formation of these groupings. To understand the different kinds of masculinity demands an examination of the practices in which hegemony is constituted and contested – in short, the political techniques of the patriarchal social order.” (Carrigan et al., 1985).

One might argue that there is a slippage from the formation of these groupings to the understanding of the different kinds of masculinity. At this point one might conclude that hegemony can mean many different things, but more significantly this shows the importance of being clear whether it the formation of groupings or the different kinds of masculinity within them that is addressed. These seem to be different foci. In the 1995 book, Masculinities, hegemonic is defined by Connell as: “… the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.” This is again a different emphasis to the social process usage of hegemony.

Some critiques of hegemonic masculinity
It is perhaps not so surprising that these (and other) various conceptual and empirical uses of hegemony, as in ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in the analysis of masculinities, have been subject to a variety of qualified critiques over the last ten years or more (for example, Donaldson, 1993; Hearn, 1996, 2004; Wetherell and Edley, 1999; Whitehead, 1999, 2002; Demetriou, 2001; Howson, 2006). These critiques have highlighted: lack of clarity in the concept; lack of evidence or inconsistency or insufficient complexity in terms of detailed empirical studies; as well as theoretical and political inadequacies, for example, in relation to postcolonial theory and queer theory (also see Butler, 1990; Halberstam, 1998; Ouzgane and Coleman, 1998).

More specifically, a range of questions can be put that are yet to be clearly answered:
• Is hegemonic masculinity a matter of cultural representations, everyday practices or institutional structures, or all three?
• Can hegemonic masculinity be reduced to fixed set of practices?
• Should one talk of hegemonic masculinities in the plural?
• How do various dominant and dominating forms, such as violence and control of resources, interconnect with each other?
• Why use the term, “masculinity”? What does it mean, include or exclude? (Hearn, 1996)
• Does hegemonic masculinity fit detailed empirical studies, for example, how men talk about themselves?
• How does hegemonic masculinity relate to postcolonial critiques?
• Where is the counter-hegemonic? (Donaldson, 1993)

A recent review of the concept by Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) addressed some but not all of these and other critiques.

The hegemony of men
Most importantly, the concept of hegemony has generally been employed in too restricted a way. The focus on masculinity is too narrow. If we are interested in what is hegemonic about gender relation to men and masculinity, then it is ‘men’ who or which are far more hegemonic than masculinity. Thus, instead, it is time to go back from masculinity to men, to examine the hegemony of men and about men. This involves addressing the hegemony of men – in both senses. The hegemony of men seeks to address the double complexity that men are both a social category formed by the gender system and dominant collective and individual agents of social practices.
The hegemony of men instead raises these key social processes:
• social processes by which there is hegemonic acceptance of the category of men.
• the system of distinctions and categorisations between different forms of men and men’s practices to women, children and other men (“masculinities”).
• which men and which men’s practices – in the media, the state, religion, etc - are most powerful in setting those agendas of those systems of differentiations.
the most widespread, repeated forms of men’s practices.
• description and analysis of men’s various and variable everyday, “natural(ised)”, “ordinary”, “normal” and most taken-for-granted practices to women, children and other men, and their contradictory, even paradoxical, meanings.
• how women may differentially support certain practices of men, and subordinate other practices of men or ways of being men.
• interrelations between these elements above … relations between ‘men’s’ formation within hegemonic gender order, that also forms ‘women’, other genders and boys, and men’s activity in different ways in (re-)forming hegemonic differentiations among men. (Hearn, 2004).

The program
This program examines shifts from masculinity to men, to focus on ‘the hegemony of men’. It addresses the double complexity that men are both a social category formed by the gender system and collective and individual agents, often dominant agents. It examines how the category “men” is used in national and transnational gender systems. These uses are both intersectional and embodied in specific ways.
Dominant uses of the social category of men have often been restricted by, for example, class, ethnicity/racialisation and (hetero)sexuality; these issues have been explored in, for example, postcolonial theory and queer theory. Less examined is the construction of the category of men in terms of assumptions about: age, ageing and (dis)ability; nationality/national context; and bodily presence.

Indeed, despite the explicitness of some of the statements of Connell and colleagues, there have been a number of neglected or missing elements in some recent debates on and applications of hegemony to men and masculinities, including:
• relations of hegemony to “patriarchy”;
• relations of hegemony to bodies (note: the first formulations in the late 1970s);
• relations of hegemony to moves away from notion of fundamental outlook of ‘society’ (Bocock, 1986), nation and the nation-state to the growing importance of the transnational (note: increasing attention to globalisation, e.g. Connell, 1993, 1998);
• relations of hegemony to the (changing) form of the social, cultural, and indeed the virtual (note: despite anti-functionalist critiques of social change);

Thus this program examines how the hegemony of men is being (re)defined in relation to three intersectional, embodied arenas: in terms of problematising hegemony in practice, by way of these neglected arenas: (older) ageing, bodies, (dis)abilities; transnationalisations; and virtuality. In each case these are arenas that can be seen as forms of absent presence, by marginalisation by age/death, disembodiment, and disconnection from nation, respectively. Each presents reinforcements, challenges and contradictions, to hegemonic categorisations of men. These three aspects and ‘exclusions’ are problematised as the focus of this program over the five years of GEXcel. In each case these are arenas that can be seen as forms of absent presence (Hearn 1998), by marginalisation by age/disability/death, disconnection from nation, and disembodiment respectively. Each of these presents reinforcements, challenges and contradictions, to hegemonic categorisations of men.
Moreover, the theme of ‘contradictions of absence’ refers to these three arenas in which absence of some men (or aspects of some men) may both, and contradictorily, reinforce hegemony of men and potentially at least subvert that hegemony; absence acts as both a source of power and a way of undermining power.

Three projects in the program

(i) The Body, Older Men and Disability project
Debates, dominant constructions and media and other representations and images of men and masculinities are dominated by younger men and men “of middle years”, as if men and masculinities “end” pre-old age. When images of older men are presented in the media they are generally very partial, very limited. Age, ageing, men, maleness and masculinities intersect in many different, complex ways. An under-explored area is the frequent exclusion of older men, men with certain disabilities and dying (though not dead) men from the category of “men”. (Older) Age is a contradictory source of power and disempowerment for men; the social category of older men is contradictory (Hearn, 1995). In many societies age and ageing has been a ‘traditional’ source of patriarchal power, and of (some) men’s power in relation to women, older women, younger men. This relation of men’s age and men’s gender power has become more complex and problematic. In many contemporary societies, age and ageing can be a source of some men’s lack of power, in relation to loss of power of the body, loss of and changing relations to work, and significant extension of the ‘age of weakness’.

Men’s generational power in families and communities has been widely overtaken by major national and international institutions, most obviously in the state and business. These latter institutions have their own patterns of domination by particular groupings or segments of men. Contemporary contradictions of men’s ageing stem partly from interrelations of sexism and ageism. Put simply, older men benefit through sexism, while, at the same time, older men are disadvantaged by ageism. Older men and older masculinities can be understood as an “absent presence” (Hearn, 1998). Indeed (some) older men may even become a contradictory, another Other - to younger men, even women. On the other hand, age and ageing do not necessarily reduce men’s power. Age and ageing are a source of financial power for some men, so that age also brings greater economic divergence. Men’s labour-power may be extended, through information technology and ‘cyborg-ageing’, pacemakers, disability aids and so on.

(ii) The Men of the World project
Transnationalisation takes many forms and has many implications for men and gender relations (Zalewski and Palpart, 1998; Hearn and Parkin, 2001; Hearn and Pringle, 2006). It is perhaps the most acutely contradictory of processes, with multiple forms of absence for both men in power and those dispossessed through, for example, forced migration. Different transnationalisations problematise taken-for-granted national and organisational contexts, and men therein in many ways. The project builds on the earlier project: ‘Men, Gender Relations and Transnational Organising, Organisations and Management’ on: gender relations in the large business companies; and men’s gendered organisational practices in European countries, and differential relations of (supra)national policy to “men” and men’s organising “as men”.

One key example of the impact of transnationalisation is the importance of managers in transnational organisations for the formation and reproduction of gender orders in organisations and societies. In light of the globalisation of business life and the expansion of transnational organisations, the concept of ”transnational business masculinity” describes a new form of masculinity among globally mobile managers. Connell (1998) sees this form of masculinity as marked by “increasing egocentrism, very conditional loyalties (even to the corporation), and a declining sense of responsibility for others (except for purposes of image-making).” It differs from “traditional bourgeois masculinity by its increasingly libertarian sexuality, with a growing tendency to commodify relations with women.” Studies focusing on senior managers, still overwhelmingly men, are necessary to understand how the hegemony of men is reproduced and changed globally. This involves international research and multiple methods (e.g. diaries, international associations, travel, men’s networks).

(iii) The Virtual Men project
Virtualisation processes present sites for contestations of hegemony in terms of bodily presence/absence of men. The focus here is the positive, negative and contradictory effects of certain uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) upon men’s, and women’s, sexuality and sexual violences, as men act as producers and consumers of virtuality, represent women in virtual media, and are themselves being represented, even made dispensible (Hearn, 2006). These structural and agentic differentiations, with and without force, may suggest multiply differentiated (trans)patriarchies that are stable and changing, fixed and flexible. Charting the particular, changing forms of these rigidities and movements of and around the taken-for-granted social category of men may be a means of interrogating the possibility of the abolition of ‘men’ as a significant social category of power. The implications of ICTs for the reformulation of social space and public (sexual) domains are examined.

Closing remarks
Importantly, there are key connections between these three projects, and the different men thereby implicated: social processes across and between arenas, for example, men’s violences; forms of re-engagements with “absent” bodies; diverse links across the economic, the political, and the cultural; possibilities for both extensions and subversions of men’s power. In all, the concept of transpatriarchies may be a relevant theme. The persistence, and usefulness, of the concept of patriarchy, despite obvious critiques, remains. Following earlier debates on historical shifts to, first, public patriarchies, analysis of transnational patriarchies or transpatriarchies is now needed. These contradictory social processes may also further the possibility the abolition of the social category of “men, as a category of power”, an approach and prospect bringing together materialist theory/politics and queer theory/politics.

Finally, I would like to end on a practical note, with brief comments on some ongoing activities at Tema Genus in Linköping University within and linking to this program. These include: research by four doctoral students at Tema Genus on the area (from 2006, Dag Balkmar, Linn Sandberg; from 2007, Alp Biricik, Tanja Joelsson); close links with doctoral research in Tema Barn; establishment in 2006 of The Research Group on Critical Studies on Men and Masculinities with over 20 members; co-editing of the international journal, Men and Masculinities; research with Ulf Mellström, Luleå University of Technology, on men and movement; production of guidelines on researching sexual violence, with Kjerstin Andersson, Tema Barn, and Malcolm Cowburn, University of Bradford, for the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, funded by Global Forum for Health Research; special issue of NORMA: The Nordic Journal of Masculinity Studies on the life course; and plans to create an Archive on Profeminism and Critical Studies on Men.

Internal Members

Swedish External Associate

See call for participation for "Men and Masculinities, Moving On! Embodiments, Virtualities, Transnationalisations", April 27-29, 2009

See poster for "Men and Masculinities, Moving On! Embodiments, Virtualities, Transnationalisations", April 27-29, 2009

See conference programme for "Men and Masculinities, Moving On! Embodiments, Virtualities, Transnationalisations", April 27-29, 2009

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