Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health

Reflections on a symposium: Dislocating Masculinity Revisited

July 4 – 5 2014

The Dislocating Masculinity Revisited symposium took place at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex on July4th – 5th 2014. It was organised by Andrea Cornwall, Nancy Lindisfarne and Frank Karioris, and included keynotes from Raewyn Connell and Mairtin Mac an Ghaill.

Why revisit Dislocating Masculinity?

Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies was first published in 1994, and the book was ‘a radical critique of writing on and by men, and drew on ethnographic and historical analysis to raise questions about embodiment, agency and the relation between masculine styles and social contexts’. Along with Raewyn Connell’s work in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dislocating Masculinity was one of the key texts which contributed to the establishment of masculinity studies. As Andrea explained in her introduction at the symposium, her and Nancy’s views on masculinity have changed very little in the 20 years since the book was first published; ethnographic insights remain crucial in order to investigate the links between power, masculinities, maleness and men. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of publication, the symposium aimed to create cross-disciplinary conversations about the contributions that ethnography is making to research on men and masculinities, in a diversity of fields and cultural and social contexts.

The symposium

Before the symposium, we were arranged into groups of 6 - 7 people, and Frank informed us via email that there would be no paper presentations. Instead, we were asked to read the papers written by our group members, and arrive at the symposium ready to discuss them. Several of us were unsure how this would work, but all became clear after the initial introductory session. With one participant assigned as the discussant in each group, we sat and talked through issues raised by each other’s papers; our conversations were structured through a round-robin format which, we were later told, came out of the Civil Rights movement. This format worked remarkably well to create dialogues between diverse participants (who ranged from seasoned academics to first-year doctoral students), and ensured that everyone’s input was heard and valued.

The papers from my group provided diverse and exciting examples of ethnographic research on masculinities, and included work on the encounter between Indian migrant and Emirati host masculinities in the UAE; negotiations of gender roles in Franco-African couples in France; masculinities in crisis in Darfur; the experiences of young Polish men in the UK education system; inclusive masculinities among young footballers in the UK, and work from my own PhD on masculinities and violence in Delhi schools.

We had highly productive discussions and debates in our group across two sessions on the first day of the symposium, and on the second day, we were re-organized into new groups. These groups were created during a participatory activity at the end of the first day, to establish areas which people felt they wanted to explore in more depth, or which hadn’t been covered on the first day. Among others, these topics included masculinities and violence, theory and social change, and female masculinities.  

The keynotes

Raewyn Connell’s highly anticipated public lecture came at the end of the first day. In her lecture, ‘Masculinity, Coloniality, Hegemony: Trajectories of Research and Politics’, Raewyn reflected on the origins of her highly influential concept of hegemonic masculinity, and emphasised the importance of now looking critically at the field of men and masculinities. Raewyn also considered challenges to the idea of hegemonic masculinity, particularly when looking at masculinities in the global ‘peripheries’. She argued that in contexts of economic and social instability, the concept of a ‘gender order’ does not necessarily work – such contexts are more chaotic than this, so we need to think about hegemonic masculinities ‘under construction’, and how they manage to stabilise themselves. Raewyn’s talk concluded by emphasising that we cannot remain in the conceptual world in which the field was constructed, and that methods also need to change in order to examine new configurations of masculinities, and new forms of contestations and transformations.

On the second day, we heard Mairtin Mac an Ghaill’s ethnographic reflections, particularly drawing on his recent work with young Muslim men in Birmingham. Mairtin challenged the audience to think more reflexively about ethnography, and to consider the constant ‘ducking and diving’ in the process of constructing oneself within ethnography. Finally, Mairtin emphasised the importance of engaging with religion, race and difference ethnographically, no matter how uncomfortable this may be for the ‘white left’.


The symposium organisers are currently compiling a book list, with suggestions for essential reading from all the conference participants. I believe this will be up on the symposium website in due course, but in the meantime, I strongly recommend xyonline, a fantastic resource on men, masculinities and gender politics (thanks to Caroline Osella for sharing this).

At the beginning of the symposium, I reflected with fellow PhD students on how surreal it felt to be in a room with so many eminent masculinities scholars; at most other conferences I’ve been to, sharing a room with such scholars would have remained the highlight. At this symposium, however, the participatory format meant that we were not only able to engage with these scholars (as well as fellow PhD students) in productive dialogues and debates, but also received invaluable advice and guidance across disciplinary and experiential boundaries. A massive thank you to Andrea, Nancy and Frank for organising such an inspiring and energizing event!

Padmini Iyer is a third-year doctoral student in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sussex. Her PhD research focuses on young people’s experiences of gender and sexuality in secondary schools in New Delhi, and her symposium paper reflected on her experiences of using ethnographic methods to explore masculinities with young men at school.