A Critical Investigation of Masculinity in Education: Using a Narrative Method

A Critical Investigation of Masculinity in Education: Using a Narrative Method

Ian Davis, Annette Brömdal
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2901-0.ch014
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This chapter treats the concept of masculinit(ies) in two distinct ways. It offers a discussion relating to the notion of masculinit(ies) as a research foci. This construct is problematized by facing up to the methodological paradox of examining the unmarginalized subject and how that can increase in complexity when contextualized within an institutional setting such as education. The popular notion of hegemonic masculinity and the development of the term masculinit(ies) is unraveled to acknowledge the plural condition of how gender can be represented. What can be lost by a treatment of masculinity that relies on an overly sociological approach that is necessarily historical and localized is then briefly examined. By focusing on the research perspective and the common framing of masculinit(ies), a case study of Tom is used to highlight both the possibilities and also the restrictions of how gendered representation can be addressed within an institutionalized environment such as education.
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In considering Gender Studies, as both a scholarly and inclusive pursuit, it must be acknowledged that it has relied heavily on re-readings of historical, literary and cultural artifacts that have addressed or redressed inherent power imbalances identified within these texts. Such re-readings have helpfully sought to highlight, nullify and at times eliminate the masculinized political agendas, phallocentric schemas and patriarchal strategies within specific areas of cultural and political discourse. Revisions such as these have become a valuable and vital process, enabling academics and activists alike to develop platforms of inclusivity that re-articulate historical, literary and cultural texts, bringing new, previously silenced voices into being. However as Adler and Harrison (2004) argue, in policing the discussion of men and maleness, by failing to position men away from masculinity, feminism has in all its waves treated any discussion of men as a “backdrop against which women’s experiences are perpetually compared and denigrated” (p. 272). Studying maleness or masculinity in any form entails ideological difficulties; in the case of educational practice and environments our consideration of these problems moves away from the ideological and instead become focused on methodological dilemmas.

The central methodological paradox facing research in this area is shaped by three key questions. First, how are researchers able to approach the experiences of an un-marginalized subject? Second, if the feminist political focus valorizes an assumption that masculine voices feature always as powerful and dominant in such discourses, how can research that seeks to re-consider maleness and masculinity find an objective platform from which to re-assess how these voices have been represented? Finally, how can we evaluate how a proposed marginalization of maleness has worked against inclusivity within the gender studies agenda and has influenced the men who have been tasked with having to embody sometimes oppressive styles of masculinity as lived and situated realities? Historian Stefan Dudink describes this problem of inclusivity as offering a different and possibly positive perspective:

The history of masculinity does not deal with a neglected group, nor can it be placed under the banner of ‘history from the margins’. Rather it is a new perspective which potentially modifies our view of every field of history in which men are the principle subjects – which is to say the overwhelming majority of written history (Dunink, 2004, p. 2).

From a scholarly perspective, positionality within this frame is a thorny enough issue. However these difficulties, once situated within an educational environment, become exacerbated by rhetoric relating to gender issues within what Mac and Ghaill (1994) call, “the institutional complexity of sex/gender regimes that pervasively circumscribe school lives” (p. 28). Educational environments are not, as what society may sometimes be led to believe: hermetic environments that can be unproblematically observed, monitored and evaluated. The gendered agents involved within the system of education are not practicing within a cultural or ideological vacuum. The environment, within which learning and teaching occurs, is often a more messy, rich, culturally inter-textual and ideologically fraught space. The study of such environments and those operating within it requires creative and innovative approaches with which to view the participants and develop strategies of validity and interpretation.

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