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Editor’s Choice: Boys, Masculinities, and Peer Dynamics

Published in Editor's Choice, Self and Identity by Mark Murphy on March 19, 2013

Image (c) spDuchamp

Article: Jenny Parkes & Anna Conolly (2013): Dangerous encounters? Boys’ peer dynamics and neighbourhood risk. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34:1, 94-106.

This is a well-delivered article from Jenny Parkes and Anna Conolly, which examines the relationship between gendered subjectivities and social contexts (in this case schools and neighbourhoods). Here’s the abstract:

This article traces links between subjectivity, peer relations and neighbourhood risk for a group of boys living in an area of London with high levels of crime, gang activity and socio-economic inequality. Drawing on data from a qualitative study of young people and neighbourhood risk, we use a psycho-social approach to analyse how gendered subjectivities are shaped by the specific social context. We found that tough masculinities were performed by boys across different social arenas of school, neighbourhood and in the context of a weekly research group. But the boys were also troubled by these masculinities, and their own engagement in data analysis illuminated some of their fears. While the tough masculine ideal is revealed often to be a masquerade, it nevertheless exerts a powerful and pernicious influence over the subjectivities of young men trying to navigate safely through a context of everyday risks.

Using a combination of ideas from discourse analysis and psychoanalysis, the authors sought to explore the importance of masculine identities in the context of schools and neighbourhoods. What I particularly liked about the paper was its emphasis on the emotional tensions produced by notions of masculinity – the evidence from the research suggesting a fragile and multi-layered relationship with masculine norms:

Boys’ engagements with the tough masculine discourse were, however, about more than negotiating social status among peers. Through overlaying discourse analysis with psychoanalytic interpretations, we have traced how boys may deal with threat and fear through constructing a masculine ideal that suppresses any yearning for the childlike position of dependency and safety, a position that is untenable for urban male youth as they move through the teenage years. Paradoxically, (re-)constructing the hypermasculine discourse both reveals its emptiness and reiterates it. … But the boys also criticised and contested the discourse, through emphasising its extremes or through exposing it as a masquerade.

My only quibble is that more could have been made of the theoretical implications of the research, although of course there is only so much you can achieve in one article (Lacanians would have a field day with the evidence here, for example). As an aside, I think I chaired the session for this paper at BERA last year or the year before. But as always, I could be wrong on that…

About


Mark MurphyMark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.

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