Recreating Men: Postmodern Masculinity Politics


Bob Pease

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    Writing this book has been both an individual and collective effort. Since I began this project I have been supported and encouraged by a number of people. First, I want to express my indebtedness to the participants who devoted their time and energy to sharing their stories, thoughts and feelings throughout the 15 months of the participatory research group. I also want to thank the interlocutors who were prepared to express their support, reservations and criticisms about profeminism for the public record. In particular, I want to acknowledge the conversations with Anthony McMahon about whether it is in men's interests to change.

    This book draws on research I completed for my doctoral thesis. I would like to thank Jacques Boulet for his encouragement and support throughout the earlier version of this project. I am indebted to his attention to detail and his commitment to the supervision.

    Throughout the course of this research many colleagues and friends have read parts or all of early drafts of my work and have offered thoughtful comments and valuable suggestions. Tricia Moynihan commented helpfully on my beginning attempt to come to terms with postmodernism. Bob Fuller, Wendy Weeks and Yoland Wadsworth read and commented on work-in-progress drafts of the early chapters when my ideas were in their formative stages. Glenda Koutroulis introduced me to the pleasures and pitfalls of memory-work. I thank them all for their support and assistance. I would especially like to thank Silvia Starc, Peter Horsfield, David Tacey, Helen Marshall and Rob Watts for their comments on the full penultimate draft of the thesis manuscript on which this book is based.

    In moving from thesis to book, I want to thank my dissertation examiners, Michael Kimmel, John Rowan and Malcolm McCouat. Their enthusiastic response to the thesis, and their belief that this research had value to the general public as well as to academic audiences, encouraged me to take the extra step of moving this work beyond the confines of the academy.

    Finally, I want to express my further appreciation to Silvia Starc for her tender support throughout all stages of this project. She, more than anyone, is aware of the blood, sweat and tears involved in the production of this book. Now we can regain the balance that enables these ideas to be more fully lived.

  • Appendix: Methodology

    The nature of my research interests and my commitment to praxis and change suggested a participatory approach to this project. Thus, I invited self-defining profeminist men to participate in a collaborative inquiry group to link the process of personal transformation to the collective politics of change in gender relations.

    While it is generally accepted that men cannot do feminist research, they are encouraged to evolve approaches based on feminist standpoint epistemology to research men's lives. Wadsworth and Hargreaves (1993: 5) suggest that the methodological approaches of feminism will be relevant to men who are seeking to transform subordinating practices, whilst Maguire (1987: 71) also encourages men to use participatory research to uncover their own modes of domination of women.

    In addition to feminism, my exploration of participatory approaches to research draws upon emancipatory action research. This form of action research requires a group process to enable the development of a learning community to generate a critique of the context in which the group operates (Carr and Kemmis, 1983: 171–2). This learning community is further transformed into a critical community that subjects its own values and practices to scrutiny. Torbert (1991: 232) has defined this process as a ‘practical community of inquiry’, where people are ‘committed to discovering propositions about the world, life, their particular organizations and themselves that they will test in their own actions with others’. Thus, such a group process of action research involves dialogue, discussion, argumentation, critical reflection and theorizing from experience.

    Emancipatory action research is at least partly based on a theoretical framework associated with Habermas's (1972) work, in which the participants aim to move from illusory beliefs that may be irrational and contradictory, to a more enlightened understanding of the impact of social structures on their lives. Through the research process, people come to distinguish between what Habermas defines as instrumental and technical knowledge and critical knowledge which derives from the process of reflection and action.

    From a postmodern position, Gore (1993: 152–4) has criticized action research for failing to achieve its emancipatory intentions and for reproducing forms of domination because it functions within ‘regimes of truth’. With Lather (1991: 1–2), however, I believe it is possible to reconcile emancipatory discourses and modernist strategies like consciousness-raising with a critical appropriation of important elements of postmodernism. They are not antithetical to each other as some postmodern critics suggest.

    Within the participatory approach I have outlined, I chose three research methods to carry out the intentions of this research: consciousness-raising, collective memory-work and sociological intervention. All three methods involve group work, a precondition for participatory research and a preferred methodology for enacting the action component of the research process. Furthermore, the combination of the three methods provided a basis to bridge the gap between the individual and the social and between the subjective and the structural. Together, they avoid the danger of psychologizing masculine subjectivities at the expense of structural change, while at the same time grounding the discussion of political strategies in the subjective realities of men's lives.

    Consciousness-Raising as Research

    Consciousness-raising is a method that reflects both my theoretical analysis and my commitment to activism. It enables participants to explore material about themselves in ways that are searching and insightful and while such a method focuses on the personal, it does not separate the exploration of subjectivity from the wider historical and political issues (Hollway, 1982: 11–13). Consciousness-raising is also a part of my biography and one of the processes through which I became aware of gender domination. As a method, it has a history, both in the contemporary women's movement and in the liberation struggles in Latin America.

    Because feminist consciousness was not universal among women, one had to become a feminist (Bartky, 1975: 425–6). Hence, MacKinnon (1982: 535) describes consciousness-raising as the ‘quintessential expression’ of feminism. The metaphor of ‘raising’ comes from the idea of ‘bringing up’ into consciousness experiences that have previously only been known at the unconscious level. It involves ‘becoming aware at a conscious level, of things that we knew but had repressed’ (Eisenstein, 1984: 35). This understanding and analysis are seen as first steps towards social change (Weiler, 1991: 457–8).

    Some postmodernists argue that consciousness-raising is a modernist political project based on the ‘meta-narrative’ premise that people can come to recognize ideological and material domination and can struggle collectively towards egalitarian and socially just relations (Gore, 1993: 121–2). However, I argue with Janmohamed (1994) that it can be reconceptualized in postmodern terms. The process of consciousness-raising can encourage people to develop ‘a relationship of non-identity with their own subject positions [which] requires an ejection of the introjected subject positions of dominant groups’ (1994: 244–7). Thus, consciousness-raising becomes a process of assisting people to redefine their subject positions. McLaren and da Silva (1993: 58) also position Freire's work within a postmodernist perspective, whilst Freire (1993: x) himself has recently acknowledged that his understanding of subjectivity, power and experience resemble some forms of postmodernism.

    For my purposes, I find it useful to adopt Weedon's (1987: 85) view of consciousness-raising, not as a method to discover one's ‘true nature’ but as ‘a way of changing our subjectivity through positioning ourselves in alternative discourses which we produce together’. Thus, consciousness-raising plays a role in destabilizing identity rather than creating a unified sense of self (Sawicki, 1991: 104), which means it challenges previously held conceptions of the self and creates the possibility for senses of the self to be reconstructed.

    In adapting the process of consciousness-raising to work with members of a dominant group, Wineman (1984: 187) used the concept of ‘negative consciousness’ to describe the process by which people become conscious of their oppressor roles and react against them. According to him, ‘equal relations can be experienced as more rewarding than top-down relations’, which constitutes the positive foundation for negative consciousness. When one dehumanizes people, one denies one's own capacity for emotional connectedness. Lichtenberg (1988: 99) similarly argues that, once egalitarian relations are achieved, they can be as attractive to the dominator as they are to the subordinated. It is this recognition that enables the process of consciousness-raising to further the aims of this project.

    Collective Memory-Work

    Memory-work is a method that builds upon, yet goes beyond consciousness-raising. The method was developed by Frigga Haug (1987: 60) to gain greater understanding of the resistance to the dominant ideology at the level of the individual, as well as how women internalize dominant values and how their reactions are colonized by dominant patterns of thought. Haug describes memory-work as a method for the unravelling of gender socialization. Her argument is that it is essential to examine subjective memories if we want to discover anything about how people appropriate objective structures (Haug, 1992: 20).

    By sharing and comparing memories from their own lives, Haug and her groups hope to uncover the workings of hegemonic ideology in their subjectivities. Her particular concern is ‘with the ways in which people construct their identities through experiences that become subjectively significant to them’ (1987: 40–52). The premise is that everything we remember is a significant basis for the formation of identity.

    By illustrating the ways in which people participate in their own socialization, their potential to intervene in and change the world is expanded. By making conscious the way in which we have previously unconsciously interpreted the world, we are more able to develop resistance against this ‘normality’ (Haug, 1987: 60) and thus develop ways of subverting our own socialization.

    Memory-work is carried out by a group of co-researchers who choose a topic or theme to investigate. It involves at least three phases.

    First, written memories are produced according to certain rules. Individuals are asked to write a memory of a particular episode, action or event in the third person without any interpretation or explanation. Writing in the third person encourages description and avoids rationalization.

    Second, the written memories are collectively analysed. After writing the memories, the co-researchers meet to read and analyse them. All group members express their opinions and ideas about the memories and looks for similarities, differences and cultural imperatives. Memories are compared and contrasted with each other and appraised and reappraised by both the writer and others in the group so that the common elements are identified. Members of the group thus collectively interpret, discuss and theorize the memories. It is through this process that new meanings are created.

    Third, memories are reappraised and analysed in the context of a range of theories. This involves rewriting the memories following the collective theorizing (Crawford et al., 1992: 40–51).

    Memory-work is an example of what McLaren and da Silva (1993: 73–5) call ‘remembering in a critical mode’; it becomes a form of ‘counter-memory’. The purpose of this critical mode of remembering is ‘not only to understand the past but to understand it differently’. By recounting histories of oppression, suffering and domination, those who occupy positions of dominance can find ways to recognize their privilege and form alliances with the oppressed.

    Memory-work has much in common with narrative approaches to research. Pro feminist men's narratives can be read as counter narratives because they reveal that the narrators do not think, feel or act as they are supposed to. In this context, narrative analysis also becomes a form of consciousness-raising that has both ‘therapeutic and transformational possibilities at the individual, familial and societal levels’ (Gorman, 1993: 257).

    Memory-work is also consistent with postmodern approaches to research in that it enables us to identify how subjectivities are constituted discursively out of contradictions within discourses (Shotter, 1993: 409). It further emphasizes the partiality of subject positions and the potential for agency that arises out of challenges from alternative subject positionings (Stephensen et al., 1995:2).

    Sociological Intervention(s) in Masculinity Politics

    Alain Touraine's (1977: 142–53) sociological intervention, a participatory research method specifically designed for the study of social movements, involves work with a number of activists organized in groups. The objective is to create a research situation which would, in some way, represent the nature of the struggle the participants are involved in. Thus, the researcher forms groups of individuals who are involved in and identify with a social movement with the aim of engaging in some form of self analysis. The incentive for individuals to become involved in the intervention is an awareness of disharmony between the ideals of the movement and its organizational practices.

    Touraine discusses the importance of having different, even opposing, aspects of the struggle represented in the group so that the tensions and conflicts of the movement can be brought out. Interlocutors, who confront the group with alternative analyses, are brought in to prevent the group from centring in on itself. The interlocutors are other participants in the movement, situated at different levels and engaged in different activities from those of the research participants (1977: 159–62).

    Confronting the group with both its partners and its opponents brings out the field of their struggle. Through the dialogues, the members of the group have to answer to interpretations that differ from their own and to modify the image they previously had of their opponents. This enables participants to overcome their rationalizations and encourages them to look critically at their own ideologies. The dialogues that take place model the main components of the struggle and after the meeting with the interlocutors, the group reflects upon the encounter and analyses the action. The group works because it has to resolve the tensions between its experience and its ideology and between its own view of the situation and that of the interlocutors (Touraine, 1977: 175).

    At the end of the intervention, the researcher is presented with a diversity of arguments, debates and conflicts, out of which he or she must develop a set of hypotheses which will account for these statements and they are put to the test in discussion with the group. The researcher then makes an interpretation of the struggles facing the social movement. Is it a social movement or not? What directions does the movement take? What are its main problems and its most important conflicts and choices? How can its evolution be defined? When the intervention is completed, the participants return to action, where they match the conclusions of the intervention with their new experiences. On the basis of these new experiences, they return to re-examine the issues with their internal problems and increase their capacity for action (Touraine, 1977: 181–205).

    These three participatory group research methods of consciousness-raising, collective memory-work and sociological intervention together strengthened the concerns of this project to link the discursively produced subjectivities of the profeminist participants to the prefigurative practices of profeminist action.


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