Sensing Masculinity. Thinking about the Masculine Body
The sessions are organised as part of the “Gender and Women’s History” Network at the Social science history conference that will take place in Ghent, 13-16 april 2010. (http://www.iisg.nl/esshc/).
Please send proposals, before 18 April 2009, to Thomas.buerman@UGent.be or Josephine.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thinking about representations of and discourses surrounding the male body usually entails thinking about the visible or tangible body. Studies concerning the history, sociology or anthropology of men’s bodies tend to focus on esthetical ideals (such as the muscular look), the ability to inflict or experience pain (most notably in times of war) or to give or experience pleasure (within or outside the hetero-normative bedroom). This CFP is an invitation to think about the masculine body once again, and to think beyond ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ as the only means to experience, analyse or represent bodies.
In one or more sessions, we welcome papers dealing with theoretical and methodological issues concerning the study of men’s bodies in the social sciences (see p.2) and more empirical papers focussing on (for example) the construction and representation of men’s voices, men’s consumption patterns of food and drink and men’s body- and facial hair.
(Re)thinking men’s bodies
or: how to write the sensual into masculinity?
Throughout the last twenty-five years, historians and sociologists alike have broadened their interest in the human body. In francophone as well as in Anglo research circles, ‘the senses’ have come to the fore as an area of study, resulting in histories of smell, the call to hear history, growing attention for the cultural construction of taste and a general interest in the non-visual. Simultaneously, researchers of gender and sexuality are increasingly turning towards ‘the body’ as a site of knowledge, focussing on the construction of the corporeal as an object of study but also on the methodological possibilities of non-verbal interaction between researcher and researched (be it in interviews, during participant observation or in the archives).
Despite obvious common interests, both fields rarely meet – especially where the masculine gender is concerned. Whereas researchers of femininity readily acknowledge the importance of the smell of the laundry, of tasting practices in the kitchen and of mothers’ attention to the sound of a crying child for the construction of (domestic) femininities, men’s studies seem to remain primarily interested in men’s words and images. Conversely, in sensory studies, gender is also often relegated to the domestic field and ‘sense-scapes’ of the public sphere are rarely tied to constructions of gendered identity. Unwittingly, the association of masculinity with the rational (‘scientific’) act of observation, and of femininity with the sensual (‘pre-modern’) practice of listening, smelling, tasting seems to be reproduced.
The session therefore encourages explorations of non-verbal and/or non-visual aspects of constructions of men’s corporeality as well as the possibilities of a sensual analysis of masculinity. How can one write the sensual, rather than the rational or muscular man, into social science? How can sensual experiences be included in the social scientist’s methodological toolbox? How can an analysis of sound, smell, taste be carried out from textual sources? And how can scientific writing translate (an analysis of) sensual practices into text?
Raising their voices
Focusing on the intersection of acoustics and gender, this first ‘empirical’ component aims to explore the (un)conscious construction, representation and perception of the ‘male’ voice. Whereas, up to well into the nineteenth century, the vocal ideal for men was a sharp, ‘penetrating’ voice, that was the result of conscious training, contemporary understandings of men’s voices are mainly based on the assumption that the male voice is naturally lower and fuller than the female voice. The development of this image of the naturally gendered voice remains largely hidden: histories of the male voice deal mostly with professional singers (and especially with the figure of the castrato) and only marginally with more general vocal practices such as teaching, debating, reciting etc. Likewise, the concrete discourses and practices that have shaped and created this ‘new’ male voice as an important element in the construction of the gendered body deserve more attention.
Primarily interested in the role of sound and sound-production in the construction of masculine identities, we welcome contributions dealing with the (perceived or created) transformation of boys’ into men’s voices, representations and perceptions of the male speaking voice, links and tensions between authority and the male voice, ‘scientific’ understandings of men’s voices and changes in the aesthetics of the male voice .
The inner man
Dealing with the maintenance of bodies in the most literal sense, this second empirical component is interested in the way food and drink help to construct masculine identities. Associated with corporeal survival as well as with matters of taste and reputation, eating and drinking practices allow for an analysis of the conjunction of constructions of health and the male body as well as a studies of forms of ‘male bonding’ and gendered understandings of conviviality. The gendering of the consumption of food and drink is therefore not only a question of dietary habits (e.g. the construction of certain products, such as liquor and red meat, as ‘manly’ food) but also of routines and rituals of ‘wining and dining’ (e.g. the construction of the café as a homosocial space). Much like the male voice, the male diet seems to have been subject to a certain ‘naturalization’ (inspired by the ‘natural’ association of eating and drinking to the body and its ‘biological functions’) that has hardly been historicized.
Topics may include (but are not limited to): the parallels drawn between cultures of (excessive) drinking and cultures of masculinity or boyishness, evolutions in the ideal male diet, the associations between specific dishes or drinks and gendered understandings of strength, the role of homo-social modes of consumption in the construction of masculine (collective) identities and the role of food consumption and table manners in the public performance of masculinity.
The masculine ornament
The third empirical component also focuses on an element of masculine corporeality that is associated with issues of health as well as with the conscious staging of a virile identity: hair. Read as a symbol of authority and civility as well as a sign of savagery and rebellion, hair-styles and more specifically the cultivation or removal of facial hair have served as obvious markers of gender as well as age and class. Because of its versatility, its visibility and its (almost) exclusive link to the male body, facial hair and its fashions seem particularly apt as sources with which to document changes in the staging and perception of various masculinities. Either celebrated or prohibited, beards and moustaches have been at the centre of attention in various political, military and religious contexts and have retained their ambiguous status as both ‘natural’ and ‘malleable’ characteristics of masculinity. The focus on facial hair places the sense of ‘sight’ at the centre of attention again, and simultaneously allows for an analysis of the practice of ‘sporting’ a beard and for a closer scrutiny of skin as part of the male body.
Topics can include explorations of the associations of beards with authority, virility or savagery, of discourses tying ‘biological’ signs of masculinity (such as testosterone levels) to beard growth, of the intersections of race, class, age and gender in the cultivation of facial hair as well as shaving practices, of the meaning of facial hair in specific professions and their claim to masculinity and of the ‘readability’ of beards in different cultural and social contexts.
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