Hegemonic masculinity as a historical problem

30 Aug 2017

This article reaffirms the importance of gender history as a way of understanding the history of power, and specifically power relations between men and masculinities. The historical literature dealing with this theme has been profoundly shaped by R. W. Connell’s concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’. Despite detailed criticism by historians, Connell’s work remains enormously influential on historical scholarship because no alternative model has delineated so clearly the significance of power relations between masculinities. This article offers a critical reading of Connell’s work and develops a new analytical framework for understanding the history of masculinity. It argues that histories of normative models of masculinity need to be accompanied by a focus on the historically specific opportunities, mechanisms or techniques that enabled individuals to identify themselves with particular normative models. It argues that power can be apprehended as a four-fold operation: cultural contestation of normative ideals; individual attempts to identify with those cultural ideals; the processes by which those attempts were accorded recognition by others; and the processes by which individuals were positioned in relation to institutional practices, rewards and sanctions. This approach would offer new periodisations of the history of masculinity with the history of power at their core.