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EU FPV Thematic Network: The Social Problem and Societal Problematisation of Men |
UK NATIONAL REPORT ON RESEARCH ON MEN’S PRACTICES WORKPACKAGE 1
Keith Pringle (with the assistance of Alex Raynor)
(1) KEY POINTS
NOTE: Gaps in the literature/areas for future research development are highlighted in the text which follows in bold italic type.
(2) THE NATIONAL GENDER BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
This survey focuses on academic writings specifically about “men” as a social category produced in the United Kingdom since about 1990. However, before the survey is undertaken that statement needs to be qualified and amplified in a number of important ways:-
(i)Most of the material produced in the United Kingdom has drawn largely (though of course not exclusively) on various forms of study focused on England, often without any explicit (or indeed implicit) acknowledgement/awareness of that fact - or its potential significance. One gap in the academic literature on men has been a lack of interest in how the different cultural contexts of Scotland, the north of Ireland, Wales, England and the regions of England may have framed the social relations associated with men.
(ii) Compared to most other European countries, the amount of academic literature relating in a concerted way to the issue of “men” as a social category has been massive since 1990. One practical outcome of that situation for this report is that I have probably been both more broad in my analysis and more selective in my choice of texts than some of my colleagues in other countries. I have therefore tended to focus mainly (but not exclusively) on (i) recent texts, (ii) material written from critical perspectives and (iii) that which I could access most readily with the restricted time and resources available to me.
Having made these preliminary observations, I want very briefly to comment on the overall
situation of academic debate currently in the United Kingdom:-
(a) The reasons for the profusion of material in the United Kingdom since 1990 are complex and I mention only two here: first, the strong and continuing growth of waves of feminist activism and writing in the United Kingdom since the 1960s – along with a proliferation of other social and sexual movements (Hearn 1999a). second, the cultural (or at least linguistic) proximity between the United Kingdom, and the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia - other countries with an ongoing relative “tradition” of an explicit social focus on men. However, more underlying and broader cultural factors would need to be explored if a convincing explanation for the extent of writing on men in the United Kingdom was to be provided. In particular, we would need to think more generally about why social discourses oppositional to the “political” status quo (for instance around issues not only of gender but also racism, heterosexism, disablism, classism and ageism) have developed more extensively in Britain than in most other European countries (see Pringle 1998a, Pringle and Harder 1999).
(b)Another important contextual point to make is that the discussions about men are now taking place at a time of major economic and social change for them (Hearn 1999a). This is one reason why many of the debates in the United Kingdom involve to a greater or lesser extent a consideration of whether there is a “Crisis in Masculinity” (Horrocks 1994). Generally speaking, commentators adopting a “Men’s Rights” approaches (Dench 1994; Dennis and Erdos 1992,1999; Lyndon 1996) and a “Men’s Studies” perspectives (for instance Seidler 1991, 1994, 1997) are both likely to subscribe (though for very different reasons) to such a crisis thesis; whereas those writing from positions more influenced by radical feminist perspectives (for instance Hanmer 1990; Hearn 1996d, 1999a; Pringle 1996) are less likely to subscribe to it.
(c) At the conceptual/theoretical level (though vitally connected to material issues (Hearn 1992)), there have been some important contributions to discussion about the terms of debates about men. These contributions have focused for instance on the potential limitations of the concept of “masculinity/masculinities” compared with “men’s practices” (Hearn 1996c). Moreover, Hearn has recently fore-grounded possibilities of eventually abolishing “men” as a theoretical social category (1998, 1999a). One gap in the UK literature is further consideration of these theoretical issues which have important material implications: What does “being a man” mean both in terms of practices and discourses? Indeed what is the relationship between practices and discourses in the context of this field of study. And what are the precise inter-relationships between macro level systems of power relations which contextualise men’s practices and the micro level of individual men’s day to day engagements and understandings of their worlds? (see Butt & Hearn 1998 for some interesting responses to some of those issues).
Finally in this section I want to select several key contributions on the social category “men” from within the British context. Jeff Hearn has made the outstanding British academic contribution to the critical study of men: a contribution which has been of the utmost importance transnationally as well as nationally. Moreover, his contribution has embraced theoretical and material concerns – as well as the intersections between them. At the theoretical level, Hearn (1998a) is now the key text. As regards the current “state of play” in the broader field of critical studies on men, the best overview is again by Hearn (1999a). A contextualisation of British work within a transnational frame is offered in a series of publications by Pringle (1998a,1998b; Pease and Pringle (forthcoming). In the specific but broad area of men’s violences, Hearn has again been the major academic figure with his “The Violences of Men” (Hearn 1998b) the key text. In the field of social welfare broadly, the standard work remains Pringle (1995), though now supplemented in important ways by Cavanagh and Cree (1996), Newburn and Mair (1996), Wild (1999) and Christie (2000) – as well as by the ongoing contributions in the journal “Working With Men”. Finally, the law extends its influence to, and is itself influenced by, a wide range of social issues related to men. This field has produced two key texts by Richard Collier (1995, 1998) the scope of which extend well beyond legal issues both programmatically and theoretically.
(3) HOME AND WORK
The issues of work, home and the intersections between them have provided the foci for the largest corpus of work on men in Britain. One (though by no means the only) explanation for this is that “fatherhood” has become a key theme for virtually every perspective on the study of men – and for policy-makers at both national and European levels (Pringle 1998a). So, in this section I want turn initially to this issue of fatherhood.
(i)As noted, “fatherhood” has attracted the attention of commentators from a wide spectrum of perspectives. At one extreme, it has been the focus of several writers whom one might categorise as being broadly within a “Men’s Right” perspective. Perhaps the most well-known of these are Dennis (1993), Dennis and Erdos (1992, 1999), Dench (1994, 1996) and Lyndon (1996). Such approaches which tend to attribute a wide range of social problems to the relative absence of fathers in families (physically and/or emotionally) have been heavily critiqued for a series of reasons relating to methodology and theoretical approach (Campbell 1993 and Williams 1998). However, in recent years there have been a very large number of more mainstream academic British studies and reviews (drawing largely on socialist feminist and profeminist perspectives) concerned with to what extent and in what ways men are becoming more “involved” as parents in the home (Bradshaw et al. 1999; Burgess et al 1997; Burghes et al. 1997; Burton et al 1998; Clarke and Popay 1998; Corden 1999; Dench 1996; Doucet 1995; Ferri and Smith 1996, 1998; Ghate et al. 2000; Kearney et al. 2000; Kiernan 1999: Lewis et al.at press; Lloyd 1999; Neale and Smart 1997; Oakley and Rigby 1998; Smart and Stevens 2000; Speak et al.; Sullivan 1997; Warin et al. 1999). Recent useful overviews of this burgeoning literature, offered from different perspectives, are by Williams (1998), Daniel and Taylor (1999), Hester and Harne (1999), Smart (1999), Lewis (2000). Perhaps not surprisingly, these studies fail to achieve total unanimity on what men are doing as fathers. Nevertheless, the basic message on the whole is clear: though a considerable number of men may be playing a more active part in the home than previously, women are still mainly responsible for the management and/or performance of the majority of household and child care tasks. Whilst many studies in the past have found/assumed that “middle class” men tended to take a larger role in the home, several of these more recent studies suggest that “working class” men may be equally active in terms of material performance (as opposed to verbal intentions): Ferri and Smith (1996), Clarke and Popay (1998), Kearney et al. (2000). Some recent research also suggests the assumption that unemployed men tend not to play a greater part taking responsibility for their children may at least need to be re-examined: Kearney et al (2000) which looked at men still “in” families and Neale and Smart (1997) whose study focused on men who were separated/divorced.
(ii)However, it is not only the question of precisely who does what household tasks in the home that leads to differences within the academic literature on fatherhood. Two other central issues enter into debates: first, how to interpret men’s greater commitment to parenting; the second is the issue of violences perpetrated to women and children by men who are fathers/partners. I will take each in turn.
The issue of how to interpret some men’s greater commitment to parenting itself has several aspects. On the one hand, some commentators from a mainly Men’s Studies/socialist feminist perspective (Burgess and Ruxton 1996; Moss 1994, 1996) regard men’s greater involvement with their children, particularly their sons, as having great (almost essential) significance for the children, for the men’s partners and for the men themselves. This approach parallels, and draws much of its inspiration from, powerful and positive discourses on fatherhood in the Nordic countries (Owen et al. 1998; Pringle 1998a). By contrast, other commentators (Hester and Harne 1999; Oakley and Rigby 1998; Pringle 1995, 1998b, 1998d, 2000; Smart 1999) have questioned the extent to which men’s presence in families is essential. Some (Hester and Harne 1999; Pringle 1998b) have drawn upon studies of children brought up within lesbian households (Golombok et al. 1983) to suggest that the value of fathering, as opposed to parenting, may be over-rated. Others (Oakley and Rigby 1998; Smart 1999) note that the impact of fathers when they are in families on children is anyway often heavily mediated by and dependent upon the efforts of their female partners. Some of these commentators (Pringle 1998b, 1998d) also suggest that the alleged benefits to women arising from some men’s greater childcare participation are not inevitable and largely depend upon broader anti-sexist changes in society occurring. These commentators also tend to critically frame men’s greater childcare participation in wider concerns about a reassertion of fatherhood rights and responsibilities in policy changes instituted by the Children Act, the Child Support Act and legislation associated with in vitro fertilisation: a reassertion which can be seen as patriarchal (Pringle 1995; Harne and Hester 1999; Smart 1999). One central element in this less positive interpretation of re-asserted fatherhood is the emphasis which a number of these writers (Hester and Harne 1999) place upon the extent of men’s violences in their roles as both fathers and relationship partners. It is to this central topic within British debates that I now turn.
(iii)A major piece of recent research on men separated/divorced from their partners and not living with their children has highlighted the men’s plight and attempted to explain why a considerable number want more contact and involvement in their children’s lives in return for financially supporting the children (Bradshaw et al. 1999). This research interviewed men and neither their ex-partners, nor their children nor the relatives supporting the men. This study is in line with much research (and policy) on fatherhood after separation/divorce which assumes that on the whole problematic issues which have occurred between men and their ex-partners will have no bearing on men’s potential as fathers. A similar point might be made about those few studies which have focused on single fatherhood such as Barker (1994) and Adams (1996). Once again, the research in each case was carried out with men only and therefore did not explore in detail what may have occurred between men and their partners prior to separation/divorce: men as fathers is a topic which is regarded as being mainly distinct from the topic of men as relationship partners. The same phenomenon can be observed in the analysis of groupwork in a family centre with men offered by Fleming and Luczynski (1999) – most of whose participants were single fathers. By contrast, research which has focused on women who are separated/divorced and/or on professionals involved in such cases has tended to tell a rather different story. In particular, an important series of studies carried out by Marianne Hester, Lorraine Radford and others (Hester and Radford 1996; Hester et al. 1997; Hester et al. 1998; Hester and Pearson 1998; Eriksson & Hester forthcoming; Hester & Radford 2001) has demonstrated vital linkages between some men’s violences to their heterosexual partners and those same men’s physical, sexual and emotional abuse of their children – both when men were living with partners and children and after separation/divorce (Harne and Hester 1999). These important linkages build upon a more general pre-existing research awareness in Britain that men’s violences to women and men’s violences to children, particularly sexual violences, are very common indeed (Dobash and Dobash 1992; Hanmer 1996; Hearn 1990,1996a, 1996b, 1999b, !999c; Kelly et al 1991; Pringle 1995; Hester et al. 1996). Thus, to summarise, for some commentators the assumption of fathers in families always being a “good thing” is simplistic and unwarranted because of (a) the amount of child abuse (especially child sexual abuse) perpetrated by some men in heterosexual families generally (Pringle 1995, 1998b); (b) the more specific connections now identified between some men’s violences to both their female partners and their children (Harne and Hester 1999).
(iii)Nevertheless, Pringle (1998b, 1998d, 2000) has suggested that having men as fathers in families can be useful for a reason generally ignored in much of the literature: so they can work with their children to challenge oppressive attitudes/behaviours including sexism. In other words some fathers have particular opportunities, as fathers, to implement a profeminist agenda with their children, especially their male children. Hearn (1999a) and Pringle (1995, 1998b) have both emphasised the centrality of actively profeminist work with boys via informal and formal settings in the project of challenging patriarchal relations of power in society. Some fathers clearly have a potentially vital part to play in such an endeavour. However, of course, this can only occur where both women and children choose to have men living with them (Pringle 1995) – and there are a range of reasons why such a choice might not be made.
In terms of “gaps” in the literature/areas for future scholarly activity on the topic of fatherhood, the following seem a priority:-
(i)Making more sense of the (albeit limited) increases in parental activityon the part of some men in the home. To what extent do these changes represent real social “progress”? By contrast, to what extent may they sometimes represent re-creations of patriarchal dominance in relatively novel forms?
(ii)Using transnational comparison to explore some central debates. European comparative work has begun (Hester & Radford 1996; Harder & Pringle 1997; Pringle 1998a; Pringle & Harder 1999; Sainsbury 1999; Harne & Eriksson ; Hester 2000; Hester & Eriksson 2000; Kearney et al. 2000) but there is scope for much more –and beyond Europe (Pease & Pringle forthcoming).
(iii)Much greater consideration of fatherhood in terms of diversity: for instance cultural diversity (Marriott 1996; Wilson 1993; Mac an Ghaill 1999); sexual diversity (Carabine 1996a, 1996b; Weeks 1991, 1996; Weeks et al. 1999)
(iv)To undertake more studies of fatherhood including the “voices” of women – and where possible the “voices” of children.
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