Les masculinités au prisme de l'hégémonie

Ah, Paris in the summertime!  The sparkling light, the warmth, the parks, the life on the streets!  What a place for a conference!  My colleagues in Sydney went green with envy when I told them where I was travelling.

At the same time the Paris natives were wondering where their summer had gone.  When I arrived, the weather was grim.  And France is going through some economic troubles now.  But the conference made up for all that.

The conference was called “Les masculinités au prisme de l’hégémonie” [Masculinities through the prism of hegemony].  It was held at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales [EHESS, School of Advanced Studies in Social Science].  EHESS is located in a discreet building in central Paris, on the Boulevard Raspail.  It’s not far from the Luxembourg Gardens where all the French intellectual elite had been wheeled in prams when they were babies.

The conference was organized by three young scholars at the EHESS, Mélanie Gourarier, Gianfranco Rebucini, and Florian Voros, who felt the time was right to bring together the new research on masculinities in the French-speaking world, and launch a re-think of masculinities around the questions of hegemony posed by feminist thought and postcolonial situations.

I very much liked this way of framing the question.  The concept of “hegemonic masculinity” in the English-speaking world all too often becomes the name for a reified psychological type or identity, and easily gets separated from the social relations in which “hegemony” is meaningful.  Further, it’s now urgent for gender scholars everywhere to be thinking in terms of global social relationships.

The conference programme is available online.  I strongly urge English-speaking friends to have a look at it: even if you don’t have much French, you will be able to see what the new wave of Francophone research is about.

I have only rusty high-school French, so I struggled with the oral presentations, but I could follow the texts. (Heaven’s blessings on PowerPoint! I hate .pptx texts in my native English, but for second-language hearers it’s a tremendous help.)  Also I was given whisper-translations of key phrases, over the two days, by bilingual conference colleagues – for which relief, much thanks.
Opening talk (photo courtesy Michel Bozon)

I gave the opening talk (Conférence inaugurale, it sounds grander in French), sketching the world-wide growth and transformation of the field of masculinity research, and raising problems of thinking about hegemony in global-south perspective.

The presentations were all held in the same lecture theatre, rather than having parallel sessions, so it was possible to be there for the whole programme.  There’s a rich domain of research under way: ranging from historical documentary study, ethnographic fieldwork, analysis of mass media and art, work on embodiment, on political processes, on ethnicity, on occupational and family dynamics, on the institutional formation of masculinity, and more.  Any conference that includes terrific papers on both football and manners is a good conference!

A nice moment on the first day was the launch of a special issue of the well-known journal Cahiers d’études africaines called “Masculin pluriel” [what it sounds like: ‘masculine plural’ in grammar).  This very substantial volume collects ethnographic research on masculinities from across Africa, Anglophone as well as Francophone.
Concluding session (photo courtesy Michel Bozon)

I was impressed by the awareness of the dynamics of masculinities, that ran through many of the conference discussions.  This was certainly helped by the way the conference was framed, but it was also an important feature of the individual studies.  There was recognition of the power relations in gender orders that privilege men and masculinity, but this wasn't seen simply as a system reproducing itself; rather, there was awareness of the constant pressures for change and the many possibilities of contestation.

Most of the presenters in the conference were young people, some still working on doctoral theses.  There will be a great deal more of this work coming into the public domain soon.  Look forward to it!
Proof that there really are parks in Paris
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