All entries for August 2005

August 30, 2005

more no

One minute all is marrrrrv, am soaking up the sun and shopping near Hammersmith, following lovely few days with A feeling reasonably relaxed (for me anyway).... next minute am feeling crazed and panic-stricken. arrrrrgh!

I hate my BLUDDY dissertation. And I think I may hate London, or at least I find it an immensely stressful placce to be; slightly problematic given I should be moving here in a few weeks. And I shouldn't drink coffee, it makes me loopy. Bollards. Back to it anyway.

Will write proper stuff soon/later when not in internet caff.


August 22, 2005

Places I have lived

Writing about web page http://earth.google.com/

I like zooming in on the earth quickly; it's a bit like sky-diving from outer space.

(click on an image for more detail)

Denby Dale, near Huddersfield, UK
1981 – 1999

Merton College, Oxford, UK
1999 – 2001, 2002 – 2003

Matane, the Gaspé peninsula, Québec, Canada
2001 – 2002

Taipei, Taiwan R.O.C.
2003 – 2004

Warwick University, Coventry, UK
2004 – 2005


August 20, 2005

Fifty and a figure of fun?

Follow-up to Domestic provision and disempowerment from L'Etrangère

Part 3 and conclusion to 'masculinities and unemployment' chapter

Simon: I’ve noticed that there’s less respect for the older, for the older person. We used to have retirement dos when a guy got his retirement cheque from a company at sixty five. They don’t make it any more. They either die, or get made redundant at fifty. To be fifty is to be a figure of fun, to be considered old, out of touch.
Thomas: I’m not sure I agree with that… I don’t think it’s so much that in olden days, or early days, when we were younger, there was any extra respect really. But we’ve now got a situation, if you are to believe the media, if, big if, that life ends at thirty five or forty, and the rest is just garbage.

It can be argued that youth is considered another dimension of hegemonic masculinity in the workplace, with older male workers being forced away from ‘centre stage’ to make room for upcoming ‘Young Turks’ (Arber, Davidson and Ginn 2003: 5). This is implied by Simon’s construction of the older worker as an obsolete ‘figure of fun’, associating the ageing process with loss of power, social status and respect. In doing so he expresses nostalgia for a bygone age, suggesting that in the past there was an intimate connection between men and their work throughout the life course. This discourse constructs the employer-employee relationship as one characterised by loyalty, respect and mutual dependence, retirement providing a source of celebration of a man’s working life rather than cause for concern. Although Thomas challenges this idealised representation, at the same time he acknowledges the persuasiveness of media and public discourses in formulating negative conceptions about older workers, a theme echoed by other participants:

Ben: Employers don’t want older workers. It’s as straightforward and simple as that…
Simon: There’s an inbuilt prejudice in the interview system that you start to lose skills when you’re about forty or your brain slows.

Although the men actively resist such discourses that position them as obsolete or unnecessary, they seem acutely aware of their pervasiveness and influence in formulating conceptions about the older worker and prejudicing ‘the interview system’:

Thomas: There’s this great super-duper advanced technology that we have now that’s directed towards a cult of the young… There’s a belief that younger people are more flexible and adaptable and can cope with change.
Joe: It’s a completely different environment to what it was forty years ago. I mean, there’s no more manufacturing now. Now I find myself in a world I don’t understand. I feel like a dinosaur. To be honest, if I had any skills I wouldn’t be sitting here.
Ben: Technology has taken over quite a lot more. In any type of industry, you’ve got the computers… I can get by and I’m quick enough to learn, but you never get a chance… you never get the opportunity.

The men position themselves as marginalized in an age of increasing technology that favours a 'cult of the young' rather than 'dinosaurs' like themselves. Thomas refers to a powerful contemporary discourse that represents ‘younger people’ as more adaptable and able to cope with change and the complexities of a system of ‘great super-duper advanced technology’. Joe’s assessment of his gendered value is couched in the rhetoric of disuse and obsoleteness, situating him as anachronistic in the context of technological advances that leave him bewildered. Ben argues that he’s ‘quick enough to learn’ new skills, but locates himself and other male manual workers as fighting a losing battle in which they are denied the opportunity to accrue cultural capital through retraining and re-skilling, resulting in an inability to re-negotiate alternative identities and escape ‘the situation’.

The men also take up an alternative discourse relating to older workers, which paints a picture of wisdom, experience and maturity. In adopting this discourse they position themselves as superior to ‘young upstarts’ who may understand computers and new technology, but are often found wanting in terms of interpersonal skills and knowledge accrued over time:

Sam: A lot of the time we don’t realise how au fait we are with so many things until we encounter a younger person who’s got that gap in their knowledge. And it comes as a surprise.
Simon: Younger people waste time, we don’t photocopy our buttocks.
Ben: The young ones that used to come to us’d lack the practical knowledge.
Simon: When you were sixteen, you think you know everything. I mean it was ridiculous.

This alternative discourse implies that they have invested heavily in their identities as working men, accruing cultural capital in the form of experience and practical knowledge and enabling them to recognise themselves as respectable, responsible workers. However, these investments can only work if others invest in them, and constant rebuffals in the recruitment process serve to devalue the cultural capital accrued through experience:

Alex: I’ve got more valuable skills than knowing how to use a computer.
Ben: The main skill we’ve got is experience and practical knowledge… You don’t get a nineteen-year-old mentor.
Simon: Amongst the people here we have more skills and qualifications than we know what do with. The question is how to utilise these.
Alex: Age is a skill in a way. The question is how do we make people in the personnel department, who are often half our age, recognise that experience?
Ben: It’s very difficult, unless you do a PhD or something, or you’re a lecturer, that to me is something irrespective of age. Age is no barrier there.

Maturity is thus a form of cultural capital, but it is only activated and valued within particular social fields such as academia. The value of maturity is tied to the context in which it is found, and may not afford the corresponding power and privilege outside that field. Ultimately, participants tend to see themselves as ensnared by a system characterised by ageist attitudes and structural inequalities, in which age is considered a negative quality rather than a form of capital that is valued by employers:

Ben: As soon as you put your age down on the application you can guarantee that you are not going to get anywhere, unless you’re already part of the place, or they specifically want someone with a bit of experience.
Joe: They always ask for it. You’re honour-bound to put it down. Even if you take it out and they interview you, you still won’t get anywhere once they see how old you are.

Conclusion

As we have discussed, traditional discourses that link masculinity with public life and domestic provision are challenged by unemployment, changes in employment patterns and age, and it could therefore be argued that it is potentially in men’s interests to deconstruct them. As we have seen, the men actively resist discourses that position them as obsolete or marginalised, employing tactics such as humour to undermine dominant discourses and deny the representations of their positioning, employing alternative discourses and adopting an active role in constructing alternative subjectivities. However, questioning previous assumptions does not necessarily determine the nature of the transformation. As Willott and Griffin point out, ‘merely because normative assumptions about masculinity are under some degree of challenge, it does not necessarily follow that any consequent change will be politically progressive’ (1997: 121). Furthermore, subjectivity is linked tightly with the social conditions in which it is forged, which thus makes it difficult to conceptualise, let alone implement, a politics of transformation.

We will now begin to explore how the men respond to the challenges posed by long-term unemployment and attempt to reconstruct their masculine identities. In doing so we will examine the importance of a Bourdieuian notion of capital as a resource for renegotiating masculinities and consider the structural constraints that impede change.


Le canard qui rit

What in Diva Duck's sweet name am I doing on campus on a Saturday? Such a catastrophe has not befallen me for quite some time, with the result that I'm not sure how to deal with it.

I invited a friend to come and stay, but she's mysteriously disappeared off the face of the earth (probably because I made it sound so utterly unappealing), and in any case I should write my… I'm not even going to write that word again until the thing is actually finished and handed in.

What if I inadvertently rot (of course this would be inadvertent, stupid girl, it's not generally something that people aspire to do)? Would the ducks notice? Would they even care? This duck is laughing at my plight. Bastard.

Ooh just got invitation to go to Rugby. Now that's better. Except… where is Rugby?


August 18, 2005

Dissertation outline

1. Introduction

2. Literature review
2.1 Barriers to employment for older workers
(age discrimination, skills, changes in labour market, official initiatives)
2.2 Unemployment and masculinities
(challenge to the breadwinner role, convergence of public/private spheres, public surveillance, renegotiating masculine identities, constraints on identity change)
2.3 Limitations of existing research and research questions

3. Theoretical and conceptual frameworks
3.1 Hegemonic masculinities (Connell)
3.2 Dividing practices and surveillance (Foucault)
3.3 Cultural capital and habitus (Bourdieu)

4. Background
4.1 Local statistics
4.2 Grey Panther

5. Research methods and methodology

6. Masculinities and unemployment
6.1 Public life and scrutiny
6.2 Domestic provision and disempowerment
6.3 Further challenges to traditional masculinities
6.4 Renegotiating masculinities

7. Coping with 'the situation'
7.1 Barriers and bureaucracy
7.2 Fifty and a figure of fun?
7.3 Fighting back
7.4 Improving and ambition

8. Conclusions


blind panic

I feel totally overwhelmed by my dissertation, I can't keep all my thoughts straight in my head, my research questions keep changing, I have no idea how to organise it, it's all fragmented and I don't think I can put all the pieces back together again in a coherent order, and I still have 7000 more words to write in the next three weeks. Only I know it's going to be way too long because my first analysis chapter is about twice the length it should be. Oh fuck, I hate this!

And I DON'T UNDERSTAND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS.

Am going to talk to the ducks. I think they might be able to help.


August 17, 2005

Devon Diaries and Dairies and Lashings of Clotted Cream

Follow-up to Things Wot I Ave Learned In Devon from L'Etrangère

All the pictures from the weekend are here

Friday 12/08/05
Leonie and I arrived at Paignton around midday and met Thomas and Helen off the train. Thankfully Leonie was not relying on my map-reading skills to get us from Bracknell to Paignton, otherwise we might have ended up in Bognor by mistake (where is Bognor anyway?). Had fish, chips and mushy peas, birthday cake and wine on the beach followed by a round of crazy golf, during which I learned that I have no hand-eye coordination and should probably try to curb my swearing in the presence of small children. Thomas had his hegemonic masculinity challenged by a family behind us who thought it was funny that the only boy in the group was taking the longest to pot the ball. But then I lost, and we all got slightly sunburnt.

Drove to our B&B along the coast road, which entailed a car ferry crossing at Dartmouth, beautiful sea views and roads where we had to breathe in whenever we passed another car. Went for dinner in Outer Hope Cove at slightly scary Fawlty Towers-esque restaurant charging £10.50 for a cheese omelette, but luckily we were offered a slightly cheaper bar menu instead, as well as the opportunity to sit 'with the other young people' in a tent. Failed to find the 'wall to wall pubs' tantalisingly proffered by the Rough Guide so we had to make do with Fawlty Towers, but declined the offer of the tent, tempting though it sounded. Encountered a badger, a ghost police car, and glow worms on our return to the B&B, and nearly got run over multiple times as had forgotten to bring torch. And so ended the first day…

Saturday 13/08/05
Leonie, Helen and I got up at 7.30am for a pre-breakfast run. Unfortunately, we started off by running 180 degrees in the wrong direction (unsurprisingly on my advice), but in doing so discovered Marlborough, which did appear to have wall to wall pubs, unlike Outer Hope Cove. Ran about 3 miles which set us up well for our cooked breakfast, fruit, porridge with clotted cream, toast, kippers etc. etc.

Despite the fact that I was dragged up mountains from an early age, subjected to orders of 'at the double!' when confronted with sheer cliff faces and scree slopes, and told by my father that mud, driving rain and biting winds would 'make a man' of me, I still came to Devon rather ill-prepared for hiking, with little in the way of sensible clothes for a walk characterised by serious lashings of rain and wind (but unfortunately no ginger beer). Worst of all, didn't even bring a hip flask! I appear to have learned nothing from those early childhood experiences.

Coastline was beautiful until mists and fogs rolled in, and 7 miles later we arrived in Salcombe looking like drowned rats and promptly stumbled into the nearest pub. Which was full. As was the one next to it. And the next. Arrrgh! We finally found somewhere for lunch and attempted to dry off under a broken hand drier. The 3 miles back to the B&B were spent bemoaning my lack of dry clothes and stupidity in wearing shorts (stinging nettle laceration) whilst watching the slugs play.

Made it back in time for tea and the remainder of Thomas' chocolate cake, and since weather was still manky we played cards in the bar until dinner time, at which point I consumed a further 6932 calories (nearly all clotted cream related). Burned it off with an enthusiastic round of post-dinner dominoes, which reminded me of being 11 and walking the Coast to Coast with my dad and stepmother.

Sunday 14/08/05
Weather gorgeous this morning, and managed to run in right direction towards Hope Cove today- again probably about 3 miles. We accidentally herded a load of cows along the track with us, but the stupid things wouldn't move to one side to let us pass. Anyway, it was a beautiful morning – sunny, fresh, the smell of the sea lingering on the breeze – but best of all we found the part of Hope Cove (Inner Hope) containing the wall to wall pubs. As it was only 7.45am, we resisted the temptation to go in. Big hill back up from the sea to finish, but felt fantastic and ready for a full cooked breakfast (and juice, fruit, cereal, toast, porridge, and lashings of clotted cream – you get the picture).

We headed off to Dartmouth to catch the 'Tally Ho' school bus and the 12 o'clock boat trip up to Totnes, during which we were regailed by many an amusing tale about sixth formers shagging in the local nature reserve. Oh and saw lots of birds – egrets, buzzards, cormorants and ducks (of course). The stories were not quite so amusing on the journey back to Dartmouth, but luckily we'd had a pub lunch and perused the streets of Totnes in the interim period, and so they almost sounded original given my dodgy short-term memory and inability to remember what I did two hours ago.

Speaking of which, the list that ensues was supposed to be written up properly at a later date (I was too tired and probably pissed to write in full sentences at the time), but I can't actually make any sense of it now as a whole three days have lapsed and it all seems like a bit of a mystery to me now (particularly the reference to 'amazon' – what the hell is that all about?). Thomas you were right, you said I wouldn't remember. So you'll just have to fill in the gaps yourself and make it up:

  • drove into hedge
  • amazon
  • lunch v good
  • castle £££
  • walked on walls that weren't really there
  • odd objects contest – we were beaten by precocious five year old
  • sleep and seagull
  • icecream, but not maple and ginger. Liars.
  • famous five
  • sunset
  • radioactive scrumpy in wall to wall pub
  • chicken and mushroom pie
  • nuclear fission – we're all going to die
  • halogen
  • 3 dimensional noughts and crosses

Hmmm. Any ideas?

Monday 15/08/05
Ran to Hope Cove again before breakfast this morning – weather was perfect, sunny, not too hot, sea breeze, and the cows didn't come for a run with us this time. After eating, packing, paying etc. we drove to the sea along the scariest supposedly minor roads (according to the OS map) I have ever witnessed. Mile upon mile of single track road bordered by thick hedgerows with no passing places and no way of turning off. We all just closed our eyes (except Leonie, who was driving) and desperately hoped we wouldn't encounter another car.

Largely unscathed, though the poor car looked filthy, we set off on a hike along the clifftops to Start Point lighthouse, a route which took us via the ruined village of Hallsands, which washed away into the sea after a violent storm in 1917. We walked a couple of miles further along the coastline from here – spectacular scenery, perfect weather and lots of wildlife. When we got back to the car we went swimming, carefully avoiding the jellyfish, and got an alternative view of Hallsands from the sea. Finished off with cream tea (well tea and icecream for me) at the Trouts, which is a hotel originally established by four sisters from the village that washed into the sea.

We left at 5 o'clock, dropped H&T in Newton Abbot and drove back to Bracknell, a drive which sadly wasn't as memorable as the rest of the trip. All I can say is I had a fantastic four days, full of exercise, food and fun, and it felt much longer than a long weekend too.

So thanks to Thomas for having a birthday, Helen for sorting it all out and booking it, Leonie for driving along those single track nightmares they call roads in Devon and for the lift to and from Bracknell, and of course to all of you for the great company and a really lovely weekend. Thank you x


Domestic provision and disempowerment

Follow-up to Public life and scrutiny from L'Etrangère

Part 2 of 'Masculinities and Unemployment chapter

Simon: Nature – and this is what people don’t take into account sometimes – nature of a man is to defend a woman… There’s something inbuilt, there’s a gene there… in general it’s the man who looks after her…
Ben: There’s something inside men that makes them want to provide for his wife. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying women are soft, because they’ve got things to do, things like having a baby – but the thing is it’s nature that the man protects her and the children.
Simon: It goes back to the caveman days – a woman would stay at home while the guy goes out with his spear to fight the sabre-toothed tiger and the vagabonds or whatever.

Traditionally, employment means that a man will earn a wage and bring this back to the home. Simon and Ben employ a traditional discourse in relation to the sexual division of labour: that men belong in the public arena and women in the private, domestic sphere, and that men should provide for and protect their wives and children. In presenting this traditional version of masculinity, they draw on arguments about a ‘natural’ sexual division of labour – it is “something inside men” that “makes them want to provide”, “something inbuilt”, a “gene”. Ben evades criticism and accusations of sexism by asserting “I’m not saying women are soft”, but simultaneously constructs both the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as inflexible and essentialist. Through his reference to “the caveman days”, Simon uses ‘history’ as a further rhetorical device to establish the authority of the ‘provider’ discourse, implying not only that this gender order is natural, but also immutable throughout time.

In adhering to an essentialist construction of gender relations, unemployment may be interpreted as an assault on masculine pride, for this discourse not only links the position of (male) breadwinner to economic independence, but also to social status and ‘respect’. A sense of disempowerment and emasculation manifests itself in patterns of discourses around domestic provision, with the men voicing feelings of anxiety, guilt and resentment as a direct response to their inability to provide. Furthermore, the connection between failing to provide and feeling less of a man coincides with talk of losing ‘your’ woman:

Ben: Relationships are more insecure nowadays… the missing word’s trust. When you’re unemployed, don’t forget that you are then at a low, a low point in your life, so anything that your wife does – when she’s out at a job, you wonder who’s she seeing, who’s she talking about, somebody talks to her. And then you get paranoid.
Sam: Yeah, for men, there is a guilt associated with unemployment.

In voicing these feelings, however, they consciously position themselves outside discourses that equate unemployed masculinity with vulnerability and insecurity, speaking about the situation in abstract rather than personal terms:

Sam: It’d stick in my throat. If I was unemployed and couldn’t get work, to rely on a woman earning on my behalf.
Simon: An awful lot of husbands don’t want their wives to have a career because they still want to be the biggest wage packet in the house.
Ben: This doesn’t apply to everyone but my wife goes out to work because she wants to go out to work… no man likes a woman going out to earn for him. And if they’re honest enough he’ll tell you. They might tell you otherwise…

Sam utilises the conditional tense when talking about unemployment – it would stick in his throat if he had to rely on a woman to provide for him. Ben consciously constructs his situation as ‘different’ from the experiences of other unemployed men whose wives may be forced to work to support the family by employing the language of freewill and choice – his wife “goes out to work because she wants to go out to work” (my emphasis), not because it is necessitated through circumstances beyond his control.

They discuss the issue in abstract, generalised terms and refer to their situations in the third person. This partially serves a rhetorical function, suggesting that ‘other men’ who are perhaps less honest or self-aware “might tell you otherwise”, but it also forms one means of coping with the social objectification that occurs through the process of being categorised as unemployed. This is an attempt to reconstruct themselves as legitimate ‘knowers’ and subjects rather than objects lacking agency and volition, a means of resisting and refusing the potentially emasculating effects of unemployment. However, this represents only an individualised coping strategy, rather than collective and co-operative action, and therefore poses little challenge to the prevalent discourse of masculine provision and the sense of disempowerment this may entail for men who are unemployed.

Unemployment is not the only way in which hegemonic discourses of masculinity may be challenged, and indeed the challenges posed by material changes in the labour market – an increase of women in particular labour markets and subsequent transformation in meanings surrounding men’s and women’s work – intersect with male unemployment to produce changes in subjectivities. Ben and Simon employ the language of pragmatism and necessity when talking about the entry of women into the workplace, constructing it as an economic necessity and suggesting that men and women alike are ensnared by social structures that pervade and influence daily existence:

Ben: Necessity. A lot of it’s to do with necessity. A woman has children, she’s got to work and get employment and she’ll take the job that men won’t take.
Simon: Yeah. Now women have got to work.
Ben: Yes. The thing is now what’s changed that is, is the house market. Because they now need two wages, they don’t need one. It’s a reality… They both need to work – both man and wife need to work to live.

Ben positions women in an inferior section of the labour market to that inhabited by men (“she’ll take the job that men won’t take”), which diminishes the threat that such changes in employment patterns pose to hegemonic versions of masculinity. Thomas takes up this point in a pro-feminist discourse, arguing that feminisation of the labour market does not necessarily represent true gender equality, but rather that sections of the job market where women are mostly concentrated tend to be those where people are underemployed and undervalued:
Thomas: That might be exploitation of a group i.e. women who are fifty one percent of the population. And they desperately need to earn money, and therefore they’ll take a job that we as males would not take…I think there is an awful lot of pressure on women from their husbands to take a non-career job, such as a checkout, rather than be a professional manager. I suggest that that happens, and is widespread.

Whereas attributing changes in gendered employment participation to the ‘reality’ of economic necessity does not unduly upset the traditional gender order, a greater threat is posed by women moving into sections of the labour market traditionally viewed as male, especially given that men do not feel that they can afford to move into traditionally female areas:

Ben: The nurses were resenting because the men – if you look at the nursing professions, most of the managers on the nursing side of it were women. They resented men coming into their profession – women don’t like men infiltrating their area. Likewise, I’ll never agree with a woman coming into a more physical job. What’s a woman want to be a welder for?

Here Ben represents the shift as an invasion of one sex into the other’s domain, adhering to traditional symbolic values that construct ‘men’s work’ as physical and ‘women’s work’ as caring and nurturing. Some of the other men expressed resentment at changes in the nature and content of men’s employment, reflected by accusations such as “women bring the salaries down”. It is thus not only unemployment but also changes in the labour market that threaten hegemonic discourses of masculinity, blurring a gender order hitherto perceived by many as clearly demarcated and irrevocably separated.


August 16, 2005

Things Wot I Ave Learned In Devon

  1. Somerset is in the south-west of England not the south-east.
  2. Neither is it one of the home counties.
  3. Cheddar is in Somerset. Cheese lives here.
  4. Glastonbury is also in Somerset, not the Midlands, as one might think.
  5. Torquay is famous for Fawlty Towers. It is situated in Devon. It is not famous for its fine surf and surfers (that would be Newquay then… which is in Cornwall)
  6. Bracknell is south of Coventry, not east.
  7. My geographical knowledge is equivalent to that of a backward 3 year old child, and I should probably never have been allowed out of Yorkshire in the first place (I know Yorkshire is in the north though – 10 points to me).
  8. You can't buy wine at motorway service stations. This is terrible.
  9. It is not really the case that nature has recently become inundated by communes of lesbian ducks springing up all over the place; it is just that mallards lose their plumage (and hegemonic masculinities) out of mating season and look female.
  10. Devon is much more than a bleak depressing wind-swept expanse of moorland filled with invisible Bronze Age hut circles and bracken that needs bashing into oblivion with only a garden cane for assistance (my only previous experience of the place coming from a National Trust working holiday when I was 17).

The rest of the Devon diary (which is rather more diary-esque in character) to follow, once I have sorted out my life, general stupidity levels and masculinities chapter. I may be some time.


August 11, 2005

Stormin!

Mmm I like storms, and rain – lashing rain, lots of lashing rain – and the smell of warm tarmac when it's wet, and bouncing raindrops, and thunder and lightning, and running in the rain and wind… yay! how exhilarating! Positively wuthering.

Storms when trying to finish off my first analysis chapter, stop computer from crashing, figure out adobe acrobat, pack, cook, eat, get to train station and catch train to Leonie's (all simultaneously of course) stress me out a little though.

So I will do none of these things, and just appreciate the storm… which has now turned to rain… followed by an eerie sense of stillness.

Also not too sure where I stand on storms and holidays in Devon. Was kind of hoping for sunshine.

Eek! so excited! (I also like the way the lightning picture colour-coordinates with my blog)


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