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September 13, 2005

A Weighty Tome

  • Words written excluding biblio and appendices: exactly 18,000
  • Pages: 83
  • Articles, prepositions, conjunctions and other 'unnecessary' grammatical features removed to get down to word limit: All of them
  • Hours slept in past week: feels like 0
  • Hours I plan to sleep tomorrow: 25
  • Number of phone calls to my mum today: 6
  • Tears shed: 5 million
  • Likelihood the printer will break / the university will suffer a power failure / lazer lizard won't be able to bind it before 3 o'clock tomorrow: oh very likely indeed

Am knackered
but it's done.

Finalement.


September 05, 2005

The research process

This chapter aims to make transparent the processes involved in knowledge production within my research. In considering issues of research design, data analysis, epistemology, power and ethics, I aim to show their interrelationship and the way in which the research process and method of analysis forms an intrinsic component of knowledge production. As Skeggs argues, knowledge is not formulated in a void and legitimated by an abstract, disembodied ‘knower’, but rather is constructed, interpreted by specific researchers positioned within particular structures of power and privilege:

To ignore questions of methodology is to assume that knowledge comes from nowhere allowing knowledge makers to abdicate responsibility for their productions and representations. To side-step methodology means that the mechanisms we utilize in producing knowledge are hidden, relations of privilege are masked and knowers are not seen to be located (1997: 17).

In this chapter we will examine the background to the study, the research design and method of data analysis employed in my research. Having outlined the basic choices I made in conducting this research, I will discuss the methodological and epistemological consequences of these choices, showing the way in which they shaped my findings and the knowledge that was produced.

4.1 Background and sample
My own interest in the area of men and unemployment was piqued as a result of my part-time job as an administrative clerk for a project called ‘Grey Panther’ offered by the Office of Part-Time Education (OPTED) at Leeds University. This project was established in June 2004, and aims to help males aged 45+ who have been unemployed for over six months to undertake a vocationally-relevant course of study comprising discussion sessions, group exercises, ‘soft skills’ sessions such as CV-writing or interview techniques, and work placement. Through my involvement in the ‘Panther’ project from an early stage, which involved speaking to potential beneficiaries about their experiences of unemployment, I became aware of some of issues facing unemployed older men on an everyday, lived basis.

The participants of my research were eight white, unemployed men aged between 45 and 60 from the Yorkshire and Humberside region (mostly Leeds area), who were attending a week-long ‘Panther project’ ‘summer school’ in June 2005. While some participants had heard about the programme through Job Centre Plus advisors, others had seen the course advertised in the local press, or heard about it by word-of-mouth. As such, participants tended to be fairly motivated to attend, viewing the scheme as an aid rather than an imposition. Unlike similar training courses offered in conjunction with Job Centre Plus, the ‘Panther’ course is not mandatory or linked to benefit receipt. The facilitators on this particular course created a safe space for the group to vent their feelings of anger and outrage with regard to their unemployed position.

Although they shared various commonalities (their age, ethnicity, gender and the fact they were all long-term unemployed), the group was far from homogeneous, with the result that they had very varied responses to my questions. The participants came from a variety of class and educational positionings, which meant they had access to varying amounts of cultural, social and educational capital. Three of the men were linked with Job Centre Plus and depended on this for benefit receipt. These dimensions of difference affected their perceptions and representations of experiences and situations and meant that often openly challenged other participants’ interpretations.

4.2 Research design
I initially conducted participant observation over the course of the one-week summer programme with the eight men described above. This gave me an initial understanding of some of the issues and topics that were pertinent to them. I followed this up with a focus group, as I felt the topic was particularly suited to interaction in a group context. As I was known to and had built sufficient trust amongst the members of the group, I introduced my research to them at the end of the week-long summer programme, and asked them if they would be willing to be involved in a recorded focus-group discussion at a later date. The ‘Panther’ project manager helped me to set up a mutually convenient date and booked a seminar room at the university for this purpose.

As Tonkiss (2004) suggests, using a focus group enabled me to elicit information not easily observable ‘in the field’ in order to explore the men’s experiences of unemployment in greater depth. My participant observation and involvement in the ‘Panther project’ as an administrative assistant was useful in formulating my research questions and to inform the focus group discussion guide. The discussion guide was devised in a logical order, so that 'warm up' questions were placed at the beginning and built up to the more important and complex questions towards the end (appendix 1).

The focus group took place on the 8th July 2005 in a seminar room at Leeds University, lasting approximately two and a half hours with two fifteen minute breaks. Seven of the eight original group members were present (one was unable to attend). Before the discussion I outlined the broad research aims, reiterated my position on confidentiality and anonymity, and checked that it was okay to record the discussion. I also encouraged them to express their views as freely as possible by stressing that there are 'no right or wrong answers'. I recorded the discussion with a Dictaphone and made fieldwork notes of my general impressions of the discussion.

The focus group was keen and lively, and I found that I did not need to prompt much to elicit the kind of information I required. Indeed, the discussion proceeded quite naturally along the lines of themes I had envisaged when writing the topic guide. The most difficult part for me was ensuring that everyone had the opportunity to express themselves. Guiding, stimulating and facilitating the discussion was crucial to the success of the focus group. Providing interesting material for research and ensuring all participants were sufficiently as ease to disclose occasionally quite private info was also important.

After the focus group I transcribed the tapes, a process that was useful for giving me an overall impression of the discussion and the emergent themes and discourses. However, the quality of the recordings, volume of the participants’ voices and interruptions meant that sometimes I was unable to understand comments or attribute them to a particular person.

4.3 Doing research with a friendship group
The participants all had a significant relationship to the research topic , as they were all long-term unemployed and had recently participated in the ‘Grey Panther’ summer project at Leeds University. Although they were not known to each other at the beginning of the summer project when I conducted my initial participant observation, by the time I carried out my focus group they had spent a considerable amount of time together in an official capacity on the course, and had begun to formulate friendship groups and to meet socially outside the formal context of the project. Tonkiss (2004: 201–2) suggests that this might create problems in terms of established relations of power, disagreement or consensus being brought into the research setting. Certainly, assertive voices tended to dominate and direct the group discussion, and it was sometimes difficult to ensure that all participants had equal opportunity to express their views.

However, I would argue that familiarity could also be seen as an advantage with this particular group. Their friendship allowed their differences in opinions and interpretations to be discussed openly, as they knew each other sufficiently to express disagreement and to disclose quite private information. The fact that they had common experiences meant that as a group they were able to give specific examples of events that they all knew about. The friendship dynamics of the group, the subject of the research, the familiar setting, and the fact that I was known to them and had already build up a friendly rapport with them through my work on the project, were all factors that enabled the focus group to be successful. It was possible for the participants to feel at ease ‘in the familiar’, meaning that they were keen, lively and open in their interaction with me and the other group members.

4.4 Discourse analysis
Because of the interactive nature of the focus group data, I analysed the transcripts using discourse analysis, a process that is concerned ‘with how language is used to create and secure meanings, how competing accounts are negotiated and how speakers draw on certain interpretive repertoires in making their arguments within a given discursive context’ (Tonkiss 2004: 2050). I understand a discourse to refer to a particular set of meanings, metaphors, representations, images, narratives and statements that together present a particular version of events (Burr 1995: 48). Unemployment, for example, is represented in various and often conflicting ways by different sources e.g. the media, government, people who are unemployed etc. The knowledge and experiences voiced by the men were always mediated through the discourses available to them to interpret and understand their situation.

Furthermore, discursive constructions are linked to the shaping of social institutions and practices of social regulation. Foucault (1984), for example, argues for a theoretical understanding of discourse as a realm in which institutions, norms, subjectivity and social practices (such as enactments of masculinity, gender roles etc.) are constituted and naturalised. We saw an example of this in the literature review with McVittie et al’s study (2003), which found employers employed egalitarian discourses to mask and legitimise age discrimination. In employing discourse analysis as a mode of analysis I aim to show how meanings are constructed around work, unemployment and masculinities, and examine how the men positioned themselves to accept or resist particular representations of their experience.

I began by searching for recurrent themes in the transcripts, a search which was partly guided by the findings of existing research outlined in the literature review and partly a result of my own impressions of the discussion. I colour-coded the transcripts into approximately ten broad themes that were frequently spoken about, for example ‘public life’, ‘education’ and ‘work’. These themes not only fed back into the initial research questions, but also modified them to create new questions and topics. Having established the main themes of the discussion, I conducted a close critical reading of these. I identified the different ways in which a particular theme was talked about and constructed, looking at the type of language employed, rhetorical devices and images that fed into particular discourses. For example, I examined the ways in which particular versions of masculinity were sustained through specific discourses endorsing the notion of the ‘public man’ and ‘provider’ / ‘breadwinner’. I also tried to understand how the men resisted discourses that positioned them as helpless, or employed particular discourses in order to attempt to renegotiate their masculine identities.

Crucially, the different backgrounds and positionings of the participants meant that they were able to access certain discourses more easily than others. For example, one member of the group was familiar with and well-versed in pro-feminist discourses, meaning that he challenged other participants about their understandings and interpretations of gender and work. Rather than confusing my interpretation of the data, I deliberately looked for patterns of variation and contradiction in the transcripts, examining the ways in which the men attempted to reconcile conflicting ideas.

4.5 Methodological and epistemological issues
My methods of data collection and analysis allowed me to gain insight from a variety of perspectives, providing the flexibility to pursue topics arising through previous discussion. Most importantly, these methods captured the interactive quality of the group and the way in which they were keen to explore social and cultural meanings, knowledges and discourses surrounding their experiences of unemployment. Using a focus group meant that I was able to examine the way in which the men defined and positioned themselves in relation to public discourses surrounding unemployment, accepting particular discourses and resisting others.

An important methodological assumption underpinning my choice of methods and mode of analysis is the idea that opinions, attitudes and accounts are socially produced and shaped through interaction with others. The group context of my research was important for exploring the way in which the men articulated and justified their ideas in relation to others, placing the emphasis on social interaction and collective meanings:

[Focus groups] are not simply a means of interviewing several people at the same time; rather they are concerned to explore the formation and negotiation of accounts within a group context, how people define, discuss and contest issues through social interaction (Tonkiss 2004: 194).

Rather than assuming that there is a tangible social ‘reality’ that can be accessed and ‘objectively’ presented through neutral, colourless language, I wanted to show how the men used language to (re)present their accounts of the social world. I thus adhered to the viewpoint that ‘language is both active and functional in shaping and reproducing social relations, identities and ideas’ (Tonkiss 1998: 248), regarding language as an inherently social practice which actively orders and shapes the way in which the men interpreted their experiences of unemployment. Far from viewing language as speaking its ‘truth’ in a straightforward referential way, it is subject to varying interpretations and put to different uses depending on context and its potential for explanatory power (Skeggs 1997: 26).

As such, knowledge is not only context-dependent but also necessarily partial, with the result that interview data are ‘situated’ and bound to the research situation in which they were collected. This has methodological implications in terms of the generalisability of my research findings, which cannot be viewed as representative of the discourses expressed by other unemployed men outside the context of the focus group. As Gibbs (1997) argues, while focus groups may aim to reproduce the interactive aspect of naturally occurring social processes, they are not inherently naturally occurring interactions, offering no guarantee of what people say or how they interact outside the research context. Furthermore, as Skeggs points out, the transcription of spoken utterances and experiences into written format inevitably fails to capture the subtleties of expression, nuance and feeling (Skeggs 1997: 28).

4.6 Power and ethics in the research process
The partiality of representation described above has ethical as well as epistemological implications. In adopting a poststructuralist approach which emphasises discourses, multiple interpretations and the constructed nature of experience, I do not anticipate my analysis of the data to perfectly match the interpretations of my participants. As research and writer, I had the ultimate power of production and explanation, selecting the words that were used and subjecting them to my own interpretations. However, I tried to avoid othering and mis-recognition in the research, placing the men’s voices at the centre of my research wherever possible. I would argue that although the men were used for purposes of research, they were nevertheless active agents who were not prepared to be exploited, providing perceptive and challenging insights into their experiences.

In one sense I was in a position of power as moderator because I could decide which topics were discussed; however, the men also had clear ideas about what was relevant and important to them. I encouraged flexibility in the discussion to allow the emergence of themes I hadn’t previously considered. Furthermore, the men’s experiences of the focus group discussion seemed positive insofar as they communicated them to me, providing a safe but challenging environment to discuss topics that were important to their lives. They told me that the session had represented a chance to ‘sound off’ confidentially amongst other people who understood their position. As Gibbs (1997) argues ‘if [a focus group] works well, trust develops and the group may explore solutions to a particular problem as a unit, rather than as individuals’. In this way, the focus group appeared to provide a potential source of support and empowerment for the men.


Theoretical and conceptual frameworks

5. Theoretical and conceptual frameworks

The methods of analysis I employ throughout the dissertation are linked to the themes I discuss and rely mainly on three theoretical frameworks, using conceptual tools derived from the work of Connell, Bourdieu and Foucault. I chose these frameworks because they appeared to offer the greatest explanatory power for the phenomena I was witnessing. Furthermore, I wanted to build on research conducted by Willott and Griffin (2004), who use concepts from both Connell and Bourdieu as a way of explaining constraints on identity change for groups of men experiencing long-term unemployment. They suggest that it would be interesting to compare the discursive practices presented by the working-class men of their study with those of men from other social groups experiencing long-term unemployment, something that I am able to partially achieve in my own study.

I will now briefly outline the key concepts I employ as a theoretical framework, and explain why these theories are pertinent to my own research as an analysis tool to explain the discourses presented by the men in my study.

5.1 Hegemonic masculinities
As we saw in the literature review, early research into male unemployment tends to construct men as a homogeneous group, ignoring the dimensions of difference and social positionings that influence how men perceive and construct narratives around unemployment. Age, for example, is a dimension that is largely neglected by the burgeoning literature on masculinities, with older men omitted from masculinities literature about unemployment (Arber, Davidson and Ginn 2003).
Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity provides one way in which we may reintroduce age (and other social positionings) as an explanatory variable for the discursive practices employed by the men in my study. Far from viewing masculine identity as a homogeneous and unitary entity, Connell (1987, 1993, 1996) contends that definitions of masculinity are in fact multiple and shifting within any socio-historical context, dependent on the social structures that bind and confine individual experience and actions:

Definitions of masculinity are deeply enmeshed in the history of institutions and of economic structures. Masculinity is not just an idea in the head, or a personal identity. It is also extended in the world, merged in organized social relations. To understand masculinity historically we must study changes in those social relations (Connell 1996: 29).

Despite this discursive plurality, certain versions of masculinity are represented as hegemonic ideals, whilst opposing versions are marginalised or subordinated. According to Connell (1987: 184), ‘hegemony’ refers to ‘a social ascendancy achieved in a play of social forces that extends beyond contests of brute power into the organisation of private life and cultural processes’, with hegemonic definitions constructed in a complex and ever changing relationship to that which the definition excludes. For example, in the present socio-historical context, white, middle-class, heterosexual, employed males are considered to be the culturally ascendant ‘norm’ (Willott and Griffin 1996: 80).

It can be argued that youth is considered another such attribute of hegemonic masculinity, with older male workers being forced away from the ‘centre stage’ of the workplace to make room for upcoming ‘Young Turks’ (Arber, Davidson and Ginn 2003: 5). The ageing process does not merely involve an embodied, physiological process – possible loss of sexual potency, diminishing physical strength or ill health – though these factors do of course represent a challenge to masculine identity. Rather, it also incorporates altered life circumstances such as unemployment or retirement that pose a significant challenge to the traditional discourse of masculinity, which must ‘be realigned to accommodate the changing roles and relationships created by altered life circumstances’ (ibid: 5).

Although the social construction of a particular hegemonic masculine identity is arbitrary in one sense, it nevertheless forms a pervasive discourse that shapes how older men respond to and deal with unemployment, the ‘available’ discourses and structures constraining both issues deemed important to men and defining the way in which they position themselves in relation to those specific issues. However, Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity does not provide any explanation about why individuals select one version of masculinity rather than another, and Bourdieu’s concept of capital and habitus may offer one way of understanding the factors that come into play in the adoption of particular identities.

5.2 Capital and habitus
Willott and Griffin (2004) claim that a Bourdieuian concept of capital may aid our understanding of structural and ideological constraints that impede renegotiation of men’s gender identities following long-term unemployment.
Bourdieu (1986) proposes an understanding of society based on the movement of ‘capital’ through social spaces as it is accumulated or lost by individuals (Skeggs 1997: 8). The most obvious example of this is the Marxist concept of economic capital, a highly rationalised form of capital reified as material exchanges and financial assets. Bourdieu moves beyond this model, however, by proposing other metaphorical forms of capital (Bourdieu 1986: 243). ‘Cultural capital’, for example, exists in three different states: in an embodied state in the form of durable dispositions in the mind and body; in an objectified state existing in the form of cultural goods such as books or paintings; in an institutionalised state such as academic credentials (Bourdieu 1986: 243). ‘Social capital’ refers to ‘the connections and networks an agent may call upon in their effort to achieve a specified goal’ (Crossley 2001: 97), while ‘symbolic capital’ signifies ‘the form the different types of capital take once they are perceived and recognised as legitimate’ (Skeggs 1997: 8). Bourdieu develops these other capitals analogously with the structure of the economic variety, demonstrating how capitals may be accumulated, lost, invested, distributed and traded within a particular social field. The value of different capitals is tied to the context in which it is found; for example something that is greatly valued in an academic field may not be so highly revered in the world of theatre, or art, and may not afford the corresponding power and privilege.

5.3 Dividing practices
A further concept I employ as a theoretical framework is that of Foucault’s ‘dividing practices’. As discussed in the literature review, unemployed men’s private lives are opened up to official scrutiny through the bureaucratisation surrounding access to receipt of benefits, and through a variety of public discourses surround unemployment that position ‘the unemployed’ in particular ways. For example, unemployment may be constructed as equivalent to ‘scrounging off the state’, with the result that unemployed people may make strenuous efforts to resist this interpretation and reposition themselves within a more positive discourse. For example, unemployed men may attempt to negotiate alternative masculine identities not associated with work e.g. by taking up voluntary work, education or early retirement.

In this way unemployment appears to exemplify a process Foucault (1982: 208) labels ‘dividing practices’, in which ‘the subject is objectified by a process of division either within himself or from others’. Through a process of social objectification and categorisation that imposes preconceptions about the identity of the unemployed man on a more fluid situation, unemployment defines, excludes and stigmatises a distinctive ‘type’ of unemployed man (e.g. that of the ‘scrounger’).
I found that the men of my study were acutely aware of public discourses surrounding unemployment and the way in which they were positioned by others, as well as by institutions such as Job Centre Plus.


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


August 11, 2005

Public life and scrutiny

Part 1 of masculinities and unemployment chapter

Ben: You can’t meet other people, and if you do then you feel as though everyone’s looking at you, like you’re reliant on other people’s charity.
Sam: You can’t go to the pub because of lack of money, and that restricts a lot of what you do when you’re unemployed.
Philip: It’s lack of money, the hardest part.
Sam: Money. Yeah it is.

These men claim that their lack of wage restricts their participation in the public sphere, particularly in the social arena of leisure. As Willott and Griffin (1997) argue, there is an association between traditional masculine identities and belonging in the public rather than the domestic sphere both in terms of waged work and leisure activities such as the pub. Traditionally, the pub has been understood as a crucial site for both the expression and reinforcement of traditional masculinities and gendered consumption (Morgan 1992). Yet employment not only provides the financial means of ‘paying your way’ in public places such as the pub, but is also viewed as an important site within the public sphere in itself, providing freedom from the private sphere and a potential source of social interaction:

Thomas: The hardest part of being unemployed for me is the reduced social group. The fact that basically, through work, I think our social groups often come out of work.
Philip: I agree. I tend to think that a lot of our social contacts do come out of work. When I worked at [name of company] we’d have one or two social events a month. I didn’t go to them all the time.
Simon: If you’re unemployed you tend to be in a little box on your own. You’re not related to somebody, you’re not part of a company, you’re not part of a corporation, you’re very isolated. It’s difficult to find jobs to do when you’re unemployed.

Unemployment can thus result in reduced social capital and isolation from life in the public sphere, leading to a reduced sense of purpose and lethargy. While some of the men constructed work as an unpleasant necessity or duty ‘forced’ upon them, a ‘nine-to-five grind’ that was necessary to ensure their continued existence, others contested this interpretation by suggesting that work can in fact form an integral part of their identities and provide a source of personal fulfilment or stimulation. The implication here is that there is a direct connection between the type of work that the men do with the types of men that they are, that work provides a means of sustaining and enacting particular values and subjectivities within the domain of public life:

Thomas: I would say work has to be something we passionately care about, and not just a meal ticket. Sure we live in the real world, yes we have our bills to pay, etcetera etcetera… But we’re not working just for that, because we’ve got to be working for something. It’s got to be for ourselves.
Sam: We have a set of needs to fulfil, everybody does, and work plays a part in fulfilling those needs, and creates needs of its own. Whether we view work as a means in itself or as a means to an end.
Ben: That sounds like a nice idea, a utopia. I don’t have a problem with that idea. But the reality is sometimes you’ve got to do a job you don’t want to do.

Although this representation of work may only embody an unrealistic ‘utopia’ in some ways, the trappings of full-time employment are still understood to be infinitely preferable to full-time entrapment within the domestic sphere. This realm is construed as stagnant and dull, offering little in the way of mental stimulation or structure. The lethargy, boredom and reduced motivation understood to result from unrelenting positioning within the domestic sphere contrasts strongly with traditional discourses of working masculinities characterised by vigour, strength, competitiveness and activity. Furthermore, the prospect of recovering these former identities appears bleak while stuck in a domestic ‘rut’ that offers meagre access to economic and social resources:

Simon: The biggest problem I’ve got at home is that my brain has always been active… The trouble with all that time is boredom, and when I don’t have anything to push myself with my mind spends all its time spinning.
Sam: Yeah, you whiz.
Simon: That’s very very tiring. It also drives people up the bloody wall… I don’t think I’m a stronger person, I think I’ve gone backwards… my brain doesn’t work as quickly cos I’ve had nothing to pit it against.
Ben: I agree with you that your motivation diminishes… With your motivation, once that drops, you just can’t get up – you just go to yourself ‘I can’t be bothered’. And that reflects on everything.
Simon: Yeah. Everything drops.

Not only is employment understood to be an important anchor for hegemonic masculine identities in terms of making money and escaping the domestic sphere, but it also plays an integral role in the construction and enactment of public masculine identities. The men showed acute awareness of the ‘policing’ of a judgemental external other who ‘assesses’ them (“you feel as though everyone’s looking at you”), positioning them according to the kind of work in which they engage and enabling them to be recognised as respectable, responsible men. Paid employment is not only a means of accruing cultural capital such as a home or car, but it is a form of cultural capital in itself that may be called upon to reinforce public enactments of masculinities:

Ben: People ask questions about what you do and you can’t always answer those questions. It’s like you don’t exist.
Joe: First thing people ask, to assess you, like where you live, what car you drive.
Thomas: In society’s mind your own identity is linked to the professional work you’re doing or not doing. People ask ‘who are you?’ If you’re at a party or at a function people will ask you what you do, and so forth.

Unemployment has the dual effect of making them feel invisible “like you don’t exist” and under scrutiny. Although keenly conscious and resentful of this external surveillance and judgement, as they do not necessarily passively accept it, but rather make strenuous efforts to negotiate alternative masculine identities and resist the interpretation that they have been somehow sidelined. Thomas, for example, insists upon a post-modern concept of subjectivity, in which individual identities are slippery, fragmented and multiple, never absolute but rather context-dependent, resisting an essentialist conceptualisation of masculinity:

Thomas: I say, well, it depends which day it is or which head I’ve got on, and then I list a whole bunch of, various stuff that I’m involved in. You can shut that line of enquiry right off.

Ben and Joe, on the other hand, employ humour to manoeuvre their own social positioning and throw their imagined interrogators off balance, a small act of defiance that provides the means of fighting back against perceived injustice and regaining some self-respect as men in a world that has rendered them and their industrial skills redundant:

Ben: I say I’m a pole-dancer.
[laughter]
Joe: I say I live in a bail hostel.
[laughter]
Ben: You should see the faces on them when they ask me what I do and I say ‘pole-dancer’ and you can see them picturing it, a real vivid picture.

Ben’s proposed method for contending with external scrutiny contains a strong performative element reminiscent of the exploration of the relationship of men to looking and being looked at in the 1997 film The Full Monty (Cattaneo 1997). Rather than passively accepting the gaze of a society that constructs unemployed masculinities as fragile and uncertain, suspended in a state of subjective uncertainty, he toys with the idea of reasserting his own masculinity as an embodied performative construct, a means of recovering some self-esteem in a world where the nature of work and gender roles have been forever transformed.


August 03, 2005

Analysis of data

(more notes / scribblings / thoughts)

Discourse Analysis
(the theoretical and epistemological bit)

Because of the interactive nature of the data, focus group data are often suited to discourse analysis. Discourse analysis is concerned 'with how language is used to create and secure meanings, how
competing accounts are negotiated and how speakers draw on certain interpretive repertoires in making their arguments within a given discursive context' (Tonkiss 2004: 205).

Language is not viewed as neutral or colourless, reflecting an 'objective' reality, but rather as a means of re-presenting it (c.f. Abrams 'The Mirror and the Lamp'):

Language is seen not simply as a neutral medium for communicating information, but as a domain in which our knowledge of the social world is actively shaped… Discourse analysis involves a perspective on language which sees this not as reflecting reality in a transparent or straightforward way, but as constructing and organizing that social reality for us (Tonkiss 1998: 246).
The way that we use language is rarely innocent, and discourse analysis can help to reveal how talk and texts are ordered to produce specific meanings and effects (ibid: 247).

Foucault (1984) argues for a theoretical understanding of discourse as a realm in which institutions, norms, subjectivity and social practices are constituted and naturalised. In this way he links discursive constructions to the shaping of social institutions and practices of social regulation and control.

Rather than garnering accounts so as to access people's views, attitudes and opinions, or to find out what happened (i.e. assuming that there is a tangible social 'reality' that can be accessed and 'objectively' presented), the discourse analyst is interested in how people use language to (re)present their accounts of the social world. 'Language is both active and functional in shaping and reproducing social relations, identities and ideas' (ibid: 248).

As Skeggs (1997) argues, language does not simply speak its ‘truth’ in a straightforward referential way, but rather it is context-dependent and comprised of discourses that are in fact constructed themselves. In adopting a postmodern epistemological position, it is necessary to acknowledge fragmented and multiple subjectivities and reject the existence of an ‘authentic’ self. Language itself is subject to varying interpretations and representations, contains different meanings and adopts a variety of forms, and is put to different uses depending on context and potential for explanatory power (Skeggs 1997: 26).

Language is thus viewed as a social practice which actively orders and shapes people's relation to their social world (Tonkiss 1998: 249).

Terminology

  • Interpretive context
    The social setting in which a particular discourse is located. The context is relevant at both a macro- (e.g. gender inequalities in society) and micro- level (e.g. type of interaction, relationship between participants, immediate discursive aims of the speaker)

  • Rhetorical organisation
    'The argumentative schemes which organise a text which work to establish the authority of particular accounts while countering alternatives' (Tonkiss 1998: 250). How are statements put together? What effects do they seek? What forms of knowledge are privileged? Which speakers will be heard as authoritative? Is discourse persuasive to action?

Doing discourse analysis (the practical bit)
Formulate a research problem – not one that is looking for answers to specific questions but looking at the way meanings are constructed. E.g. how is unemployment constructed as a political issue or 'problem', how are unemployed people represented within public discourses, how do they construct themselves to resist these interpretations, how does unemployment affect discourses of hegemonic masculinity?

Be selective about data – extract sections that provide the richest source of analytic material. Are there contradictions or inconsistencies in the text? Representations that contradict the researcher's assumptions? Are these productive?

Select a number of recurrent themes / sections of data. Categories of analysis that emerge from data may feed back into the research question and cause it to be modified.

Once themes are established – what ideas / representations cluster around them? What associations are established? are paricular meanings being mobilised? what languages are employed (e.g. economic / medical / religious / natural) and bound up into particular discourses?

Are there patterns of variation? How do participants attempt to reconcile conflicting ideas, to cope with contradiction or uncertainty, to counter alternatives? How are seemingly coherent, 'smooth' discourses disrupted? How are discourses brought together and for what purposes? Are discourses founded on a series of oppositions? Are there consistencies within and between texts?

Read for emphasis, detail and silences. Read against the grain of the text and look at gaps – what is absent from the accounts? Alternative accounts are excluded by omission.

Discourse analysis may be concerned with the examination of meaning, but meaning is contestable and specific texts are open to alternative interpretations:

The discourse analyst, like other social actors, aims to provide a persuasive account, which in this case offers an insightful, useful and critical interpretation of a research problem (Tonkiss 1998: 259).

Although internal validity may be achieved by interpreting data closely, external validity is more difficult to claim as it is difficult to contend that the analyst's own discourse is obective, factual, true, not to mention the fact that discourse analysis typically deals with small datasets. Social researchers should question their own assumptions and adopt a reflexive approach to social research (c.f. feminist issues of epistemologies / power).

So basically it's a bit like analysing a piece of literature, is it then?

Bibliography
Foucault, M. 1984. 'The order of discourse', in Shapiro, M. (ed.) Language and Politics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tonkiss, F. 1998. 'Analysing discourse'. In Seale, C. (ed.). 1998. Researching Society and Culture (1st ed.). London: Sage.

Tonkiss, F. 2004. 'Using Focus Groups'. In Seale, C. (ed.). 2004. Researching Society and Culture (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Skeggs, B. 1997. Formations of Class and Gender. London: Sage.


Focus groups

(Notes / scribblings / thoughts)

Choice of methods
I chose to use a focus group for my research because the topic was particularly suited to interaction in a group context. It enabled me to gain insight from different perspectives and allowed flexibility to pursue topics which arose through previous discussion. Guiding, stimulating and facilitating the discussion was crucial to the focus group. Providing interesting material for research and ensuring all participants were sufficiently as ease to disclose occasionally quite private info was all crucial. The d. guide for the focus group was devised in a logical order, so that 'warm up' questions were placed at the beginning and built up to the more important and complex questions towards the end (d. guide in appendix).

Before the discussion I outlined the broad research aims, reiterated my position on confidentiality and anonymity, and checked that it was okay to record the discussion. I also encouraged them to express their views as freely as possible by stressing that there are 'no right or wrong answers'.

Practical considerations
Focus groups typically involve six to ten people. They need to be small enough to allow everyone to participate, but large enough to capture a variety of perspectives and enable people to bounce ideas off each other. Running focus groups requires the researcher to:

  • facilitate interaction
  • enable space of different group members to make their views known
  • keep the group discussion focused around the core themes (but still allow flexibility)
  • deal with dominant voices
  • sustain a pace of discussion that means core topics are covered but without constraining or rushing the talk (Tonkiss 2004: 204)

Focus groups may be used to supplement observation methods (as in my case where I used observation first to inform the focus group topic guide) – focus groups allow researchers to elicit info and explore attitudes not easily accessible through observation alone. Not all issues are always and easliy observable 'in the field', and focus groups allow members to define these issues in terms of their own understandings and concerns, producing shared and contested meanings:

Focus groups are an artificial intervention into a 'natural' observation setting, involving the researcher in a directive relation with their research subjects and with the process of data production (Tonkiss 2004: 197).

Methodological assumptions and issues
Key feature of focus group research is its interactive quality. Unit of analysis = group, not individuals. Focus groups are useful to theoretical research that seeks to explore social / cultural meanings, knowledges and discourses.

Underlying methodological assumption is that opinions, attitudes and accounts are socially produced and shaped through interaction with others (i.e. social constructivism?). Group context is important for exploring the way in which social and cultural knowledge and meanings are produced – we can see how people articulate and justify ideas in relation to others – emphasis is on social interaction and collective meanings.

Focus groups in this sense are not simply a means of interviewing several people at the same time; rather, they are concerned to explore the formation and negotiation of accounts within a group context, how people define, discuss and contest issues through social interaction (Tonkiss 2004: 194).
Focus groups capture the inherently interactive and communicative nature of social action and social meanings, in ways that are inaccessible to research methods that take the individual as their basic unit of analysis (ibid: 198).

Focus groups may be empowering, for 'if a group works well, trust develops and the group may explore solutions to a particular problem as a unit, rather than as individuals' (Gibbs 1997). However this benefit may not extend to all members, e.g. shy or inarticulate members. They may also become a 'forum for change' and means of achieving emancipation (ibid).

One methodological disadvantage is that researchers have less control over the data that emerge – a potential gain to participants (can be empowering), but a loss of power on the part of the researcher (issue to flag up in power/ethics section?). Another problem is that focus groups are an insecure basis for generalisation. Any claims I make in term of developing insights into social attitudes cannot be matched by ststematic claims about the representativeness of attitudes. Furthermore, although focus groups aim to reproduce the interactive aspect of naturally occurring social processes, they are not in themselves naturally occuring interactions. They offer no guarantee as to what people say, or how they interact, outside the research context.

Sample
Sampling – purposive sampling (participants selected on basis of having a significant relation to the research topic) – but known to each other beforehand as recruited from a particular training group. This may create problems with established relations of power, disagreement or consensus being brought into research setting (Tonkiss 2004: 201–2). Assertive voices are more likely to direct the group discussion (as I found). Furthermore, 'Familiarity can limit self-disclosure and discourage disagreement' (Litosseliti 2003: 54).

Can familiarity be seen as an advantage though? I would argue yes, it is a strength. The men had very varied responses to my questions and their friendship and familiarity allowed their differences in opinions and interpretations to be discussed openly as they knew each other sufficiently to show disagreement and to disclose private information. The fact that they had common experiences also meant that as a group they were able to give specific examples of events or people that they all knew about. I would suggest that the friendship dynmatics of the groups (many of the group saw each other socially after the course had ended), the subject of the research (their experiences of unemployment), a setting for the discussion with which they were all familiar by this stage (a room at the university of Leeds where they had already spent 4 days as part of the course), and the fact that I was known to them and had already built a friendly rapport with them – that all these factors helped the focus group to be successful as the participants felt at ease 'in the familiar' and were keen, lively and open in their interaction with me and the other participants.

Although they shared various commonalities (their age, gender and the fact they were long-term unemployed) their backgrounds were by no means homongenous. They had access to varying amounts of cultural, social and educational capital, and this affected their interpretations of their situations and meant that they often openly challenged other participants' interpretations. They had access to different discourses e.g. one member of the group was familiar and well-versed in pro-feminist discourses, and challenged other participants about their understandings and interpretations of women and work:

If mutliple understandings and meanings are revealed by participants, multiple explanations of their behaviour and attitudes will be more readily articulated (Gibbs 1997).

Bibliography

Gibbs, A. 1997. Social Research Update (19). Department of Sociology: University of Surrey. Available online at: link Accessed 03/06/05

Litosseliti, L. 2003. Using FocusGroups in Research. London and New York: Continuum.

Tonkiss, F. 2004. 'Using Focus Groups'. In Seale, C. (ed.). 2004. Reasearching Society and Culture (2nd ed.). London: Sage.


July 20, 2005

Lit review intro

The literature review is composed of two main parts, one dealing with research that investigates barriers to employment for older male workers, and the other dealing with research into the effects of unemployment on masculinities. By reviewing empirical and theoretical research relating to these two key areas I aim to map out a space amidst the intersecting dimensions of age, masculinity and unemployment in which my own research may be situated. The sources I have used are from a variety of academic disciplines and differ greatly in terms of depth, length, date of publication and critical quality. While the research linking unemployment and masculinities is mostly sociological, the section covering barriers to employment comprises literature relating to policy, employment law and government commissioned research.

Limitations of existing research

Haywood and Mac an Ghaill (2003: 36) warn that ‘examining the impact of unemployment on masculinity can unintentionally reinforce the notion that unemployment is simply a problem for men’, noting that the issue of unemployed women remains academically unexplored across Western Europe. Ginn and Arber (1996) concur with this point, claiming that focus has tended to fall on men’s early exit from the employment, while the exclusion of older women from the labour market is regarded as uninteresting and unproblematic. Conventional definitions of unemployment tend to be founded on the employment experiences of men, disregarding involuntary joblessness amongst women (Russell 1999: 208). Bruegel (2000) argues that although late 20th century commentators have increasingly described the issue of unemployment as a ‘male problem’ in Britain, women are still the losers in the workplace and suffer both lower wages and poorer working conditions. Although employment may be feminised in the sense of an increasing presence of women in work or even changes to the intrinsic nature of work itself, this does not necessarily imply a corresponding feminisation of power (Bruegel 2000: 79 – 80).

Focussing on the issue of male unemployment not only risks disregarding or obscuring the experiences of women in presuming men to be the 'implicit norm', but also constructs unemployed men as a homogeneous group, underplaying social and economic differences between men arising as a result of differing class, skill and educational positionings (Bruegel 2000: 81). Age is a further dimension that has been neglected by the burgeoning literature on masculinities, with older men largely omitted from literature about masculinities and unemployment (Arber, Davidson and Ginn 2003). In writing of a ‘crisis in masculinity’ in the world of work, commentators risk constructing masculine identity as a monolithic and unitary entity, failing to adequately problematise or deconstruct it (Willott and Griffin 1996: 78). Rather, there are many dimensions of difference that cut through the debate surrounding age, masculinities and unemployment, and in outlining relevant literature I aim to touch on as many of these as possible.


July 19, 2005

Unemployment and Masculinities

(a.k.a. Second half of a literature review – draft)

Beynon (2002: 86) argues that the changing nature of employment and the labour market over the past thirty years has influenced masculinities at a variety of levels, leading to an alleged ‘crisis in masculinity’. Changes such as deindustrialisation and corresponding job loss, the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy, de-layering and downsizing, the effects of an increasingly global economy and the advent of equal opportunities have all impacted on the way in which men perceive and respond to ideas concerning employment and the workplace (ibid: 87). Economic restructuring, for example, triggered the decline of employment closely linked with masculine notions of strength and hard physical labour, while the entry of women into and alleged 'feminisation' of the labour force represented a challenge to the close connection that had been forged between employment and masculine identity (Morgan 1992: 99).

Masculinities, work and the hegemonic ideal

In recent years, researchers have adopted a more critical approach towards masculinities and unemployment, refuting the notion of a single masculine identity seen to exist ‘as the property, character trait or aspect of identity of individuals’ (MacInnes 1988: 2), and questioning commonly held assumptions such as the centrality of the breadwinner role for men. Far from viewing masculine identity as a homogeneous and unitary entity, Connell (1987, 1993, 1996) contends that definitions of masculinity are in fact multiple and shifting within any socio-historical context, dependent on the social structures that bind and confine individual experience and actions:

Definitions of masculinity are deeply enmeshed in the history of institutions and of economic structures. Masculinity is not just an idea in the head, or a personal identity. It is also extended in the world, merged in organized social relations. To understand masculinity historically we must study changes in those social relations (Connell 1996: 29).

Despite this discursive plurality, certain versions of masculinity are represented as hegemonic ideals, whilst opposing versions are marginalised or subordinated. According to Connell (1987: 184), ‘hegemony’ refers to ‘a social ascendancy achieved in a play of social forces that extends beyond contests of brute power into the organisation of private life and cultural processes’, with hegemonic definitions constructed in a complex and ever changing relationship to that which the definition excludes. For example, in the present socio-historical context, white, middle-class, heterosexual, employed males are considered to be the culturally ascendant ‘norm’ (Willott and Griffin 1996: 80). Although the social construction of this particular masculine identity is arbitrary in one sense, it nevertheless forms a pervasive discourse that shapes how men respond to and deal with unemployment, the ‘available’ discourses and structures constraining both issues deemed important to men and defining the way in which they position themselves in relation to those specific issues.

Morgan (1992) employs a notion of gender symbolism to make sense of masculinities and work, examining the gendered nature of work and its symbolic value. Employment and unemployment have been frequently constructed as oppositional and hierarchically situated in western societies, a construction concurrent with other polarities such as skilled-unskilled, heavy-light, dangerous-less dangerous, dirty-clean, interesting-boring, and mobile-immobile. Although in recent years feminist projects have challenged some of these binaries by showing how women have been excluded from analyses of work and critiquing studies of work as a public exchange of labour power for payment (??), employment, both as a means of making money and getting out of the house, remains an important anchor for hegemonic masculine identities (Morgan 1992: 99).

The symbolic opposition to employment, unemployment, exemplifies a situation where masculinity is ‘put on the line’, providing a ‘paradigmatic example of masculinity under challenge’ (Morgan 1992: 100). Beynon (2002: 87) maintains that ‘nothing has proved more damaging to [working men] and their sense of the masculine than unemployment, which took away independence and control over family finances’. Unemployment decreases a man’s ability to provide for himself and his family (if he has one), and often influences where and how he spends his time, disrupting spatial divisions between the domestic and the public sphere and problematising assumptions about the gender order.

Challenge to the ‘breadwinner’ role

As Morgan (1992: 101–2) puts it, the role of ‘male breadwinner’ assumes an underlying gender order, that of the bourgeois nuclear family and the notion of working for dependents located in the domestic sphere. In this way paid employment assumes a central role in the maintenance of the wider social order, and the presumption arises that ‘long-term unemployment deprives a man of his sense of social worth largely through the removal of this role’. In an early study McKee and Bell (1986: 141) investigated the gender-specific consequences of unemployment and its impact on the family, and found that ‘the loss of the male economic provider role struck deep chords among both wives and husbands and a passionate defence of men’s right to provide was invariably raised’, with both men and women voicing issues concerning self-esteem, self-image, pride, views of masculinity, respectability and authority.

Willott and Griffin (1996: 85) found that discourses such as that of domestic provision were salient to working-class men experiencing long-term unemployment, with the men in their study adhering to expectations that a ‘good’ family man should provide both necessities and luxuries for ‘the missus and the kids’. As such, the men of their study found it difficult to relinquish the breadwinner persona, and their inability to provide resulted in feelings of disempowerment, emasculation, shame, feelings of inadequacy in relation to cultural expectations, loss of respectability and fear of losing female partners. Unemployment thus has the potential to disrupt hegemonic masculine ideals as well as discourses of domestic provision and public masculinity (Haywood and Mac an Ghaill 2003: 38).

Convergence of public and private spheres

Masculine identities have traditionally been associated with the public rather than the domestic sphere both in terms of waged work and leisure activities such as the pub (Willott and Griffin 1997). This ideological separation between men and women in terms of spatial location has a long cultural history fundamental to the definition of hegemonic masculinities in the west, with the public sphere traditionally associated with men and masculinity, and the private sphere with women and children (Willott and Griffin 1996: 82). Not only are unemployed men officially denied access to the workplace, but their participation in the social arena of leisure activities is often restricted because of financial restraints. Willott and Griffin (1996: 82) depict the home as a female-dominated place that is not welcoming to or appropriate for men, with participants speaking about ‘needing’ the freedom to escape to the public sphere and feeling ‘out of place’ at home. Unemployment thus entails ‘spatial convergence’ between men and the domestic sphere, consequently producing conflict between public and private enactments of masculinity.

McKee and Bell (1986: 139) posited that this convergence of male and female social worlds might occur in a more positive way, with men taking on more domestic work and responsibility in the home. However, their hypothesis was found to be an unrealistic ideal, with notions of active agency and choice rejected as ‘inappropriate and stultifying’ when confronted by the reality of unemployment. Rather than increasing men’s participation in the private domain, paradoxically male unemployment in fact reinforced the polarisation of ‘gendered’ marital activities, with both male and female participants adhering to traditional gender scripts (ibid: 144). Both male and female participants described women as more efficient at domestic tasks, while men were seen to have a public purpose and profile to maintain, failing to contribute in the home because of their engagement in the public realm of job search, interviews or informal labour market activities (ibid: 144).

Public surveillance

The ways in which unemployed men’s private lives are opened up to public scrutiny and observation offer a further critical challenge to the division between public and private spheres: ‘Unemployed men are squeezed out of the public realm – but their retreat into the private realm becomes public business' (McKee and Bell 1986: 147). As benefit-recipients, their private lives are subjected to public scrutiny and surveillance both actual and perceived, resulting in anxiety, fear of investigation and self-policing, with respondents feeling that ‘their private actions are always liable to be held to public account’ (ibid: 148). In this way a discursive gulf opens up amongst the unemployed as a group, with many unemployed respondents making distinctions between the ‘respectable’ unemployed and the ‘scroungers’, between the ‘genuine’ unemployed and the ‘idlers’ (ibid: 148). Similarly, Willott and Griffin (1996: 80) found that the unemployed men of their study spoke of unemployment as equivalent to ‘scrounging off the state’, locating themselves negatively in relation to this discourse and resisting the accusation that they too might be scroungers.

In this way unemployment appears to exemplify a process Foucault (1982: 208) labels ‘dividing practices’, in which ‘the subject is objectified by a process of division either within himself or from others’. Through a process of social objectification and categorisation that imposes preconceptions about the identity of the unemployed man on a more fluid situation, unemployment defines, excludes and stigmatises a distinctive type of unemployed man, that of the scrounger. Both state and self surveillance separates and pathologises the ‘scrounger’ as a category separate from the undifferentiated mass of the unemployed. As Foucault (1977: 188) observes, ‘Discipline “makes” individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise’. In this way, 'the unemployed have no universality of experience… but they are further divided against and amongst themselves' (McKee and Bell 1986: 149).

Renegotiating masculine identities

Given that unemployment provides both economic and cultural challenges to traditional (hegemonic) masculine identities, we might question whether unemployed men are forced to renegotiate their gender identities, and if so what form this renegotiation might take. A key organising principle for the construction of many unemployed men’s identity is that of ‘respectability’, with the male breadwinner role interpreted not only as a source of economic independence, but also as a means of achieving social status and respect (Willott and Griffin 1996: 85). Morgan (1992: 108) also argues that unemployment may entail a loss of respectability, one that is linked to the stigma of lacking finances, loss of privacy through public scrutiny of finances, and inability to support a family. Respectability may not be an issue solely for unemployed men, and rather its loss may injure unemployed men and women alike, involving ‘a complex set of attitudes and orientations that links and gives meaning to a variety of important everyday situations and serves as an important basis for social status’ (ibid). Nevertheless, the concept of respectability may be dependent on key discourses that are highly gendered such as that of domestic provision or public masculinities (Haywood and Mac an Ghaill 2003: 38).

Alternatively, men may reassert their masculinity through domestic refusal, dissociation from the private sphere, or performance of a public masculinity (Segal 1990). Such performative masculinity might entail occupation of public space such as the urban street area, as in the case of Jahoda’s Marienthal study (1933) which depicts women hurrying through the streets, a public space rendered unfamiliar by the presence of unemployed men (cited in Morgan 1992: 110). Alternatively, it might involve class-based spectacular performances as a form of ‘protest masculinity’. Campbell’s account (1993) of the young unemployed men during the English urban riots of the early 1990s depicts the assertion of a different mode of masculinity – that of civil unrest, irresponsibility and violence – as a means of re-presenting their perceived powerlessness and asserting a different mode of masculinity. In a similar manner, Connell (1995: 116) describes unemployed working-class men’s exaggerated claims to masculinity, resulting in a ‘spectacular display’ of masculinities focussed around sexuality, violence and bohemianism.

Although unemployment may result in discursive repositioning or reconstruction of masculine identities at both a micro- and a macro- structural level, such responses tend to pose little significant threat to hegemonic forms of masculinity (Willott and Griffin 1996: 88). Willott and Griffin found that the most common strategy used by their participants in response to the debilitating effects of long-term unemployment was to re-establish traditional forms of masculine identity and make recourse to familiar and traditional ‘powerful’ patterns of discourse, an exercise in damage-limitation that restricted the harm that assailed individual masculine pride without posing any great challenge to traditional gender or power relations (ibid).

Constraints on identity change

In recent years researchers have claimed that social and cultural capital may aid our understanding of the ways in which unemployed men respond (or fail to respond) to the challenge that unemployment represents to their masculinities (Russell 1999, Willott and Griffin 2004). In a quantitative study linking sociabilility, gender and unemployment, Russell (1999) found that unemployed women, particularly those who had worked part-time in the past, were better able to capitalise on and maintain strong social linkages that provided emotional, instrumental and informational support during periods of unemployment than men.

Willott and Griffin (2004) claim that a Bourdieuian concept of capital may aid our understanding of structural and ideological constraints that impede renegotiation of men’s gender identities. Bourdieu (1986) proposes an understanding of society based on the movement of ‘capital’ through social spaces as it is accumulated or lost by individuals (Skeggs 1997: 8). The most obvious example of this is the Marxist concept of economic capital, a highly rationalised form of capital reified as material exchanges and financial assets. Bourdieu moves beyond this model, however, by proposing other metaphorical forms of capital (Bourdieu 1986: 243). ‘Cultural capital’, for example, exists in three different states: in an embodied state in the form of durable dispositions in the mind and body; in an objectified state existing in the form of cultural goods such as books or paintings; in an institutionalised state such as academic credentials (Bourdieu 1986: 243). ‘Social capital’ refers to ‘the connections and networks an agent may call upon in their effort to achieve a specified goal’ (Crossley 2001: 97), while ‘symbolic capital’ signifies ‘the form the different types of capital take once they are perceived and recognised as legitimate’ (Skeggs 1997: 8). Bourdieu develops these other capitals analogously with the structure of the economic variety, demonstrating how capitals may be accumulated, lost, invested, distributed and traded within a particular social field. The value of different capitals is tied to the context in which it is found; for example something that is greatly valued in an academic field may not be so highly revered in the world of theatre, or art, and may not afford the corresponding power and privilege.

The working class unemployed men of Willott and Griffin’s study were trapped in ‘a domestic place with meagre access to capital resources’, a positioning that challenged their masculinity by defining them as inferior men (Willott and Griffin 2004: 59). These men had limited resources available to construct masculine identities that reflect the changing structural and ideological demands of the current socio-historical period. Rejecting proactive discourses about change or revolution, they instead depicted themselves as defeated, passive victims, constituted as ‘older’ and ‘less of a man’ (ibid: 58). Although the men paid lip service to a ‘slightly tongue-in-cheek picture’ of a ‘collective and violent uprising against the state’, ultimately they understood themselves to be ensnared by unjust social structures and believed that they lacked the power and agency to instigate change and escape restricted social roles, discursively positioning themselves as ‘stuck in a rut’ (ibid).

Like Skeggs’ study of working-class women (1997), who were born into structures of inequality with access to limited amounts of capital, working-class unemployed men may attempt to ‘put a floor’ under their economic and cultural circumstances by using and trading the scanty amounts of capital to which they have access to stop things getting worse (Skeggs 1997: 161). For Willott and Griffin’s participants, this entailed adherence to a traditional construction of themselves as family breadwinners, resorting to (illegal) work that offered limited capital in restoring their self-images as ‘proper’ men capable of earning money in the public sphere (Willott and Griffin 2004: 63). Education was also constructed as one possible escape route out of this apparently hopeless situation, simultaneously increasing cultural capital (through formal qualifications) and social capital (through social networks) and providing the necessary resources to renegotiate gender-class identities and possibly increase economic capital in the long-term. Ultimately, however, social structure impedes the ability to trade and capitalise upon already meagre forms of capital, and the breadwinner persona was seen to offer greater symbolic capital to this group of men than it would to other, more socially privileged groups.

Summary


July 08, 2005

focus group

Don't feel like focus group went very well at all. I'm not even sure if I can hear the tapes well enough to transcribe them. Twas my own fault, as didn't test recording stuff yesterday, due to panicking about world imploding and headache. I dunno, it just felt a bit directionless and I didn't feel in control of the situation.

Going to Birmingham tomorrow to spend weekend at Rebecca's – should be nice as haven't seen her in ages. Just appreciating being at home (or rather having the freedom to move around a space larger than my Warwick cell) this evening.

Where to next with dissertation?
I don't know.
I think it must be v+t time.


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