Thursday, January 17, 2013

Men at Home
Authority, Domesticity, Sexuality and Household Production

Special Issue of Gender & History,Volume 27, 2015

The 2015 Special Issue of G&H will be on the theme “Men at home” (as heads of families, husbands, partners, fathers, sons, brothers, domestic workers...).

The creation of the Special Issue will be approached via a colloquium to be held at the University of Urbino, Italy on 11th-12th April 2014.


In the last two decades, gender historians have increasingly focused on the history of masculinity. Their research has helped deconstruct dichotomies that mirrored long-standing ideologies about the proper place for men and women and considered the public and private spheres as the domains of men and women respectively. Several studies have in fact shown that the reality was generally much more nuanced than one could imagine in the light of the aforementioned ideologies.

Whereas past studies on European societies had emphasized the crucial importance of the changes in civil status, and particularly of marriage, for women rather than for men, more recent studies have shown that, in pre-industrial times, marriage was crucial for the social status of men, too. These results have prompted further debate and research, because the importance of marriage for men was indeed different in different contexts. In pre-industrial Europe, it was probably more relevant in central and northern regions and less important in the south, and in other societies it was likely to play an even more marginal role. For instance, among the Akan of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, marriage for a man did not generally mean becoming the head of a household nor did it imply conjugal co-residence: a married man did not necessarily live in the same household as his wife (or wives).

The Akan are matrilineal. Differences between patrilineal and matrilineal societies, between monogamous and polygamous (polygynous or polyandric) ones as well as between societies following different residence rules after marriage, have to be considered in order to understand how different sets of male identities were constructed within any specific society. These features were/are indeed generally important in shaping the aspects on which the colloquium and the special issue aim to focus, i.e. authority, domesticity, sexuality and household production. To cite but one example, in matrilineal societies children generally belong to their mother's lineage and it isn’t the father but the mother's brother who has authority over them.

While the household (both as a component of the social organization and as a concept) is not universal but culture-bound, and the very meaning of the home has to be understood in historical and anthropological perspectives, being (or not being) the head of one’s family or kinship group seems very important almost everywhere in determining the status of men, probably because this role, though associated with different rights and duties according to the context, was always an authoritative one. In several contexts, the power of the family head also implied the right to exercise (more or less limited) violence against the other members of his group.

On the other hand, in several societies, physical strength and the capacity to defend and protect one’s family were important features of the family head. However, muscular masculinity might be in competition with other values. In China, for instance, where, according to recent research, masculinity can be conceptualised as framed by two archetypes, wen and wu, wen masculinity, associated with the qualities of the civil, genteel, refined, gentleman-scholar historically took supremacy over wu masculinity, associated with martial skills and physical strength.

Physical strength is often associated with male virility, which is an important component of different types of male identities, not only of the macho one. Having (or not) recognized sexual rights over one or more members of their family (wife, wives, slaves etc.) and/or being/not being able to control their sexual behavior might be crucial in distinguishing the status of different men as well as having no, some or many children. In the Mediterranean area, Arabia and parts of South Asia, for instance, a man’s honor was associated with his ability to control the bodies and sexual practices of the women of his family.

While the very organization of domestic spaces might mirror and reinforce both gender identities and differences among the male members of the family, in the contexts where a clear distinction between domestic and public spheres did exist, the head of the family often belonged to both the domestic and the public one; in many contexts he was the only member of the household who represented the other components in the public sphere and/or enjoyed political rights.

Thus particular attention should be paid to the importance, for men of different ages and family status, of being in the position of heads of their families, or in that of children, co-resident relatives or even servants. Further research is needed to conclusively clarify these points and to establish if and which family roles were fundamental in defining different types of male identities and status in specific social, historical, and geographical contexts.

Custom, law, religion and ethics established rights and duties for the head of the family as well as for children, servants and other male members of a household, and were therefore important (though not exclusive) factors in defining these roles: think, for instance, of the long-standing importance, in many parts of Europe, of the definition of paterfamilias given by Roman Law, according to which the head of the family was not necessarily married nor necessarily had children; or of the differences between the Catholic communities, with their Pope and clergy bound to celibacy, and the Protestant ones, where the head of the family played a crucial role in leading and supervising the family devotion.

Related issues include the roles of men in such fields as the education of children, caring and even cooking. While these activities, as well as cleaning, are often associated with women, this was/is not always and everywhere the case. Servants, for instance, were often men. Interestingly, however, in several contexts, such as many of the colonial ones, the houseboy was constructed as emasculated and feminized.

Clarifying the boundaries between male and female domestic roles in specific contexts as well as how they changed over time is one of the aims of the special issue. Recently, for example, the status of men among the Khasi (a matrilineal society of north-eastern India) has led to the formation of a men’s rights movement, with men also protesting because they are fed up with housekeeping.

In several contexts, being able to feed one’s family might be an important aspect of the construction of hegemonic masculinities – an aspect that might also imply being away and/or migrating for longer or shorter periods. However, in spite of the frequent emphasis on the role of the breadwinner, in most societies (almost) all members of the family contributed to its survival.

Families and/or households were often units of production (and/or consumption). Their economic role was different according to economic sectors (i.e. agriculture, urban crafts, rural home industry, etc.), class (i.e. different types of peasants, industrial working class, middle class, aristocracy, etc.), periods (i.e. pre-industrial period, industrialization etc.), economic regions (i.e. rural and industrial regions, colonies etc.). However, it was likely to have a major influence in shaping the division of labour among their members as well as in determining in which way and to which degree, the male ones participated in the household economy. Thus particular attention should be paid to the analysis of the economic role of households.

Great attention should also be paid to the subjective appraisal of the different roles and to the way in which men may have colluded with, or subverted, dominant cultural constructions of what it meant to be a (good) father, husband, son etc. in a given geographical, social, cultural context at a given time, thus playing a conservative role or, on the contrary, contributing to cultural and social change. From this vantage point, the possible importance of one’s sexual orientation in conditioning the attitude towards one’s position within the household should also be evaluated.

Ideally any aspect should be analyzed looking at the intersection of various categories of difference such as race, class, caste as well as family status, age, sexuality etc. in shaping different types of male identity in the home.

Aim of the colloquium and of the Special Issue

The aim of the colloquium and of the Special Issue is to bring together scholars working on the history of masculinity in order to highlight on the one hand the roles performed by men at home in different contexts and, on the other, the importance of those roles with regard to the definition of different kinds of masculinity in specific social, historical and geographic contexts. Periods of rapid transformation of family arrangements seem to be an especially interesting vantage point, as particularly (but not only) in these periods tensions might have arisen between old and new ideas about the ‘proper’ roles of men (and women) on the one hand and the ‘traditional’ ones on the other, and/or between (some) norms and (some) practice.

Proposals focusing on these issues are welcome, particularly if they try to place case studies in a wider context or have a comparative approach (over time or space). Gender & History is particularly interested in producing a multi-disciplinary volume which includes scholarship on a wide range of periods, places, and cultures, and in which not only historical, but also anthropological and sociological approaches are brought to bear on historical treatments of gender. Thus trans-national comparative studies and work on pre-modern and non-Western cultures are encouraged. Proposals focusing on the contemporary world are welcomed, too, provided that they deal with the present in a historical perspective.

Papers that, in addition to focusing on particular cases, will contribute to the theoretical thinking about masculinity and gender will be especially appreciated. Both papers on specific case-studies and papers attempting large overviews will be welcome.

Submission of proposals and schedule

·      1 February 2013   Scholars and researchers are invited to submit proposals (750 words maximum) by 1 February 2013.

·      1 March 2013     By 1 March 2013 submitters will be informed if their proposal has been selected.

·      1 March 2014     The authors of the selected proposals will be invited to submit a full paper and to attend the colloquium in Urbino; they will be expected to send their paper by 1 March 2014 as a condition of participation.

·      11-12 April 2014     The colloquium will be held in Urbino on 11-12 April 2014.

G&H asks scholars invited to present their papers to seek funds to cover their travel expenses but will contribute as necessary. Accommodation as well as breakfast and lunch will be offered by the University of Urbino; G&H will offer one dinner; participants will fund their own dinners on other nights.

·      31 Dec 2014        After the colloquium, the editor will select ten to twelve papers for publication from those presented in Urbino; the authors of the papers accepted for publication will receive the comments by the editor and by the referees and will be expected to submit their revised text by 31 December 2014.

·      March 2015        This will allow the editor to work with the authors to produce the final text of the issue by March 2015 for publication in November 2015.

·      November 2015  Publication of the Special Issue.

Proposals must be in English and proposers must make sure that they will present their papers in English at the colloquium in Urbino; however, in order to stimulate participation from different countries and cultural areas, the papers don’t need to be written in English. Accepted languages are the following: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Chinese. In certain circumstances it may be possible to translate articles submitted in languages other than English and selected for publication in the Special Issue.

Please send paper proposals to  by 1 February 2013.

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