Masculinities in Urban Africa

The Becoming Men research group is directed by Dr. Eileen Moyer at the University of Amsterdam. Employing an interdisciplinary anthropological approach, members of the research team are conducting multi-sited ethnographic research projects in Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania to examine the ways that masculinities have been reconfigured over the last 30 years in urban contexts. The last decades have seen the proliferation of nuanced scholarly work on masculinities in Africa. Through an innovative application of performance theory, this timely study aims to expand upon existing research, providing insight into the ways that male subjectivities are shaped through practices and discourses of empowerment and equality. 

Since the mid-1980s academic and public discourses have painted African masculinity as both precarious and predatory. Economic insecurity, urbanization, shifting gender norms, and growing gender parity have led to claims that African masculinity is in crisis. More recently, stories of urban men embracing responsible fatherhood, calling for an end to intimate partner violence, and demanding homosexual rights have emerged as exemplars of progressive possibility. By theoretically framing discourses and practices that pathologize and/or politicize masculinity as simultaneously performing and producing gendered/sexual selves, this research aims to disentangle these seemingly competing claims about African masculinities and shed light on the scientific, political and economic projects that guide them. 

Recently, ‘male involvement’ has become the rallying cry of a vast global development apparatus, bringing together governments, NGOs, research networks, activists, and local communities to fight gender inequality in the name of health, economic development, and human rights. A range of male-involvement initiatives will provide the lens for examining how masculinities are diversely imagined, (re)configured and performed through men’s engagements with this apparatus from the local to the global. 

The Becoming Men research group is primarily funded via a European Research Council Consolidator grant for the project entitled, Becoming Men: Performing responsible masculinities in contemporary urban Africa. The research group was formed in 2015 and is currently funded through August 2020. Additional funding has been provided via the National Research Foundation in South Africa, and matching funds have been provided by the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam. 

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