Culture in Contemporary Life

The Culture and Contemporary Life Talk series is an ongoing initiative of the ASA Culture Section.  The CCL is a series of online forums in which Culture Section members can share their expertise in lively conversations about what cultural sociology has to say about pressing issues in the news. The series is a way of bridging professional and public sociology as well as generating intellectual community in between ASA meetings. You can find video recordings for all our past webinars on the CCL Youtube channel. 

The Crisis of Masculinity: Perspectives from Around the World

CCL Talk Recording: Fake News? Perspectives from Cultural Sociology

ASA Section on Cultural Sociology presents Culture in Contemporary Life (CCL) Series 

The Crisis of Masculinity Around the World

How the pursuits of and anxieties around masculinity have changed in the past two decades? To what extent the crises of democracy and the resurgence of authoritarian tendencies are intertwined with the “crisis of/in masculinity” around the world? In this online panel, four distinguished cultural sociologists will shed light on the debates around masculinity in the academy and in the news from inside and outside the U.S.

Speakers:
Hector Carrillo (Northwestern University)
Michela Musto (University of British Columbia)
Tristan Bridges (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Robert Wyrod (University of Colorado Boulder)

Moderator:
Yan Long (University of California, Berkeley)

Date:
Jun 2, 2022, 2PM ET

Zoom link: https://umich.zoom.us/j/93072514561

For questions or comments, please contact Alejandra Cueto Piazza (alejandra_irene_cueto_piazza@brown.edu)

Report by Manning Zhang (Brandeis University)
On June 2, 2022, the Culture Section of the American Sociological Association held the third event of this year’s Culture and Contemporary Life Series. Yan Long (University of California, Berkeley) moderated the discussion. Héctor Carrillo (Northwestern University), Michela Musto (University of British Columbia), Tristan Bridges (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Robert Wyrod (University of Colorado, Boulder) participated as panelists. The event took the theme “The Crisis of Masculinity: Perspectives from Around the World.” You can watch the recording of this event on YouTube. Here are highlighted remarks from the discussion.

Yan Long raised the opening question: In the countries or regions you study, how have the anxieties around masculinity changed in the past two decades? Michela Musto argued that many of these fears can be traced back to the mid to late 1800s, which was a time when land-owning white men’s power and authority in Western countries like the United States and the UK were being challenged on multiple fronts. These anxieties, however, help deflect attention away from the fact that patterns of inequality in the US have long advantaged affluent white men. For instance, in her in-progress book manuscript, Musto shows that popular anxieties about the “boy crisis” ignore the fact that routine, taken-for-granted school structures help secure white boys’ advantageous position in society. 

Héctor Carrillo replied to Long’s question from a transnational perspective. He stressed that it is crucial for us to consider how countries in the so-called “Global South” have experienced the accelerated processes of progressive change in gender and sexuality. For instance, in the past few decades Mexican society has come to question the assumption that Mexican gay men are by definition “effeminate” and this has changed the older systems of classification that suggested that homosexual people are “like women.” Thus, men who previously could get away with participating in same-sex relationships and claim to be heterosexual are challenged in terms of identities. However, the backlash from the conservatives coexists with these progressive changes.

Tristan Bridges, in his studies of male pro-feminists and dads’ right activists, found a commonly shared narrative pattern in which respondents claim, “I’m not like most men.” He found out that men are really eager to distance themselves categorically from the concept of masculinity. Bridges argued that this phenomenon reflects the conservative backlash and is accompanied by the resurgence of people’s eagerness to say “Masculinity matters.”

Robert Wyrod mainly focused on the context of Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Uganda. He echoed Carrillo’s and Bridges’ points and argued that anxieties around masculinity in Sub-Saharan Africa also impede progressive changes in masculinity. Heightened economic inequality, embattled feminism and repugnant legislation towards LGBTQ issues are the three main forces that have increased the anxieties and insecurities towards masculinity among Ugandan men.

Long raised the second question: To what extent is the masculinity crisis intertwined with the crisis of democracy and the resurgence of authoritarian tendencies around the world?

Bridges responded with an interesting argument: While masculinity is claimed to be in a crisis in the United States and around the world, there were some periods of time when masculinity was perceived to be less stable compared to other times. He elaborated this point by discussing the transformation in the meaning of the word “manliness” in history. Bridges argued that since inequality requires distinction and difference, it needs to find new ways to reproduce itself when challenges are in place, i.e., during times when masculinity crises are heightened. Thus, these periods of time overlap with the resurgence of authoritarian tendencies and democracies all around the world. 

Wyrod emphasized the importance of studying regional trends, such as how authoritarian male leaders, Trump, Putin and Xi, have an impact on democracy and feminism in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Carrillo agreed on Bridges’ and Wyrod’s viewpoints, and added that it is important to look at both left-wing and right-wing perspectives to better understand the anti-democratic politics that threaten feminism and other progressive movements in regard to gender norms. He argued that the resistance to progressive change is linked to both the extreme right and the extreme left. He witnessed that in many countries resistance is tied to a so-called anti-gender movement, which is critical of what it sees as the erosion of family values created by feminism and LGBTQ rights. This critique has been promoted throughout the world by transnational religious groups, including Christian groups and catholic organizations. 

Agreeing with Bridges’ argument, Musto said that she is not convinced that there is a crisis of masculinity. Instead, what we are currently seeing is related to what we’ve seen in the past. She argued that the democratic system – designed by land-owning white men – initially excluded all others from having full citizenship rights. While acknowledging all the important rights that activists and policymakers have secured over the years, she argued that the democratic system has historically allowed cisgender, straight, white, able-bodied, and educated men to consolidate their power. What we need is an actual crisis of democracy, one in which we examine how the democratic process continues to prevent Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and people with disabilities from achieving full citizenship rights. 

Long raised her third question: How do you think about the utility of intersectionality in your area of study?

Héctor Carrillo contended that intersectionality is very crucial to the ways in which multiple social variables intersect in creating profound differences in the experience of the population that he studies. For instance, immigration status is not a common variable to be considered in sexuality studies, but the intersection of immigration status and sexual identity profoundly shaped capacities for inclusion and belonging. Also, Carrillo suggested that two things be considered when conducting intersectional research: First, we should not see the inequalities and forms of oppression that result from intersectional social marginalization as simply adjustive across social variables, but rather we should consider the complex forms of interaction among social identities and differences that lead to very specific experiences of oppression; Second, we should consider intersectionality not only in relation to social oppression, but also as a very helpful tool to analyze social privilege. 

Michela Musto noted that her current ethnographic research project uses an intersectional perspective to show that students who engage in the same, or very similar, behaviors are perceived and treated very differently by their teachers depending on students’ gender, race, and the academic course they have been tracked into. Contrary to fears that there is a “boy crisis” in school, adopting an intersectional perspective allows scholars to make better sense of the more complex processes shaping students’ experiences in school.

Robert Wyrod considered class as a very crucial but neglected element in African studies. He notes that ethnicity and tribal differences in the African context have always been exploited by political corruption and favoritism. What’s more, the colonial legacy in Africa suggests that race matters. 

Tristan Bridges thought intersectionality was late to hit scholarship on masculinities. One of the reasons is that masculinity studies have the boundaries erected around the subfield of gender studies that have created an echo chamber which makes the outside influence of theories don’t have the immediate influence that we might suspect when looking at other subfields. As editor in Men and Masculinity, Bridges put intersectionality as in the mission of the journal to promote this perspective. 

Long asked the following final question: What is missing in the current public or scholarly debate about hegemonic masculinity?

Wyrod pointed out that hegemonic masculinity is such a dominating and monolithic concept in masculinity studies, and ironically there is a lot of conceptual confusion about what it means. He thanked Bridges along with his other colleagues’ efforts in developing the hybrid masculinity idea as a means of bringing dynamism back in. Wyrod suggested that we should try to move away from the single concept of hegemonic masculinity and explore more possibilities to discuss masculinity.

Bridges acknowledged the difficulties involved in building a theory as hegemonic masculinity in order to explain things that we lacked language to talk about. He considered that in both public debate and academic debate, this concept gets really flattened and the dynamism within it is neglected.

Musto recognized the possible contribution cultural sociology can make to masculinity studies, in terms of understanding how people’s beliefs and interactions reproduce, or do not reproduce, a hierarchical and complementary relationship between masculinity and femininity. Particularly, she pointed out that this nuance is needed in the discussion on toxic masculinity in the public sphere, since this discussion risks depicting masculinity as a static set of traits that men possess or lack. 

Both Bridges and Carrillo mentioned an article that Yuchen Yang published in Sociology Theory in 2020: “What’s Hegemonic about Hegemonic Masculinity? Legitimation and Beyond.” Carrillo thought that this critique goes back to the roots of hegemony and examines Gramsci’s formulation of hegemony and links it to Bourdieu and Connell. He agreed with the author that hegemonic masculinity is not static, is not something to abolish but something to take over. Carrillo considered that such critique provides us not only hope but also a possible pathway to think about how to respond to the currently perceived crisis of masculinity.

In the Q&A session, one additional question popped up: What is the relationship between the purported crisis of masculinity and the parallel crisis of the institution of heterosexuality? Carrillo and Bridges both argued that these two cannot be separated. Bridges also pointed out that one way these two things are connected is that there are institutions of privilege that are now just more visible than they used to be. Wyrod argued that the attempt of LGBTQ groups in Africa to challenge homophobia is about their success in challenging the institution and creating a much-needed crisis of African heterosexuality. But this endeavor is considered a threat to the people in power. Musto shared her ideas about why heteronormativity remains unchallenged and embedded at school: young people are often presumed to be “innocent” and “impressionable,” so educators often shy away from overt conversations about sex and sexuality in school. And yet, this ignores the fact that normative assumptions about sexuality are embedded in both the formal and hidden curriculum students encounter in school. 

Long thanked the speakers and the audience and noted that previous events of the Culture and Contemporary Life series had discussed topics including racism and fake news. Access to the video of this and previous CCL sessions are available on the Culture Section YouTube channel.

Bios of Participants 

Héctor Carrillo has a joint appointment in the Sociology Department and the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program at Northwestern University. His current research investigates amateur genealogists’ interaction with archival documents, and the social implications of the proliferation of genealogy as a global phenomenon. 

Michela Musto is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. Her areas of expertise include gender, race & ethnicity, education, children & youth, and sport. Her current project examines the social construction of exceptionalism in early adolescence. 

Tristan Bridges is an Assistant Professor of Feminist Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. His research is broadly concerned with an important dynamic in the sociology of gender—while gender is subject to incredible variation and transformation, gender inequality has been shown to be much more durable. 

Robert Wyrod is an Associate Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies and the International Affairs Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is a sociologist interested in gender, sexuality, and social change in the developing world.

Yan Long is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of California, Berkeley. She studies the interactions between globalization and authoritarian politics across empirical areas such as civic action, health, development and technology.

Fake News? Perspectives from Cultural Sociology

CCL Talk Recording: Fake News? Perspectives from Cultural Sociology

Report by Elizabeth Trudeau (Carleton College)

Moderator: Dr. Yan Long

Participants: 

Dr. Francesca Tripodi

Dr. Gary Allen Fine

Dr. Jaron Harambam

On April 5th, 2022 the Culture Section of the American Sociological Association held an online event entitled “‘Fake News?’ Perspectives From Cultural Sociology” as part of its Culture in Contemporary Life (CCL) series. Yan Long (University of California Berkeley) moderated. Dr. Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern), Dr. Jaron Harambam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Dr. Francesca Tripodi (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) participated as panelists. 

The panel focused on the challenges of understanding how information is produced

and received in modern technological contexts – particularly in an age of social media. Further, panelists discussed what cultural sociologists can contribute to the conversation surrounding fake news through both classic and contemporary theories and methods. You can watch the full panel on the CCL Youtube channel. Below is a summary of the discussion. 

What is fake news and where does it come from? 

The Panel started out discussing the term in question. Moderator. Yan Long posed the question: “what is fake news?” 

All three panelists agreed that the phrase needs to be carefully separated from the socio-cultural study of information production and reception. Jaron Harambam noted that European scholars tend to not use the term in analysis because it is “easily weaponized.” Francesca Tripodi pointed out that the term itself is an example of how knowledge is created and used. She discussed how “fake news” in U.S. politics went from a term coined by journalists to describe false information to a slogan used by Trump supporters to refer to any “negative press.” 

“The concept of ‘fake news’ is still very much a reality for some groups,” Tripodi acknowledged, but she maintained that for sociologists “the important question is not about the concept itself but about how people seek out information in today’s societies.” 

All panelists also pointed to the changing technological and communications landscape as an important factor in how information is created and received across the current political and social landscape. Gary Fine pointed out how “institutional divisions” have greatly diminished as traditional newspapers and other media sources peter out while other less-institutionalized ones have “expanded enormously.” 

Harambam said the internet has helped create a new complex media terrain in which information is both “democratized” and vastly more complex as it is no longer supervised by the “traditional gatekeepers” who in the past exercised control over what information was deemed legitimate and what was not. 

However, panelists were also quick to point out that while current technologies change the landscape and mediums through which information is spread, the phenomena of propaganda, false news, conspiracy theories, etc. are not new. They pointed to work by many classic theorists including DuBois, Halbwachs and Mannheim as important starting points for understanding information in both historical and contemporary contexts.

What Role Should Cultural Sociologists Play? 

All panelists agreed that cultural sociologists have an important role to play in understanding “fake news” today. Fine argued that sociologists must focus on understanding how news is processed and received rather than whether it is legitimate. “Our challenge is to think as theorists rather than people who want to tell people what the empirical truth of the world is.” 

Tripodi shared that in her experience she has had exciting success pairing her own qualitative and theoretical knowledge with the practical insight of data scientists: positing that such collaborations allow theorists to move beyond technical limitations and allow data scientists to ask deeper, more meaningful questions.

Harambam acknowledged that integrating cultural insights into understanding how people interact with social media can be complex, but he noted that this is an essential and often missing piece of the current media studies field, which is often dominated by psychological theorists as well as by data scientists. He suggested some real world consequences that can occur when these sociological questions are not taken into account. While it’s important to teach people how to parse facts, it is a misconception that “debunking” fake news will make it go away. He argued, “I think what all of us are trying to show is that the cultural warfare . . . and the social circles in which people are living in very much determine these questions of trust, of credibility, etc.” 

Future Questions

The panel concluded by answering audience questions and reflecting on future research directions. They discussed the questions of how social media platforms should or should be held culpable for the spread of misinformation and the relationship between economic-political systems and “fake news.”  For future research, in addition to collaborating with data scientists, they discussed the need to understand how/why people participate in the spread of false news as a tool of entertainment and/or community-building and to conduct cross-national comparisons. 

Revisiting Cultural Methods to Address Racism

CCL Talk Recording: Revisiting Cultural Methods to Address Racism

What theoretical perspectives can cultural sociology provide to address the current debates on race and racism? How to design research to unmask the systematicity of racism as well as the dynamics of creating change? In this online panel, four distinguished cultural sociologists will shed light on the pressing issues of race and racism in the academy and in the news. 

Speakers:
Ellen Berrey (University of Toronto)
Marcus A. Hunter (University of California, Los Angeles)
Mario L. Small (Harvard University)
Derron Wallace (Brandeis University)

Moderator:
Yan Long (University of California, Berkeley)

Date:
Jan 27th, 2-3 pm ET

For questions or comments, please contact Yan Long (longyan@berkeley.edu)