Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

'Boozers and Bouncers': Masculine Conflict, Disengagement and the Contemporary Governance of Drinking-Related Violence and Disorder

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

'Boozers and Bouncers': Masculine Conflict, Disengagement and the Contemporary Governance of Drinking-Related Violence and Disorder

Article excerpt

The links between crime, violence and male offending are now more deeply researched in a growing international literature that understands much antisocial and criminal behaviour as a social resource for the attainment and protection of masculine identities. Nevertheless, the tie between masculinity and nonoffending has been much less explored. This focus group study of understandings of public drinking-related conflict and violence among young male drinkers and security officers in a combined urban and rural district of New South Wales illustrates the significance and complexity of these links. Masculine concerns inform a readiness for involvement with conflict and its enjoyment through the prominence of issues of social status, gender policing, honour and carnival during different social occasions. But this must be understood in relation to the different masculinity 'projects' (Connell, 1995) that contrast security officers with an idealised professional self-image and the majority of drinkers, from a more violent minority. A surprisingly common pattern of 'respectable' masculine subjectivity informs disengagement from serious violence. This is often characterised by an exaggerated view of the rational male self as safe and in control of most social interaction in dangerous public contexts. The pitfalls of this may even be enhanced by the new influence of campaigns around 'risky' public drinking that aim to instill ideals of responsible self-governance.

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Much traditional criminological discourse had a deep-rooted obsession with the study and control of 'dangerous' forms of masculinity (particularly working-class male delinquency), but rarely tackled the relation between criminality and the socially varied attainment of male status and power. In the last two decades, analyses of crime have problematised the disproportionate involvement of men in crime and violence and explored the creation and reproduction of male identities in different illegal activities (Collier, 1998; Jefferson, 1996; Naffine, 1997). Despite the flaws of reductionist views about male criminality that fail to incorporate the multiple effects of different social structures, this wider research shift can be received as a positive advance in understanding crime (Messerschmidt, 1997).

In particular, ethnographic studies of criminal activities that incorporate detailed analyses of actors' views and the masculine meanings of crime in relation to both local groups and wider cultures and social structures point beyond glib generalisations about the maleness of crime (Bourgeois, 1996; Collins et al., 2000; Winlow, 2001). This work illustrates a continuing challenge in the need to explain the relations of male criminality to official forms of masculinity including those that are reproduced in the criminal justice system, and also how the interplay between these reflects power relations between different men (Tomsen, 1996). As well as this, researchers are pressed to reconcile these findings against the phenomenon of a widespread masculine disengagement from direct involvement in crime and violence. A superficial interpretation of these accounts can reify participation in crime (especially violent crime) as a principal social means of establishing masculinity. The need to explain both participation in violence and disengagement in a way that respects individual agency and situational diversity has already been argued (Athens, 1989). From the vantage point offered by the new literature on masculinity, researchers must again ask why it is the case that even most socially disadvantaged men just occasionally, rarely or never engage in these behaviours with their masculine identities remaining unthreatened? Furthermore, what models of masculinity inform these decisions to disengage and what views generated within male groups support this process?

An ethnographic approach is well suited to explaining the phenomenon of drinking violence and the mixed relations that different men have to it (see Monaghan, 2002, and Hobbs et al. …

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