Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Policing Masculinities: Investigating the Role of Homophobia and Heteronormativity in the Lives of Adolescent School Boys

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Policing Masculinities: Investigating the Role of Homophobia and Heteronormativity in the Lives of Adolescent School Boys

Article excerpt

Key Words: adolescent males, homophobia, hegemonic masculinity, high school, Foucault

In this paper I draw on Michel Foucault's works (1978, 1984a, 1987) for analyzing the pervasive role that sexuality plays in determining certain traditional views of masculinity at a Catholic high school in Perth, Western Australia. Attention is drawn to the social practices through which the boys learn to fashion particular forms of gendered subjectivity that are policed within regimes of compulsory heterosexuality (see Beckett, 1998; Epstein, 1994, 1997; Epstein & Johnson, 1998; Flood, 1997; Laskey & Beavis, 1996; Pallotta-Chiarolli, 1995; Rich, 1980; Unks, 1995).

Another dimension addressed here is the focus on the specific capacities that several boys have for questioning the effects of particular forms of masculinity in their lives. Many of these boys who become the brunt of other boys' abusive treatment appear to have developed certain skills for reflecting about dominant or hegemonic forms of masculinity (see Martino, 1997, 1988a, 1999b, McLean, 1996). This paper's focus on white, middle-class boys and their willingness to engage in critical discourses of masculinity contributes to the research on masculinities and schooling (Connell, 1989; Epstein, 1997; 1998; Epstein & Johnson, 1998; Frank, 1993; Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998; Kessler, Ashenden, Connell, & Dowsett, 1985; Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Nayak & Kehily, 1996; Skelton, 1997; Walker, 1988). While already existing research explores how adolescent boys make sense of their experiences of masculinity, this paper traces how several boys explain what they understand about the category of "masculinity" (Coleman, 1990).


The concept of "regimes of practice," in its application to investigating the ways in which adolescent boys enact various masculinities, is informed by a Foucauldian analytics of self-fashioning techniques and modalities of power involved in the production of subjectivity (see Foucault, 1978, 1980a, 1988a). For example, Foucault (1987) claims:

   What I wanted to know was how the subject constituted himself (sic), in
   such and such a determined form, as a mad subject or as a normal subject,
   through a certain number of practices which were games of truth,
   applications of power, etc. I had to reject a certain a priori theory of
   the subject in order to make this analysis of the relationships which can
   exist between the constitution of the subject or different forms of the
   subject and games of truth, practices of power and so forth. (p. 121;
   italics added)

Foucault is careful here to situate this focus on "how the subject constitute[s] himself" within a field or game of truth/power relations. Hence, different forms of the subject cannot be separated from a regime of practices through which power is channeled and particular truths established. In short, the formation of subjectivity is understood in terms of the cultural techniques for working on and fashioning the gendered self, which are made available within existing regimes of practice. In this paper it is such a conceptualization of subjectivity that informs an analysis of the social practices through which boys learn to enact particular stylized forms of masculinity. This leads to an investigation of what Foucault (1978) terms "polymorphous techniques of power" in relation to examining the formation of adolescent masculinities. The ways in which modalities of power are channeled through normalizing regimes of practice to permeate individual modes of behavior and to incite particular forms of desire become the analytic focus:

   ... my main concern will be to locate the forms of power, the channels, and
   the discourses it permeates in order to reach the most tenuous and
   individual modes of behavior, the paths that give it access to the rare or
   scarcely perceivable forms of desire, how it penetrates and controls
   everyday pleasure--all this entailing effects that may be those of refusal,
   blockage, and invalidation, but also incitement and intensification: in
   short the "polymorphous techniques of power. … 
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