Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

"Mirror Mirror": A Qualitative Analysis of Intergenerational Images of Masculinities in Uruguay

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

"Mirror Mirror": A Qualitative Analysis of Intergenerational Images of Masculinities in Uruguay

Article excerpt


While there have been many studies analyzing changes in gender roles for Latin American women, the impact of these changes on men, and on their gender identity, received relatively little analysis. This paper explores intergenerational changes and continuities in the conceptualization of gender roles within the realm of family life. This is accomplished through in-depth interviews with three generations of male Uruguayans; a grandfather, a father and a son in the same family. Interviews reveal a historical shift in the meaning of masculinity and in gender roles in Uruguayan society. Though the study draws on a small sample of 5 families (n = 15), data shed light in the day-to-day impact on men's lives of large structural shifts.


Gender identity is a social construction under constant renegotiation, contestation, and reinterpretation. The definition of "masculinity" varies between cultures, within cultures, and during the lifespan of an individual. Any study of masculinity, regardless of context, must contemplate its malleable and permuting nature (Kirnmel, 1998). Many studies have shown how the idea of gender as a social construct accounts both for the preexisting social constraints that shape gender identities as well as for the resources individuals have for transforming and re-appropriating those identities (Connell, 1995; Hearn & Collinson, 1994). Even though the study of masculinity is a relatively recent endeavor in Latin America, "constructivism" has been the dominant theoretical discourse for studies on masculinity (Fuller, 2001; Gutmann & Vigoya, 2005). As Gutmann and Viveros point out, the predominant lens for understanding "man-as-man" in Latin America has been critical feminism emphasizing gender oppression and unequal power relationships, at times neglecting study of how prevailing images of manhood(s) in Latin America may be oppressive for men themselves. "Only in the late 1980s did research begin in Latin America that described men as having gender and producing gender. Until then, men were identified with humans in general, and male privilege made the problem of men as such invisible" (Vigoya, 2001, p. 237).

The present study incorporates a generational lens through which to view and study the shifts in gender perceptions that have taken place in Uruguay over the last several decades. This exploratory tri-generational research presents the changes and continuities in gender role conceptions of Uruguayan men of three successive generations (grandfathers, fathers, and sons) from five families.1 The study offers no claim of representativeness of sample and cannot be generalized. Rather, it focuses on how a sample of men of different ages and generations have individually experienced radical changes in their immediate environments.

The utility of intergenerational studies lies in that it places its focus at C. Wright Mill's intersection of biography and history (Brannen & Nilsen, 2006). Mannheim has referred to differences in the relationships between generations in terms of the "tempo of change," and to intergenerational relations as a barometer of social change and transformation (Mannheim, 1993[1952], p. 384). In communities in which the pace of change is very slow, the break between generations is generally purely biological, and based on the identity of a numerical age. In communities that experience greater social change and profound transformation, the distinct historical consciousness of each generation is much more pronounced. There is always, however, a flow of culture ensuring transmission in both directions (with old generations usually preserving much of cultural heritage and new generations introducing new ideas and trends). While cross-sectional data and longitudinal studies have been used successfully to demonstrate continuity and ruptures in socialization processes across generations (see for example Bergtson, Furlong & Robert, 1974; Chen & Kaplan, 2001; Cunningham, 2001), this study makes the case for the need for more qualitative studies as might help uncover the subjectivity behind dynamic relations of different generations. …

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