Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Masculinity and Confinement: German-Speaking Refugees in Canadian Internment Camps (1940-1943)

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Masculinity and Confinement: German-Speaking Refugees in Canadian Internment Camps (1940-1943)

Article excerpt

The forced migration of German-speaking refugees fleeing Nazism brought to Canada a group of "accidental" immigrants - the "Camp Boys." The group consisted of German and Austrian nationals, Jewish and non-Jewish, who had previously migrated to the United Kingdom. In 1940, the British government decided to register all "enemy aliens" and to intern some of them. A few weeks later, approximately 2,000 male internees (aged from 16-65 years) were sent overseas to Canadian internment camps. They spent several months in a confined, all-male, but sociologically extremely diverse, environment. The internment camps thus became a vividly remembered matrix of masculinity, especially for the younger "Boys." From the Camp Boys' retrospective self-narratives, it appears that their self-representation and self-construction as "men" was deeply affected by the feelings of confinement, powerlessness, and impotence they experienced in the camps. By looking at the way power circulated in the camps, and the way hierarchies were constructed (intersecting class, religion, and sexuality), the author addresses and reframes the notion of subordinated vs. "hegemonic masculinity" (R.W. Connell). By looking at the retrospective self-narratives produced by these men, he also addresses the narrative and performative construction of masculine identities.

Keywords: MASCULINITY, GERMAN-SPEAKING, REFUGEES, INTERNMENT CAMPS, WWII

The present paper stems from a research project conducted between 1999 and 2006 in Canada and Germany. The project focused on the long-term acculturation of German-speaking1 refugees in Canada after Hitler's "rise to power" (Machtübernahme) in January 1933. The sources used were mainly self-narratives, i.e. stories that people use to construct and reconstruct meaning out of the events of their lives: memoirs, autobiographies, correspondences, as well as thirty oral history interviews (Farges, 2008). The main focus of the present paper is to study the constructions of masculinity within the Canadian internment camps where Germanspeaking refugees were interned between 1940 and 1943.

Research in the field of women's migrations has been intensely pursued in the last ten years (e.g., Gabaccia & Iacovetta, 2002), offering important new insights on gendered aspects of migration, identity issues, as well as transnational lives. It has also brought to the fore important methodological issues, such as the choice of self-narratives as primary sources. In my view, it is now time to shed new light on the migrations of men with regard to the theoretical findings of women's migration studies. A history of detention in Canada exists, particularly concerning the various Canadian internment practices during the World Wars (Auger, 2005; Draper, 1983; Iacovetta, Perm & Principe, 2000,). However, despite elaborate research done in the past twenty years on shifting gender boundaries on the "home front," and despite insightful work published on camaraderie in a military context, the question of the gendered aspects of all-male internment and the question of the reshaping of masculinity in detention have received little attention so far.2

In addition, over the past thirty years, a first generation of men's studies has offered insights into the construction and representations of masculinities. One important contribution in this field is R.W. Connell's definition of (and fieldwork on) "hegemonic masculinities" (Connell, 1995), referring to dynamic forms of the negotiating of masculine power in given societal frames. First understood as men's practices guaranteeing their domination over women, the concept of hegemonic masculinity now also encompasses men's practices ensuring domination over alternative or subordinate forms of masculinity. According to Judith Halberstam, hegemonic masculinity "depends absolutely on the subordination of alternative masculinities" (1998, p. 1). Socially and historically constructed, masculinity is contingent and fluid, because multiple discourses intersect in any man's life. …

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