- Men at Work: Labour, Masculinities, Development
The essays compiled by Cecile Jackson in Men at Work: Labour, Masculinities, Development emerge from an academic conference, “Working Lives, Men and Development,” convened in 1999 at the University of East Anglia. Reflecting research conducted in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, these workshop papers first reached a wider audience in a special issue of The European Journal of Development Research in December 2000. Presumably, the editor, Cecile Jackson, chose to publish this same group of articles in Men at Work. Divided into eleven chapters, this volume offers a revisionist view of “everyday labor” in developing countries, illuminating a long neglected angle of inquiry: gender relations “with a particular emphasis on working men’s lives” (2).
Prior scholarship on “everyday labor” debated the premise that market capitalism not only transformed the global economy but also intensified inequalities in the poorest regions of the world. Over the last two decades, however, this market-centric view has come under fire; out of the ashes, the state rose in theoretical prominence as the agent of social change in developing countries. Subsequent theorists realigned this top-down political perspective. They urged researchers to examine development on the microlevel, probing relationships of power from communities to families, where feminist critiques assessed the subordination of women by men. As Cecile Jackson observes in her opening chapter, the literature on development now focuses on “the significance of women’s work to household livelihoods,” re-evaluating assumptions “that breadwinner identities were necessarily male.” Men at Work seeks to accelerate this trend toward “a second generation of gender questions about the meaning of these identities to men (17).” To this end, editor Cecile Jackson and the other contributors provide vital insights.
Men at Work anchors the slippery concept of masculinity to studies of development in the domestic sphere. Jackson writes that scholars only recently addressed how constructions of gender affected men, and how both men and women remolded ideals of masculinity. Two chapters persuasively illustrate these dimensions: Javier Pineda’s “Partners in Women-Headed Households: Emerging Masculinities” and Penny Vera-Sanso’s “Masculinity, Male Domestic Authority and Female Participation in South India.” These essays show ways in which both husbands and wives contest meanings of masculinity in the context of development projects aimed at low-income households. [End Page 244]
A pervasive strand of thinking in Men at Work, inspired by Robert Connell’s pathbreaking Masculinities, distinguishes between expressions of masculinity by considering male motivations of heroism, hegemony, subversion, etc. As Elaine Unterhalter shows in “The Work of the Nation: Heroic Masculinity in South African Autobiographical Writing of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle,” different kinds of heroic masculinity can fuel the same dream of development. Ferocious bravery drove liberation fighters in South Africa to pursue revolution and then negotiated settlement; both outcomes sought moral value in the redistribution of resources from an affluent white minority to a poor black majority. Free to work for the South African government after the historic elections of 1994, leading male activists purged themselves of violent (protest and guerilla) masculinity and instead embraced new heroic roles as peacemaker, minister, or civil servant in a democratic government committed to progressive development.
Elaine Unterhalter’s engaging essay and case studies by Ann Whitehead and Norma Fuller demonstrate that disputes over development are not simply academic exercises. Developmental policy affects life circumstances of the world’s marginal populations. To illustrate this point, Whitehead’s chapter, “Continuities and Discontinuities in Political Constructions of the Working Man in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa,” dissects what she sees as a deep-seated bias of the World Bank that African men are “lazy.” This stereotype prompted World Bank officials to refrain from investing in agricultural projects in Zambia where men farmed smallholdings, despite the fact that “it is this kind of growth that will make a major contribution to poverty reduction” (40). Fuller’s essay, “Work and Masculinity Among Peruvian Men,” extends Whitehead findings in another direction. Fuller scrutinizes the neo-liberal policies in urban Peru that eliminated working...