Recasting Masculinities in the Age of Desire

Scott F. Kiesling

University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

WS130: Re-casting Language and Masculinities

In this paper I will reconsider a piece of data that I analyzed in an article that was originally analyzed in 1996 and was published in 2001 (Kiesling 2001). I wish to reconsider these data in light of a number of theoretical developments in language and gender, language and sexuality, and gender/masculinities studies more widely. I am also following the charge of the organizers of the workshop in considering how some of the ideas in Cameron and Kulick 2003 impact the way we look at language and masculinity.

Specifically, I want to show how we can break down and be more specific about the cultural conception of hegemonic masculinity (as discussed by Connell 1995) by subdividing it into a set of separate, interacting cultural discourses. These discourses set up the essentialized and naturalized oppositions characteristic of gender, and thus hegemonic masculinity. In the spirit of Connell’s original definition of hegemonic masculinity, I argue that these cultural discourses are variable across time and culture. I show how these cultural discourses are invoked, recreated and potentially challenged in interaction, and how conflicts among the discourses entice (masculine) speakers to make the linguistic choices they do. I will also discuss the particular meaning processes through which speakers connect to the cultural discourses and thus recreate or perform masculinity in discourse.

Another new development in the field is the discussion of desire as a theoretical construct by Cameron and Kulick (2003). I will attempt to widen the use of this concept (in a direction indicated by Cameron and Kulick). Following Whitehead (2002:205-221), I will suggest that another kind of desire that we should think about (in addition to sexual desire) is ontological desire – essentially the desire to have or emulate qualities of a particular identity to create an identity. This kind of desire helps us understand language and masculinities because it tells us more about the processes of identification and the motivations for them. Moreover, rather than seeing the cultural discourses of masculinity as “constraints” acting on men, we can understand them to be qualities that the men actively desire and attach themselves to. However, because these desires are shaped by other men and women in interaction, we can explain patterns of men’s linguistic use as both agentive and ideologically motivated. Finally, and very briefly, I will suggest how this view can be applied to variationist studies in addition to those using ethnographic and discourse analytic methods.


Cameron, Deborah and Don Kulick. 2003. Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kiesling, Scott F. 2001. ‘Now I Gotta Watch What I Say’: Shifting Constructions of Gender and Dominance in Discourse.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11,2: 250-273

Whitehead, Michael. 2002. Men and Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Re-casting language and masculinities
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 05