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Fathers and Sons; Masculinity, Intergenerational Shifts and Routes of Becoming

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This Talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Lent term Seminar Series: Gender in Africa

This paper explores whether the notion of alterity will provide useful insights into reconfigurations of gender. The focus on identity in scholarship overshadows the simultaneous and unavoidable process of alterity construction, of constructing oneself as different. Alterity means a relation of being different from something or someone, while identity means a relation of sameness or similarity. My argument is that the notion of alterity is equally useful as is the concept of identity in understanding the processes and practices of gender. In debates about child development and masculinity, for example, the notion of identity often implies intergenerational transmission of masculine qualities between fathers and sons. Instead, I am interested in the process of changes in ideas and practices of masculinity from an intergenerational perspective. In my research on the pursuit of social mobility in Ghana, many men, aged from 21 to 98, told me that they desired “to be different than my father”. Masculinity was typically the focus of this aspiration; to be a different man was explained in terms of husbandhood and fatherhood. In other words, gender and sex(uality) are the registers enabling them to work out a different masculinity. This desire for difference in my interlocutors’ narratives is best explained through the cipher of alterity rather than only identity. The paper is based on men’s life stories from different generations.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Lent Seminar Series series.

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