Fire dancers in Southern Thailand, almost exclusively young, intra-/international migrant men from rural Thailand and Myanmar, are paid to entertain tourists at nightly beach parties. An unacknowledged economy fueled largely by tips, fire dancing is fast becoming an iconic symbol of Thailand’s young backpacker tourism sector but is not considered an acceptable form of labor or a valued artistic practice, because tourist beach spaces are perceived as sites of immorality, excessive drinking, and sexuality. Male fire dancers, then, come to be known as young social deviants who do not belong in the national imaginary and thus must maneuver around a complex politics of belonging with vast differences in social and economic power. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, this article examines how belonging is negotiated among Burmese fire dancers working in Thailand, and how experiences of belonging are shaped by spatialized gendered moralities and masculinities that operate within the fire dancing scene.
Michael R. M. Ward and Thomas Thurnell-Read
This special issue of Boyhood Studies considers how a group of international scholars have engaged with the concepts of boyhood and belonging as a complex personal and powerful process. In different ways, the authors highlight how belonging is an ongoing negotiation within one’s surroundings. The international research presented here compels us to conceptualize belonging and boyhood as something that is not only infused with individuals and collective histories, but also interwoven within different conceptions of place and space. These places and spaces are experienced in multiple ways within different social contexts. We contend that this special issue is positioned at an important time in studies of boys and young men. As boys and young men experience their transition into adulthood with increased precarity, it is time we take theories of boyhood and belonging seriously. These theories can open up new spaces and provide critical insights into young lives.
A Portrait of Young Men's Sense of Belonging to the Street in Maputo, Mozambique
young men navigate the spaces of urban life in the context of economic and social exclusion is the focus of this article. It is centered on the experiences of a group of young men who spent their days in a marketplace in Maputo, the capital city of
space of “perennial rebirth,” where savage meets civilized to form the “dominating American character” (1894: 2). Assessing this mythic rebirth, Richard Hofstadter borrows D.H. Lawrence’s description of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel series The
Aspiration, Belonging, and Responsible Masculinities in the Lives of White, Working-Class Boys in a Youth Inclusion Program at the YMCA
Working with a cohort of boys aged 14–18 and classed as not in employment, education, or training (NEET) at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in the UK city of Brighton and Hove, this article follows their progress as they engage with instructors and other pupils at the YMCA, using qualitative modes of inquiry to explore their reactions, feelings, and attitudes. As I demonstrate, their aspirations and sense of emergent manhood is often predicated on new relationships generated in the YMCA spaces rooted in a culture of caring and responsible masculinity founded on implicit Christian values. Through interviews with young men and the people around them, I probe some of the tensions in this process, showing how persistent attachments to places and spaces beyond the YMCA can create feelings of ambivalence and, in some cases, a sense of alienation and marginality even as they begin to feel that they belong.
Representations of (Im)mobile Young Masculinities and Place in the Swedish Countryside
Critical boyhood scholars have consistently problematized the moral panic directed at boys’ educational achievements, for instance, by illustrating how the issue is intersected by power hierarchies such class and race, but have not been as attentive to the spatialized dimensions of this discourse. In the Swedish debate, boys in (post)industrial towns in rural regions—affected by decades of deindustrialization—are often pointed out as at risk of becoming unemployed societal liabilities. Documenting the lives, aspirations, and future trajectories of young and rural working-class boys, the television series The School Boys (Skolpojkarna) analyzed in this article reproduces this trope and connects anxieties regarding “redundant” masculinities with rural spaces. Using feminist and post-structural approaches to gender and space, I show how this media production, supplied for educational purposes, mediates normative understandings of young rural masculinity.
Narratives of Resilient Latino Male Youth
Adrian H. Huerta
Latino boys and young men often carry the debt of violence into different spaces. This invisible trauma manifests into disruptive behaviors in schools. It is well documented that violence in urban communities and schools has received significant attention from researchers, but little attention has been paid to Latino male youth as individuals and the various forms of violence they have experienced, and how that impacts educational persistence. This qualitative study focuses on 26 Latino male middle and high school students who are attending two continuation schools to understand the types of violence they have experienced and their educational aspirations after high school.
Michael Atkinson and Michael Kehler
There has been a dramatic rise in public, and particularly the media, attention directed at concerns regarding childhood obesity, and body shape/contents/images more broadly. Yet amidst the torrential call for increased attention on so-called “body epidemics” amongst youth in Canada and elsewhere, links between youth masculinities and bodily health (or simply, appearance) are largely unquestioned. Whilst there is a well-established literature on the relationship between, for example, body image and marginalized femininities, qualitative studies regarding boys and their body images (and how they are influenced within school settings) remain few and far between. In this paper, we offer insight into the dangerous and unsettled spaces of high school locker-rooms and other “gym zones” as contexts in which particular boys face ritual (and indeed, systematic) bullying and humiliation because their bodies (and their male selves) simply do not “measure up.” We draw on education, masculinities, health, and the sociology of bodies literature to examine how masculinity is policed by boys within gym settings as part of formal/informal institutional regimes of biopedagogy. Here, Foucault’s (1967) notion of heterotopia is drawn heavily upon in order to contextualize physical education class as a negotiated and resisted liminal zone for young boys on the fringes of accepted masculinities in school spaces.
There is a strong relationship between the cultural practices of competitive, organized youth sport and compulsory physical education. The hyper-masculine, violent, and homophobic culture traditionally found within boys segregated sporting spaces is mirrored when youth are compelled to participate in physical education. However, cultural homophobia is on rapid decline in Western countries. Recent research shows high school and university sport to be an increasingly inclusive environment for openly gay male youth. I explore this cultural shift among high school (sixth form) physical education students in England. Using three months of ethnography, and conducting 17 in-depth interviews with 16-18 year old ostensibly heterosexual boys, I show an absence of homophobia and homophobic discourse, the abatement of violence, the absence of a jock-ocratic school culture, and the emotional support of male friends. Thus, I show that while the structure of sport education has remained the same, the hyper-masculine culture surrounding it has changed.
Trans Sailors and Cultures of Resistance
Looking to queer and trans cultural texts from DIY zines to classic queer literature to contemporary experimental cinema, this article considers how sailors represent boyhood as a trangressive embodiment that reworks masculinities and processes of representation. By locating the youthful transmasculine body as a representational norm, queer/trans films like Maggots and Men (2009) create spaces through which sailors reshape meanings assigned to maleness, boys, and men. A linked analysis of Micah Bazant’s self-published Timtum (1999) and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956) raises further questions about the signs and codes of sailors and postadolescent boyhood in opening up new embodiments for gender non-conforming adults. Investigating how trans sailors become icons of youthful nostalgia and queer masculinities, this paper also questions correlations between sailors and Whiteness, boyhood, colonialism, migration and race.