Central-European Masculinities

Central-European Masculinities in a Comparative Perspective

A project developed by the Institute of Literary Studies at the University of Silesia in Katowice (IL WNH UŚ), the Department of Czech and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University (ÚČLK FF UK), the Institute of Czech Literature at the Czech Academy of Sciences (ÚČL AV ČR), the Institute of Polish Culture at the Faculty of Polish Studies, University of Warsaw (IKP WP UW), the Institute of Slovak Literature at the Slovak Academy of Sciences (ÚSL SAV), the Center for Social Sciences – Sociology Institute (HUN-REN TK SZI), and the French Research Center in Humanities and Social Sciences, Prague (CEFRES, CNRS-MEAE), supported by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research through the PARCECO program.

Time and place: June 19th and 20th, 2024, at CEFRES, Na Florenci 3, Prague 1, and November 14th and 15th, 2024, at the University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland.
Language: French, English
Organizers: Wojciech Śmieja (IL WNH UŚ), Mateusz Chmurski (CEFRES/Sorbonne), Iwona Kurz (IKP WP UW), Richard Müller (ÚČL AV ČR), Josef Šebek (ÚČLK FF UK), Ivana Taranenková (ÚSL SAV)


Critical Studies on Men and Masculinities (CSMM, masculinity studies) as a subdiscipline of gender studies have been developing in the world for more than thirty years; for more than twenty years its field has been more and more boldly delimited: institutions (journals, scientific societies, regular conferences) and, not least, academic hierarchies have been more or less formalized. This is best confirmed by the existence of two journals (Men&Masculinities in the USA and NORMA. International Journal for Masculinity Studies in Europe). The research field of CSMM is interdisciplinary: they draw equally from the humanities and the social sciences (Kimmel: 2017). This close proximity is due to the very nature of the issues that are addressed within CSMM. For the deconstructive potential of the CSMM stems from the fact that they decentralize the privileged transparency of the doxa – ‘male dominance’ ceases to be self-evident, and the construction of masculinity and its relation to patriarchy loses its transparency and naturalness, with ‘masculinity’, ‘man’ and ‘patriarchy’ ceasing to be strictly symmetrical and ahistorical categories. This is why, just as feminism or queer studies used to do, CSMM may provoke reluctance, distrust, hostility of the Institution – they are provocative and subversive in nature, they are and should be controversial, but they constitute the closure of the broad emancipatory project of social sciences and humanities and, as such, should be undertaken and continued. It is important, however, that they do not become locked into a single formula.

It is important that locally produced knowledge dialogues with global research and refreshes its language in contact with it, while at the same time it is to be wished that the Central and Eastern European perspective is also more widely present in global contexts. Interestingly, in the first anthology of game studies and masculinities (Taylor, Voorhes: 2018) with Western mainstream productions leading the way among the examples, the area of Central and Eastern Europe remains virtually unexplored. The question of the entanglement of masculinities in the cultural imaginary of Central and Eastern European countries therefore seems a natural field for observing the dialogue between production aimed at the global user from the very beginning and patterns of masculinity produced in other, global centers of power.

We are convinced that the study of masculinity responds to a social need – in an age of ubiquitous authoritarianisms built around figures of ‘strong men’ (Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin), and at the same time a cultural appreciation of caring, inclusive, partnered masculinities, the social need to understand the phenomenon of ‘masculinity’ and the dynamics that shape it is felt. It also seems that the way of talking about masculinity proposed within CSMM can be an immunizing factor against the discourses of “hard”, “biological” masculinity that are common in cultural circulation, as well as the religious language that establishes masculinity as a transhistorical and transcultural phenomenon of metaphysical provenance. As such, CSMM should be positioned unequivocally on the side of engaged humanities.

Studies of literary modernity have repeatedly emphasized the ‘masculine’ character of the era (Bermann: 1982, Felski: 1995, Thomas: 1998). This character is usually associated with capitalism and the class domination of the bourgeoisie (Sussman: 1995). The modernization processes of late 19th century presuppose that ‘masculinization’ is a condition sine qua non for national revivals (anachronic social structures were often interpreted as a result of weak or inappropriate position of masculinity within given culture). The recovery of the structural possibility of building masculine hegemony at the national level in the post-1918 reborn states (Poland, Czechoslovakia, the ‘new’ Hungary, Yugoslavia etc.) was counterpointed by the emancipation of women, the emergence of homosexuality in the field of social visibility and neighboring ‘strong’ masculinist projects (the Nazi German State, the Workers’ Soviet State). It may be argued, then, that the modern concepts of masculinity in Central European countries had a specific and, so to speak, (semi)peripheral (Blagojević: 2014) genealogy. Due to their real or imagined civilizational backwardness, they are suffused with fear and uncertainty, especially in times of upheavals and transformations, which our part of the world has experienced many throughout the 20th century. It would therefore not be an exaggeration to say that there is no masculinity in peripheral modernity, only successive crises of masculinity resulting from the instability of social institutions and cultural instances producing ideologies of male hegemony or domination.

Hence, the theme of our conference is to recognize, how this specific tension between cultural concepts and state institutions has resonated in our national cultures, how it has created stories, initiated practices, and chiseled narratives of dominant fictions of masculinity (Silverman: 1992). The starting points for the proposed project are Teresa de Lauretis (1992) accurate observation that “cultural representations play a key role in the social construction – and deconstruction – of masculinity” and Todd W. Reeser’s opinion that: “Hegemonic masculinity is always in a motion. Always. It is never stable.” (Reeser: 2017)

Contemporary theories of masculinity allow us to shift the emphasis from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’ and reveal the complexity and processuality as well as an inherent ‘incompletness’ of masculinity/-ies.  It allows us to define an area of inquiry, which is to trace a sense of definitional uncertainty about what ‘masculinity’ is in modernity, what are its limitations, which cultural articulations of it are most/least desirable and why. Relating this observation to the historical position of the Mitteleuropa countries, we would like to trace literary and artistic struggles with the masculine form of modernity in the period of i) the development of the capitalist economy in the second half of the 19th century, ii) the interwar period, iii) the era of state socialism, iv) post-transformation (post)modernity.

Workshop & Conference:
The event will consist in an international workshop in Prague, June 19-20, devoted to the state-of-art in the field, methods, and directions of further research, preparing the floor for the international conference in Katowice on November 14-15, 2024.

Planned publication:

Literature (selection):

  • Masculinities and Literary Studies. Intersections and New Directions, ed. J.M. Armengol et al. New York – London 2017.
  • Berman, Marshall, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, New York 1982.
  • Blagojević, Marina, Rethinking Transnational Men: Beyond, Between and Within Nations, London 2013.
  • Corbin, Alain, Courtine, Jean-Jacques et Vigarello, Georges (dir.), Histoire de la virilité, vol. 1-3, Paris, Seuil, 2011.
  • Felski, Rita The Gender of Modernity. Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • Lauretis, de Teresa, Technologies of Gender. Essays on Theory, Film and Literary Studies, Bloomington 1992.
  • Reeser, Todd W., Masculinities in Theory, An Introduction, New York 2011.
  • Rivoal, Haude, La Fabrique des masculinités au travail, Paris, La Dispute, 2021.
  • Sussman, Herbert, Victorian Masculinities: Manhood and Masculine Poetics in Early Victorian Literature and Art , London 1995.
  • Taylor, Nicholas, Voorhoes Gerard, Masculinities at Play, London – New York, 2018.
  • Thomas, Calvin, Male Matters: Masculinity, Anxiety, and the Male Body on the Line, Chicago 1996.