Masculinity has become the subject of considerable critical attention in recent decades, generating diverse critiques of men's personal conduct, their sexual politics, and identities. A common conclusion of such critiques is that masculinity is in crisis. Many critics argue that this crisis is manifest in both the broader structure of the male gender order, and within the 'lived experience' of many 'ordinary men' The first objective of this dissertation is to elucidate the "nature' and effects of this crisis in male identities. Based upon this analysis, the dissertation's second objective is to establish principles upon which practical strategies may be devised, not only to ameliorate the crisis in masculinity, but also to transform the male gender order. The dissertation pursues these goals in two ways. It proposes a methodology drawn from the writings of the French thinker, Michel Foucault and applies it in the establishment of a genealogy of masculinity. The dissertation then uses the results of this analysis, together with ideas drawn from Foucault's later writings, to suggest the basis for a new politics of masculinity.
In the first part of the project, a specific interpretation of Foucault's methodology is applied to a select review of existing critiques of men and masculinity, encompassing a range of secondary sources, theoretical interrogations and empirical assessments. As a result of this genealogical inquiry, the dissertation identifies a range of 'crisis tendencies' within the lived experience of masculinity, which are manifest in a series of personal costs, limits and interdictions for men. The dissertation finds that the crisis in masculinity is in part the product of the faltering legitimacy of patriarchal power upon which masculine identities are socially and politically constructed. It is argued further that the crisis also arises from the attempts of many men to conform to a more traditional or patriarchal masculinity, despite the growing illegitimacy of such a model of personal identity. The dissertation therefore contends that profound change is needed within both the culture and the experience of male identities such that the crisis in masculinity might be overcome.
The question of how this practical project might be achieved is the subject of the second part of the project. Here, the dissertation offers a series of practical strategies for rejecting and resisting hegemonic masculinity. Modelled on Foucault's "ethics of the self, the dissertation indicates how masculinity may be destabilised and transformed through an individual ethical practice of resistance and renewal. A central argument is that Foucault's work offers crucial insights into the problem of masculinity. Not only does this work afford new ways of understanding the contemporary crisis in male identities, it also indicates possible strategies for transforming the male gender order in the staging of a 'politics of changing men'