‘It feels like you’re in Funderland’: an ethnographic study of the performance of masculinities in youth cafés
University College Cork
Using an ethnographic approach, this thesis explores how youth cafés act as objects and agents in the performance of young masculinities. Within the last ten years, youth cafés have emerged in the Irish context as a relatively new ‘model of intervention’ in working with young people. Youth cafés can generally be described as ‘dedicated’ meeting spaces were young people can relax and hang out, constituting a form of ‘open access’ provision, meaning that young people may access them regardless of their background. Within the UK and Ireland particularly, there has been a general deficit of research in relation to open access youth provision such as youth cafés and youth clubs and even less research employing an ethnographic approach. Furthermore, there has also been a dearth of research on the gendered dynamics of ‘open access’ youth settings. Ethnographic research on the performance of young masculinities is also lacking in the Irish context. By deploying an ethnographic approach involving participant observations over the course of six months in the Fusion and Retro youth cafés in the south of Ireland, this research explores a type of space not previously explored in relation to the performance of young masculinities. The thesis further diversifies masculinities theorising by deploying a psychoanalytic expansion of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective that is informed by broader masculinities theorising. The thesis shows how Goffman’s work coupled with the ethnographic methodology is useful for understanding and capturing both the complex ways through which masculinities come into being through socially constructed performances and for elaborating on how social establishments themselves are mutually constitutive of and constituted by these performances. The thesis complicates studies which argue that open access provision such as youth cafés afford young people the opportunity ‘just to be’. This implies that the masculine self is a given and possessed. Instead, the thesis argues that youth cafés constitute front stages for the performances of masculinities where much work is done by young men to ‘be’ and maintain this masculine self through ‘impression management’. The thesis shows that despite the simple arrangement and purpose of youth cafés as spaces for ‘hanging out’, they are both spaces which are not neutral and where quite a lot is going on. Through face to face interaction in the spaces, gendered inequalities are reproduced thus, youth cafés constitute both ‘micro-political’ spaces. This is exemplified in the way in which some young people privately contest the legitimacy of performances and how café workers act to explicitly and implicitly direct young men to ‘be’ or enact more egalitarian and considerate modes of being. The findings indicate that in youth café spaces the (gendered) self is built up, defended and open to question and change.
Masculinities , Young people , Youth cafes , Gender
Bolton, R. 2018. ‘It feels like you’re in Funderland’: an ethnographic study of the performance of masculinities in youth cafés. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.