My first post of 2016 is a sad one, it’s my last day in Vancouver. The sociologist on tour is going home, back to Wales. But it’s not over just yet! I am taking a detour on my way home to check out one of my idols, Bruce Springsteen play in two concert in the United States. The first in Pittsburgh on Saturday 16th and the second in Chicago on Tuesday 19th. I aim to write two field reports from these events, as Bruce concerts are always full sociological interest. Bruce has played an important part in my life and I closed the acknowledgements section of my book with some lyrics from one of his most powerful songs, The River.
The River for me captured many of the things I tried to say in my book about how men are often brought up to do certain jobs in certain communities, but when these jobs change due to circumstance beyond an individual’s control [“lately there ain’t been much work, on account of the economy”] ordinal lives can unravel and futures become uncertain. The song is a dark reminder of love and loss, not just the loss of one’s own expectations of life yet to be lived, but one’s youth. The song was written about Bruce’s own sister in the early 1980s and ironically, given the material covered in the song, the couple featured in the lyrics, are actually still together. The haunting line in the final part of the song “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true. Or is it something worse?” always sends shivers down my spine. But before I get to see Bruce, I have to get through leaving this wonderful city and beautiful country.
It’s been 5 months exactly since I landed here in August and that time has gone by in a blur. I’ve gotten used to the different English phrases used here and the somewhat slower pace of life and how waiting to be seated, order, and pay in almost any bar, cafe or restaurant is the norm. The politeness of most people in the city is almost infectious, although most of the Vancouverites I’ve spoke to about this tend to disagree with me, but I suspect most of them have never spent any length of time in London. I have also noticed that due to a different drinking culture, I drank less this Christmas and New Year than I have for about 17 years. But of course, as I have written about in this blog previously, alongside the glorious mountains, lakes and beaches with surround this city, there is also more worrying aspects to life here. For me the huge problem with homelessness, or those extremely vulnerable in the Downtown Eastside always reminds me that not everybody is experiencing this city the same. Every time I pick up the free paper on the bus or sky-train, there are also many articles about how little affordable housing is in the city and the pressures this impacts on people trying to get onto the housing market which impacts disproportionately on those aged under 30. The atrocities still committed towards First Nations [Aboriginal] people and the large levels of poverty in their communities, still also shocks me.
Apart from the city life, I will also be sad to leave my friends in the city and colleagues that I have made at Simon Fraser University [SFU]. The Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies department has been a great place to work and conduct research. I’ve been made to think many times about gender identity and issues surrounding sexuality and equality from those working around me. One of the strengths of the department is that there are so many different disciplines represented by those who work here, social science, performance studies, trans studies, critical queer poetry, history, political science, food studies, and communication studies to name just a few. I’ve felt welcomed and valued, something which in the past I have struggled with. Furthermore, I’ve felt inspired by great feminist colleagues and that I have found a home for my work, and did not have to justify why I was undertaking research into men and masculinities. Which brings me to the research I conducted here and which filled up most of my time.
I conduced face to face interviews with 13 young men at SFU who were the first in their family to attend university. We discussed their experience of higher education and what this meant in terms of masculinity in their home communities. Six of these participants then joined me for a focus group which discussed issues of masculinity further. I found most were very articulate about gender [the sample was drawn from across different courses at the university] and ideas around masculinity, more so than in my interviews with young men of the same age [19-32] in the UK. Whilst the data analysis is still ongoing, I do want to share some of my initial findings as I think they are important.
1) I have been surprised by how aware these young men were about the saturated graduate labour market and were under no illusion that a degree alone would be enough to find meaningful employment. Many young people I interview in the UK about these issues seemed to be unaware about it.
2) Another important emerging finding seems to be that for working-class men, studying at an institution of higher education means performing their masculinity in a different way to their home communities and often having to justify their decisions to undertake the course they study to their fathers and other male members of their family. Place [like in my book] impacted on who they could be and who they could become in their home communities, and university offered an alternative.
3) In the UK literature, on many university campuses, a culture of hyper masculinity seems to operate, at SFU this did not seem to be the case and across the whole sample, the young men struggled with this concept. It is often termed ‘ladism’, but I don’t wish to use this term, as I find it unhelpful for tackling these issues, and in particular pathologises certain practices and behaviours which link back to working-class men, without acknowledging the irony of it being conducted by white middle-class young men.
The analysis is still ongoing, and I will continue to work on it and turn it into publications on my return to the UK, so things might change, but for now, the study has been really interesting and I thank all those who took part.
That’s about it from me in Canada, but the sociologist on tour will return with two reports on Bruce Springsteen in the next few days, but after this who knows! I will try and give an update on this blog each month, as I really enjoyed writing it, and there always feels so much more to say about life, but until next time, I’ll see you further on up the road!