Peer culture, masculinities and schooling

Kehily, Mary (2009). Peer culture, masculinities and schooling. In: Budde, J. and Mammes, I. eds. Jurgenforschung Empirisch Zwischen Schule, Mannlichem Habitus und Peerkultur [Empirical Research on Boys – Between School, Male Habitus and Peer Culture]. Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag, pp. 163–173.



This paper reflects upon the position of young men in school. Largely based on empirical, school-based studies in the UK, the paper explores the contours of young masculinities as they manifest themselves in peer group arrangements within educational environments. Studies of youthful masculinity suggest that young men engage in hierarchically organised peer group cultures in which the demonstration of heterosexual masculinity is both a requirement and a resource. The paper document the ways in which humour, competitive game-playing and homophobia remain key features of heterosexual hierarchies, constantly drawn upon by young men to maintain or enhance their status within the peer group. The pumped up displays of heterosexual masculinity demonstrate the fragile dominance of masculinity as a performance that needs to be constantly invoked and re-established in routine social encounters. The paper argues that competitive and conservative versions of masculinity hold sway in school because they exist as important identity markers in the face of potentially emasculating experiences. Further, the paper considers the recent construction of masculinity as 'in crisis' and draws attention to the limitations of viewing the categories of 'young men' and 'masculinity' as collapsible, that can be characterised by moments of dispossession and 'failure'. The final part of the paper discusses the way in which peer group masculinities appear out-of-step with processes of social change and developments in popular cultures and suggests that psycho-social perspectives may help to understand and theorise the seemingly retrogressive style of contemporary 'lad' culture.

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