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Masculinities in the Criminological Field: Control, Vulnerability and Risk-Taking

Edited by Ingrid Lander, Signe Ravn, and Nina Jon
Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2014

The Nordic legacy includes a wealth of acclaimed crime-themed writing, which is manifested in best-selling novels and television series, a history of parliamentary democracy and initiatives to foster social equality for men and women, and stellar work in criminology and academic life more broadly. Masculinities in the Criminological Field adds to this body of work, offering fresh outlooks on the playing out of gender and power, showcasing Nordic examples of masculinities and crime with clarity and complexity.

The editors’ introduction includes a theoretical backdrop that summarizes key themes in gendered analyses, drawing on the influential work of Judith Butler and other writers. The introduction builds on key concepts in the masculinities field, drawing on established theorists such as Connell, Messerschmidt and Kimmel. The editors complement this overview with specific reference to masculinities-themed criminological research in Nordic countries. There is an insightful discussion of longstanding projects in various Nordic countries which aim for equality of men and women.

The 13 chapters are placed in three general sections, starting with masculinities in institutional settings such as reformatories and prisons, then transitioning to “vulnerable masculinities”, and ending with a section on control, risk-taking and masculinities. The first section begins with Nina Jon’s incisive analysis of the concept of “cowboy masculinity” in the context of the Foldin protective school for Norwegian boys. The term “cowboy” can be taken as an insult, for example, “cowboy cops” who are overzealous, intimidating, even lawless, or as a compliment for rugged, independent manhood. Jon clearly sets out how cowboy masculinity mimicked independence and toughness portrayed in films, for example, and also how staff at Foldin worked to transform expressions of cowboy masculinity into a more mature, contained, responsible character for their charges. The editors’ Introduction and Jon’s chapter set the stage for the many strong and insightful critical gender analyses that follow.

The essays feature a wide range of topics and research approaches such as case studies, documentary analyses, interviews, and participant observation. We particularly appreciated the spotlight on research by Nordic academics, highlighting their publications in languages other than English. The topics and theoretical discussion are rich. To use a few illustrations, the editors draw on Anette Houge’s work on “sexualized war violence” in the former Yugoslavia to broaden the geographical scope of the book, to extend an earlier chapter on rape allegations, and to draw attention to the pervasiveness of sexual assaults and the shortfalls in prosecuting perpetrators (Ch. 9). She establishes how sexual violence perpetrated against men during times of war can emasculate the “enemy” and establish the masculinity of the perpetrator. Houge shifts the traditional female-centred narrative to an analysis of male-on-male sexual violence.

Honkatukia and Suurpää (Ch. 7) explore the concept of “armoured toughness”, showing how multiculturalism and everyday experiences of racism in Finland can be understood as part of masculine challenges and masculine resources. Balkmar and Joelsson (Ch. 10) move well beyond denouncing young men’s involvement in street racing in Sweden, offering a persuasive outlook of how this risk-taking has its positive side in building social capital and belonging, and also how access to legitimate car racing is thwarted through urban development or other barriers. Simonsen’s (Ch. 11) account of men’s “tilt control” while playing poker sets out the necessity of detachment, stoicism and coolness in this stylized form of battling other men. Harder and Ravn (Ch. 12) offer an appreciative, colourful look at young women’s partying and drug use in Danish club life, exploring themes of repression, expression, and playfulness along with grittier aspects of threats and injury tied to the drug economy.

We have some minor suggestions to strengthen the collection. The book could have a more cogent title and subtitle such as Masculinities and Crime: A Nordic Anthology. Discussion of women’s drug use could have included reference to Susan C. Boyd’s work on women, drug laws and policy. The editing is generally strong but there are occasional drops in translation and syntax that undermine the narrative. It would be helpful to have an identifier at the start of each chapter, detailing the country or countries of interest (e.g. Norway, Sweden), rather than having the reader sift through chapters to determine the locale. In all, this is a distinctive and important scholarly anthology which draws on criminology, gender studies, and critical theory to explore core concepts in men and masculinities studies.

BRIAN BURTCH and SARAH YERCICH
Simon Fraser University

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