Central-European Masculinities in a Comparative Perspective: International Symposium

A review by Shana De Sousa (Sorbonne Nouvelle University), intern at CEFRES

The international symposium Central-European Masculinities in a Comparative Perspective, held on June 19–20, 2024, at CEFRES in Prague, was a pivotal event in the field of Critical Studies on Men and Masculinities. Organised under the Central-European Masculinities research project, this symposium brought together leading academic institutions across Central Europe: the Institute of Literary Studies at the University of Silesia in Katowice, the Department of Czech and Comparative Literature at Charles University, the Institute of Czech Literature at the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw, the Institute of Slovak Literature at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, the Center for Social Sciences – Sociology Institute, and the French Research Center in Humanities and Social Sciences (CEFRES, CNRS-MEAE). The event was supported by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research through the PARCECO program. The symposium explored the construction and deconstruction of masculinities within historical and contemporary contexts in Central Europe. Interdisciplinary discussions emphasized the dynamic and contextual nature of masculinity, integrating local perspectives into the global academic discourse. Sessions covered a wide range of themes, from literary modernity to queer masculinities under state socialism, fostering a comprehensive dialogue among scholars. This review provides insights into the diverse presentations and their contributions to the understanding of masculinities in Central Europe.

In the first panel of the symposium, Modernity & Masculinity (1), Marcin Filipowicz, Ivana Taranenková and Michal Pitoňák presented insightful perspectives on the evolution of masculinities in Central and Eastern Europe. Marcin Filipowicz’s (Department of Western and Southern Slavonic Studies, University of Warsaw, ISZiP WP UW, University of Hradec Kralove, KČJL UHK) presentation at the symposium explored 19th-century Czech masculinities, highlighting the interplay between gender, nationalism, and hegemony. He traced the evolution of Czech masculinity within the Habsburg Empire, emphasizing how nationalist movements shaped masculine ideals, while arguing against a simplistic Austrian-German dichotomy, presenting Czech masculinity as both resistant and participatory in response to Austrian hegemony. Ivana Taranenková’s (Institute of Slovak Literature, Slovak Academy of Sciences, ÚSL SAV) presentation focused on Slovak literature’s portrayal of masculinity from the 19th century to the present. She analysed literary representations of father-son relationships and the portrayal of anti-heroes in post-communist narratives. Michal Pitoňák’s (National Institute of Mental Health, NÚDZ) presentation examined LGBT+ activism in Central and Eastern Europe, contextualizing it within the region’s socio-political history from the 1930s to contemporary Pride movements. Pitoňák analysed the impact of morality politics on LGBT+ rights, exploring societal attitudes and policy developments across different countries. His analysis of ontological insecurity underscored the complex intersections of masculinity, politics, and activism in the region.

In the second panel, Modernity & Masculinity (2), Romain Courapied, Judit Acsády, and Zsolt Mészárosoffered compelling insights into the evolving representations of masculinity in late 19th and early 20th-century (Central) Europe. Romain Courapied’s (ISFEC BRETAGNE / Université Rennes II – Haute-Bretagne) exploration of late 19th-century decadent literature delved into themes of instability and societal anxieties, criticising essentialist perspectives on masculinity and advocating for a constructivist approach. His Judit Acsády (Institute of sociology, Hungarian Research Network, HUN REN TK) and Zsolt Mészáros (Petőfi Museum of Literature, PIM) shifted the focus to Hungary, examining the intersections of masculinity, feminism and societal modernization at the turn of the 20thcentury. They highlighted the role of feminist movements in reshaping gender relations and promoting women’s social emancipation, emphasizing the active participation of men in advocating for women’s rights through their exploration of Ede Harkányi’s writings. Aleksandra Dębińska’s (Department of Polish Literature, University of Silesia, IL WH UŚ) presentation on war invalids in the Second Polish Republic provided a critical examination of the marginalized status of veterans who suffered war injuries, highlighting the dehumanizing impact of war on masculine identities and critiqued sentimental narratives that obscured the realities of war-induced disabilities. Her research underscored the need for broader scholarly attention to the experiences of war invalids in Polish literature, challenging prevailing notions of heroic masculinity.

In the third panel, Under State Socialism (1), Peter Hallama and Iwona Kurz provided insightful perspectives on masculinity within socialist contexts, examining diverse facets from everyday practices to military service. Peter Hallama’s (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, SIRICE) (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, SIRICE) presentation critically reassessed masculinity under state socialism, challenging prevailing scholarly narratives by advocating for a more nuanced understanding. He highlighted the diversity of socialist masculinities beyond state-sanctioned ideals, exploring how these were negotiated and contested in everyday life, based on examples such as debates on fatherhood and homosexual identities under state socialism. Iwona Kurz’s (Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw) analysis focused on the visual discourse surrounding military service in Czechoslovakia and Poland, framing the army as a total institution within totalitarian regimes. She examined how images and narratives portrayed military life, revealing its dual role in shaping societal perceptions and individual experiences. Kurz’s interdisciplinary approach illuminated the emotional and social dimensions of military service, arguing that it was pivotal in shaping masculine identities and citizenship ideals.

In the fourth panel, Under State Socialism (2), Jan Matonoha and Julija Ovsec offered nuanced perspectives on masculinity amidst political repression and societal constraints. Jan Matonoha (Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences, ÚČL AVČR) critically examined Czech independent fiction of the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on dissident writers’ adoption of heroic, macho identities in response to state oppression. He revealed deeper vulnerabilities beneath their bravado, integrating insights from masculinity studies to complicate traditional heroic narratives and critique sexist tropes in works by Kundera or Jan Křesadlo (Gravelarks). Julija Ovsec (Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences, ÚČL AVČR) explored lavender marriages in Slovenian literature through Mira Mihelic’s novel April, portraying these unions as concealing homosexuality under heteronormative ideals. Contextualizing Slovenia’s early acceptance of same-sex unions against pre-WWII criminalization, Ovsec critiqued societal norms and gender expectations through Mihelic’s avant-garde style.

In the fifth panel, Queer Masculinities (1), Antoine Idier and Zdeněk Sloboda provided insightful perspectives on the evolution of homosexuality, identities, and masculinities, as well as the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ athletes in sports. Antoine Idier (Sciences Po Saint Germain en Laye) offered a nuanced historical analysis of homosexuality and masculinities, critiquing the modern categorizations of lesbian women and homosexual men that emerged in the late 19th century. Zdeněk Sloboda (Department of Media and Cultural Studies and Journalism, Palacký University Olomouc, KMKSZ UPOL) examined the complex dynamics of masculinity in sports and the experiences of LGBTQ+ athletes. He contextualized sports as a domain reinforcing heteronormative, masculinist ideologies, particularly in male-dominated team sports like football and basketball.

In the sixth panel, Queer Masculinities (1), Anna Dżabagina and Darko Ilin offered insightful perspectives on masculine identities among lesbians in Central and Eastern Europe, and the portrayal of queer masculinities in the literary works of Pavle Zidar under state-socialism. Anna Dżabagina (French Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, CEFRES / Charles University) explored the historical evolution of masculine expressions among lesbians in the region. She traced the emergence of modern lesbian identities, highlighting early instances of gender-bending and cross-dressing as strategies for living intimate relationships covertly in pioneering figures like Maria Dulębianka and Maria Rodziewiczówna. Darko Ilin (Research Center for Humanities, University of Nova Gorica, RCH UNG) delved into Pavle Zidar’s literary portrayal of queer masculinities within state-socialist Slovenia. He analysed Zidar’s literary corpus, emphasizing how masculinity was constructed and contested under socialist regimes through the example of works like The Novel about Hanibal

In the seventh panel, Contemporary Stakes, Libuše Heczková and Stefan Šegi offered nuanced perspectives on masculinity within philosophical and cultural contexts, examining intersections between private and public spheres, and the roles of archetypes in Czech cultural identity, respectively. Libuše Heczková (Department of Czech and Comparative Literature, Charles University, ÚČLK FF UK) explored masculinity through the lens of Jan Patočka’s philosophical insights and Wim Wenders’ film Perfect Days. She began by analysing Levinas’ concept of la caresse (fr. ‘the caress’), examining its implications for gender roles and relationships in historical and contemporary contexts. Heczková contrasted perspectives on public and private realms, highlighting Patočka’s critique of societal power dynamics and victimhood. Her analysis of Wender’s film underscored its critique of traditional gender norms, reflecting contemporary discourses on masculinity and identity. Stefan Segi (Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences, ÚČL AVČR) delved into Czech cultural archetypes: warriors, sages and hipsters, to explore masculinity’s evolution amidst societal and ideological shifts. He traced these archetypes’ roots to medieval constructs of national identity, analysing their portrayal in contemporary contexts such as popular culture and literature.

Filip Mazurkiewicz and Wojciech Śmieja (University of Silesia in Katowice) presented their comprehensive research on forms on masculinity in Polish literature and culture form from 2015 to 2019. Collaborating with seven academics, their study employs a historical approach to unravel the evolution and construction of masculinity in Poland. They situate hegemonic masculinity within the unique socio-political context of 19th-century Poland, highlighting the distinctive national expression in literature shaped by noble democracy and a political landscape open to free citizens. They argued that the representation of dislocated masculinity often manifested through heroic archetypes symbolizing loss and resistance, and critiqued traditional binary oppositions between masculinity and femininity as insufficient to capture nuanced realities and explore instances where men are portrayed as effeminate. Central to their research was the deconstruction and reconstruction of masculinity across different historical epochs, highlighting shifts in masculine prototypes. Literary analysis of Janusz Rudnicki’s short story Śmierć czeskiego psa and its depiction of hypermasculine heroes underscored these themes. Their interdisciplinary approach revealed how dominant fictional narratives of masculinity influence perceptions and ideals of power and identity in Polish society.


Eventually, the international symposium on masculinities in Central Europe concluded with a synthesis of insights and proposed future research directions. Researchers emphasized the necessity of specific methodologies and theoretical frameworks, integrating local academic traditions predating global influences. Discussions questioned the existence of a distinct Central European approach to masculinity studies, highlighting the importance of regional collaboration and sharing resources. Proposals included compiling bibliographies, exploring the genealogy of feminist thought in Central and Eastern Europe, and examining masculinist movements and Jewish masculinities. Future research possibilities suggested thematic clusters for focused group discussions on topics like fictional portrayals of masculinity and historical contexts.

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
Claire Madl (27 juin 2024). Central-European Masculinities in a Comparative Perspective: International Symposium. Forum Recherche du CEFRES. Consulté le 20 juillet 2024 à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/11wbd