Literary and Critical Theory Imperial Masculinity
Praseeda Gopinath
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0032


Masculinity, even within the frames of masculinity studies where it is contested, is difficult to define. For the purposes of this bibliography, masculinity is a set norms and practices that are culturally and historically specific. This broad framing already invokes a plurality of masculinities, even within the same culture, nation, and historical period. Masculinities necessarily intersect with race, class, sexuality, abilities, and disabilities. Where some masculinities are metonymic with national identity, others are deliberately excluded. Masculinities are made material through embodied practices; they are discursively produced, fragile, and aspirational. Hence, they are inherently unstable, shifting, and in process. Most masculinities accrue some form of power. This is especially true of hegemonic masculinities (see Masculinities by R. W. Connell in Masculinity Studies) or masculinities deemed culturally dominant, which are materially entrenched, even if they are never individually achievable. They circulate as an ideal of masculine practice synonymous with power. Imperial masculinity falls under the rubric of hegemonic masculinities; it is one iteration of hegemonic masculinity. Imperial masculinities are varied and operate metonymically within imperial-national power. Yet, like imperial-national power, imperial masculinities are labile and in constant need of shoring up. In and through contact with various forms of the Other, in the unfamiliar and unknown geographical terrain of the empire, imperial masculinities are both undone and consolidated. Imperial masculinities are configured differently in each empire and in each phase of empire. They are dialectically constructed; that is, they are an imperial social formation, produced in the interstices and overlaps of national and imperial cultures. For the sake of coherence and comprehensiveness, this bibliography addresses British imperial masculinities, especially during the height of imperial power, from 1800–1945, as produced in and spread through public schools and team sports, the military, literature, culture, and body politics. However, there are several works here that examine the forms of imperial masculinities in the 18th century before the Industrial Revolution accelerated and transformed the imperial enterprise as well as texts that examine the afterlives of these forms of masculinities in the wake of imperial disintegration.

General Overviews

To fully understand the terms and conceptual terrain of imperial masculinity, it is necessary to have a brief working knowledge of masculinity studies as well as Englishness and imperialism. The following two short bibliographies will function as an introduction to each.

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