African Studies African Masculinities
Ndubueze L. Mbah
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0230


Operating within dynamic and fluid systems of gender as well as gender blindness, in which anatomical sex (body) neither consistently aligned with social notions of gender nor automatically defined hierarchical relations between male and female bodies, African individuals have nonetheless generated norms, values, traits, and stylistic performances expressing socially cognizant models of masculinity. In embodying or performing certain forms of masculinity, individual men and women invested social, political, economic, religious, and cultural practices, roles, and spaces with differential power and meaning. Over the years, scholarship on African masculinities has come to recognize the need to detach masculinity from biological sex and study it as a nexus of indeterminate power politics, intersecting with the relational categories of age/seniority, youth/childhood, femininity, female power and authority, ethnicity and race, sexuality, and queerness. This has meant distinguishing masculinity from manhood, notions about men’s physiological capacities, and, in particular, male adulthood. Yet there remains the recognition that African gender scholarship must no longer treat men in essentialist terms, must no longer assume the timelessness of patriarchy and the universality of patriarchal dividend, and must interrogate men’s ideas of intimacy and domesticity as much as their public lives. Across various African societies and times, there have been many and competing constructions of masculinities, coexisting in relations of hegemony, complementarity, subordination, and subversion and mediated by the subjectivities and spatial-temporal positionalities of diverse African and non-African individuals—men and women, as well as children, who have brought their own agendas to bear on the political utility of particular models of masculinity. Using multidisciplinary methodologies, the field of African masculinity studies seeks to understand gendered sociopolitical differentiation, historicize the constitution and contestation of patriarchy and heteronormativity, and demonstrate how competing gender norms came to define the modern identities of African peoples. There has been an emphasis on processes of African social identity formation, including kinship and lineage constitution, ethnic citizenship politics, state formation, slavery, colonialism, nationalism and mass movements, urbanization, religious conversion, labor and migration, sports and leisure, and education and socialization.

General Overviews

The edited volumes identified in this section have been critical to shaping the evolution of African gender studies as well as the scholarship on African masculinities. Collectively, they constitute a starting point for anybody interested in the development of the African masculinities field as well as how African studies has reshaped global scholarship on masculinities. Ammann and Staudacher 2021 focuses on positive African masculinities as an alternative to the violent masculinities emphasized in Morrell 2001. Cole, et al. 2007 and Lindsay and Miescher 2003 emphasize intersectionality and multiplicity of identities in conceptions of modern African masculinities. Morgan and Wieringa 2007 evaluate how hegemonic masculinity defines and reflects articulations of female same-sex sexuality, while Uchendu 2008 draws our attention to, among other things, how hegemonic masculinity shapes male same-sex sexuality. Ouzgane 2011 and Cornwall 2005 emphasize the limitations of Western theories in understanding African masculinities. These volumes illuminate the diversity of sources, theories, and analytic methodologies that scholars in various disciplines have employed to understand the dominant social constructions, complementary articulations, and subversive productions of African masculinities. They highlight some of the major sites and epochs for the examination of African masculinities. They demonstrate how understandings of masculinities are linked to the histories of institutions and structures of power across time and space in African societies. They show that the private lives, intimate practices, and tacit knowledge of African women and men are just as important as their public lives, explicit discourses, and public performances in understanding their subjective gender identities, their agencies in contesting external and internal power relations, and their consciousness of the effects of transformations in gender relations.

  • Ammann, Carole, and Sandra Staudacher. “Masculinities in Africa beyond Crisis: Complexity, Fluidity, and Intersectionality.” Gender, Place & Culture 28.6 (2021): 759–768.

    DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2020.1846019

    In this introduction to a themed journal volume on African masculinities, Ammann and Staudacher seek alternative depictions of African masculinity beyond the “crisis of masculinity” discourse, which depicts men as criminal, violent, dominant, and irresponsible. Focusing on how masculinities emerge, discourses and practices around masculinities, individuals’ daily efforts to be “good men” and “good at” being men in times of political, social, and economic transformations, they argue that many images of masculinities coexist in Africa.

  • Cole, Catherine M., Takyiwaa Manuh, and Stephan F. Miescher. Africa after Gender? Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007.

    Evaluates the meanings and local resonances of gender in modern Africa. Contributors examine gendering practices, unsettling the relationship between the “biological” and “social”; paying attention to intersectional categories like age, lineage, kinship, and wealth; and foregrounding power struggles over colonialism and liberation. Paulla Ebron and Eileen Boris emphasize attention to discursive and performative vocabularies. Lisa Lindsay examines the “male breadwinner” complex in colonial southwestern Nigeria, and Stephan Miescher analyzes shifts in “Elder” masculinities in Ghana.

  • Cornwall, Andrea, ed. Readings in Gender in Africa. London: James Currey and International African Institute School of Oriental and African Studies, 2005.

    This essential volume traces the evolution of African gender studies from structural-functionalist analyses that challenged “the brutality of [European] racist discourse” and derogated African women and explorations of the “social history” of African women’s “work,” subjectivities, and agencies to scholarship that emphasizes “gender relations” and processes and structures through which women’s and men’s identities and relationships were mediated. This latter scholarly tradition advanced African masculinity studies and expanded conceptions of “gender” in African studies.

  • Lindsay, Lisa A., and Stephan F. Miescher, eds. Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.

    Examines how African masculinities were constructed through dominant social and political institutions and consciously produced through subversive measures in the context of the socioeconomic and cultural transformations of colonial and postcolonial Africa. Contributors foreground gender as the interpenetrative histories of women and men and differentiate masculinity from manhood. They argue that many hegemonic masculinities with subject-situational valence coexist. Africans synthesized masculinity models from diverse practices, some imposed through colonialism and others locally derived.

  • Morgan, Ruth, and Saskia Wieringa, eds. Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2007.

    From the perspective of the impact of heteropatriarchy and hegemonic masculinity on female same sexualities within African societies, this volume highlights important African voices and discourses about women’s same-sex marriages and their associated masculinity performances ranging from spiritual practices and boarding school mummy-baby relationships to dressing as adult men. Life histories of females performing masculine social gender identities in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, and South Africa evince a commonality of historical gender prescriptions of “male identification” among women in same-sex relationships.

  • Morrell, Robert, ed. Changing Men in Southern Africa. London: Zed Books, 2001.

    Examines the reconfiguration of masculinities during the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. Contributors examine how black and white men forge their sense of manhood postapartheid, covering topics such as surfing, Nazism, gun violence, HIV/AIDS, policing, gay men, migrant labor, African gold miners, unemployed youth, and male political mobilization. As minority middle-class white settlers dominated the social reproduction of South Africa’s understandings of masculinity, the majority black working class internalized masculinity through violence.

  • Morrell, Robert, and Lahoucine Ouzgane, eds. African Masculinities: Men in Africa from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    Argues that African feminist scholarship deals with masculinity but ignores men, and while attention is given to womanhood and motherhood, there is no equivalent discussion of manhood and fatherhood. Contributors examine “how African masculinities, African male bodies, subjectivities, and experiences are constituted in specific historical, cultural, and social contexts.” Insisting there is no distinction between manhood and masculinity, editors challenge the representation of African men as oppressors of women and victims of slavery, colonialism, and postcolonialism.

  • Ouzgane, Lahoucine, ed. Men in African Film & Fiction. Woodbridge, UK: James Currey, 2011.

    Analyzing depictions in film and literature of masculinities in colonial, independent, and postindependent Africa, contributors highlight the limitations of Western theories in understanding masculinity within African contexts, the dynamic relationships between masculinity and femininity, and the relative importance of generation and gender.

  • Uchendu, Egodi, ed. Masculinities in Contemporary Africa. Dakar, Senegal: Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2008.

    This seventh volume of the CODESRIA Gender Series examines “masculine subjects in particular social contexts” in modern Africa. In addition to surveys, there are four essays on masculinity and ritual violence, discursive constructions of rape, men’s role in rural poverty, and “Student Fathers” in Kenyan universities. The collection also includes chapters on traditional and modern masculinities in Togo, colonial white masculinity in South Africa, the gendered impact of migration on households in Mozambique, and gendered political violence in Congo Brazzaville.

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