A man among other men: The crisis of Black masculinity in racial capitalism. Forthcoming with Cornell University Press.
This book explores labor and ideologies of Black masculinity in the West African metropolis of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This book examines the period from colonialism to la crise [“the crisis”] as a narrative arc to elucidate how racialized imaginaries of the ideal man have shifted in response to changing capitalist regimes. Situating the French colonial évolué and the global mass media icon as hegemonic imaginaries that shape Abidjanais men’s aspirations, A Man among Other Men analyzes Black masculinity vis-à-vis capitalist processes of production, consumption, and commodification. Composed of three parts, the book situates these imaginaries of Black masculinity in racial capitalism first theoretically, second, historically, and finally, as they manifest in the everyday livelihoods and lifestyles of underemployed Abidjanais men amid la crise. A Man among Other Men illuminates the sustained power of imaginaries even while capitalism affords a deficit of material opportunities. Revealed is a story of Black abjection set against the anticipation of male privilege, a story of the long crisis of Black masculinity in racial capitalism.
Peer Reviewed Articles
2016. “Racial capitalism and the crisis of black masculinity.” American Sociological Review 81(5):1014-1038.
In this article, I theorize “complicit masculinity” to examine how access to capital, in other words, making or spending money, mediates masculine identity for un- and underemployed black men. Arguing that hegemony operates around producer-provider norms of masculinity and through tropes of blackness within a system of racial capitalism, I show how complicity underscores the reality of differential aspirational models in the context of severe un- and underemployment and the failure of the classic breadwinner model for black men globally. I draw on participant observation fieldwork and interviews with men from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s informal sector from 2008 to 2009. I investigate two groups of men: political propagandists (orators) for former President Laurent Gbagbo and mobile street vendors. Rejecting racialized colonial narratives that positioned salaried workers as “evolved,” orators used anti-French rhetoric and ties to the political regime to pursue entrepreneurial identities. Vendors, positioned as illegitimate workers and non-citizens, asserted consumerist models of masculinity from global black popular culture. I show how entrepreneurialism and consumerism, the two paradigmatic neoliberal identities, have become ways for black men to assert economic participation as alternatives to the producer-provider ideal.
*Winner of the 2018 Distinguished Article Award for the American Sociological Association’s Section on Race, Gender, and Class
*Winner of the 2018 Best Scholarly Article Award for the American Sociological Association’s Section on Global and Transnational Sociology
*Honorable mention for the 2017 Oliver Cromwell Cox Article Award for the American Sociological Association’s Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities
2015. “This is how we roll: Peripheral black masculinity and the status economies of bus portraiture.” Laboratorium 7(2):62-82.
The absence of formal employment opportunities in African cities leaves many men unable to achieve an idealized, modern wage-earning masculinity, such that socially they remain boys. They may contest their denigrated status by investing in practices that supplant this dominant narrative of masculinity. Specifically, images of iconic black men invoke an experience of modernity-as-alterity, shared across the global black diaspora. As men assert their common blackness through visual expression, they fuel lucrative economies. In this transatlantic interplay, the urban periphery transforms supralocal cultural references into material practices that buttress local identities. This article introduces the concept of status economies to examine the politics of representation and to track the dollars and dreams on Africa’s urban periphery. I discuss the practice of gbaka (bus) portrait art as an example of a status economy in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. I explore the nexus between gbaka art, changing work regimes, and masculinity to understand how peripheral men’s search for status generates a cultural movement and an associated economy.
*Extended abstract available in Russian;
*Translated in Italian and reprinted in: Forthcoming (2017). A fior di pelle: Razza e visualità. Edited by Elisa Bordin and Stefano Bosco. Verona (Italy): Ombre corte.
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2015. “‘Elsewhere’: An essay on borderland ethnography in the informal African city.” Ethnography 16(2):145-165.
In this article I reflect upon my experience as an ethnographer within the informal African city, which I describe as a borderland. In the contemporary African city informality prohibits peripheral men from achieving manhood, predicated on marriage which requires steady work. As perpetual social juniors they fantasize about an elsewhere to which an ever-porous world exposes them but which stands in stark contrast to their lived experiences. Black urbanism (Simone, 2010) situates this mediated experience of elsewhere, an imagined global conceived simultaneously as a space of creativity, possibility and disillusionment through its linkages with members of the black diaspora glorified through not productive but consumption-oriented identities. Positing that we are both borderland figures, I discuss my interactions/intersections with peripheral men in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. I consider how my identity as a woman from the African diaspora entailed a direct encounter with this elsewhere, and how this influenced their lives.
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2014. “Narratives of modernity, masculinity and citizenship amid crisis in Abidjan’s Sorbonne.” Antipode 46(3):717-735.
In this article I relate prominent depictions of the African urban crisis, particularly informality, and its implications for masculine subjectivity in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Drawing on five months of ethnographic fieldwork I conducted in 2008 and 2009, I consider the Sorbonne, a nationalist space in Abidjan, where partisans of former President Laurent Gbagbo contested the crisis narrative and their place in it. Literally and ideologically, Sorbonne orators and spectators moved themselves and their country from the periphery to the urban and global core. Video abstract available on Antipode website.
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2011. “Il est garçon: Marginal Abidjanais masculinity and the politics of representation.” Poetics 39(5):380-406.
Using barbershop signs in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, I explore images of idealized masculinities that reflect pervasive themes in the lives of marginal Abidjanais men. I argue that men engage in a politics of representation that stresses their likeness to icons from the African diaspora. Global, black and male, the images embody the desires and disappointments of marginal Abidjanais men. Global, the images indicate belonging to the world beyond Africa. Black, the images affirm racialized identities denigrated by colonial domination and mass media hegemony. Male, the images reflect the disproportionately gendered disempowerment that African men experience as a consequence of neoliberal restructuring. Marginal Abidjanais men’s relationship to the global economy having shifted from exploitative to excluded, the images suggest a consumption-oriented masculinity that connects them to global capitalism as consumers but not to their hoped-for families as providers.
* Winner of the International Visual Sociology Association Jon Rieger Graduate Paper/Project Award
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2010. “Creating public fictions: The black man as producer and consumer.” The Black Scholar 40(3):36-42.
Engaging prominent theoretical depictions of black men’s struggles to access work, in this article I discuss how black men’s inaccessibility to the American labor market jeopardizes their roles in urban poor communities. Using hip-hop masculinity as a case-in-point, I apply the gender concept of “marginalized masculinity” to these analyses as a modern-day “public fiction” that, through its usurpation by mainstream media and advertising, offers marginalized black men a way to claim dominance within their worlds and encourages participation in America’s economic system, despite it having failed them. In this way black men’s relationship to American capitalism has transitioned from producer to consumer.
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Other Academic Publications
2020. Encyclopedia entry. “Black masculinity.” Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nd Edition.
2020. Book review. Kleinman, Julie. 2019. Adventure capital migration and the making of an African hub in Paris.” Antipode Online. 7 April.
2019. “Black Masculinity under Racial Capitalism.” Boston Review, Racist Logic Forum 10(44.2):75-85.
*Follow up podcast interview with Dr. Vibe, 30 September 2019 – listen
*Follow up magazine interview with Arts of Travel Blog, Forthcoming
2018. Book review. Fleming, Crystal Marie. 2017. Resurrecting slavery: Racial legacies and white supremacy in France. Contemporary Sociology.
2017. “Africa rising, Afro-pessimism – or racial capitalism?” CODESRIA Bulletin: From renaissance to emergence: How to renew the debate on development in Africa.
2014. “Unpacking the crisis narrative of Black theater.” Pages 228-230 in Figuring the plural: Needs and supports of Canadian and US ethnocultural arts organizations. Project leads/edited by: M.P. Matlon, I. Van Haastrecht and K. Wittig Mengüç. Commissioned and funded by School of the Art Institute of Chicago with support from the Joyce Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts.
2014. (With Dan Hirschman.) “The 2014 Junior Theorists Symposium.” Perspectives 36(2):6-8.
2014. “Côte d’Ivoire: The symbolic capital of the mobile phone.” Global Dialogue 4(1):33-34.
2013. “Cinematic Sociology.” Interview, Global Dialogue 3(4):36-38.
Interview with Joyce Sebag and Jean-Pierre Durand, husband-and-wife team of cinematic sociologists at the University of Evry’s Center Pierre Naville, just outside Paris. Global Dialogue is the electronic newsletter and magazine of the International Sociological Association, and is translated in fifteen languages.
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2011. “Informality and visibility on the periphery.” Photo essay, Contexts 10(2):58-63.
In this photo essay, I showcase the lives of peripheral Abidjanais men at work and at play. I suggest that men in the informal sector lack visibility as men in their families and communities. To compensate, they find alternative ways of becoming highly visible: via street art, consumer culture and cultural performance. Contexts is the magazine of the American Sociological Association.
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Other Works in Progress
Book chapter. “Black masculinity and racial capitalism.” In, The Black Geographic: Praxis, resistance, futurity (eds. Camilla Hawthorne and Jovan Scott Lewis). Under consideration with Duke University Press.
Article. Tapping imaginaries: Guinness and the African man. In, Youth politics and practices of self-making in the Global South (eds. Raka Ray and Amita Baviskar).
May 16, 2017. “The art of domination: On decolonizing the curriculum. Black Perspectives. Blog of the African American Intellectual Historical Society. (Original version published with The Eagle.)
May 05, 2017. “The art of domination.” The Eagle. Opinion.
April 03, 2013. “Culture, attack: Art, identity and MP2013.” Personal Blog.
March 06, 2013. “The basketball diplomacy affair did not take place.” Personal Blog.
June 25, 2012. “Life in Dúbravica.” PERIFÉRNE CENTRÁ website. Contribution as invited guest, June 2012. Also translated into Slovak.
2012. “Abidjan Baca.” Photo essay. The Rachel Tanur Memorial Prize for Visual Sociology. Website: Galleries, Applicant’s Works. Social Science Research Council.
December 13, 2010. “High stakes for Gbagbo loyalists in Côte d’Ivoire.” The Africa Report. Opinion.
June 01, 2010. “UC Berkeley is losing its essence.” The Daily Californian. Special to the Daily Cal – Op-Ed.