Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Challenging Stereotypes without Glossing Over Male Violence: The ‘Maleness’ of Researcher and Researched



Time to read

5 Minutes

Post by Luke de Noronha, DPhil Candidate in Anthropology (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research examines the deportation of ex-offenders from the UK to Jamaica, exploring the lives of deportees in Jamaica as well as their friends and families who remain in the UK. Luke is on Twitter @LukeEdeNoronha. This post is the fourth instalment of Border Criminologies themed week on Masculinities at the Border organised by Dan Godshaw.

I’m currently conducting fieldwork in Jamaica with deported ex-offenders, many of whom spent most of their lives in the UK. Given that most deported ex-offenders are men, I’ve been speaking primarily with male informants. In my doctoral work, I seek to complicate the narratives that construct noncitizen ex-offenders as dangerous outsiders who should be imprisoned, detained, and deported, at all costs. More specifically, I’ve argued that the dominant narrative on ‘foreign criminals’ relies on racialised stereotypes that work through gender. Overwhelmingly, ‘foreign criminals’ are portrayed as remarkably violent individuals, guilty of hypermasculinist acts of male violence. An inordinate number of articles in the mainstream British media focus on cases of rape, paedophilia, and murder when in fact noncitizen offenders are convicted for similar crimes to British offenders―in other words, very few ‘foreign criminals’ are deported following convictions for murder and rape. I’ve suggested that this emphasis relies on a set of racist ideas for its intelligibility and is nourished by fears and fantasies about dark men endangering ‘our’ women.

But now, as I’m in Jamaica conducting my fieldwork, I’ve been reminded that men sometimes are deported following crimes of gender-based and sexual violence. In this post, I reflect on some of the questions I’ve been wrestling with―questions about male violence and the role of my own ‘maleness’ in the research process.

I recently met a man who was deported following a conviction for statutory rape. I’m speaking with another who has a serious history of domestic violence―what he describes as ‘woman problems,’ euphemising about and trivialising his crimes. In both of these cases, I’ve listened extensively to the accounts, qualifications, and excuses of the perpetrators.

The danger is that as I get to know these men and seek to understand the devastating impact that deportation has had upon their lives, I might end up glossing over their offences, downplaying the gender-based violence for which they were convicted and to which they admit. I’m giving the male perpetrator space to explain his version of events, in which he can air his misogynistic excuses and qualifications. The survivor, on the other hand, is silent (or silenced?).

It’s difficult to begin to write about these men and their actions. I want to understand them as individuals, but I don’t want to simply echo their narratives, which attenuate the severity of their violence. It might be tempting, then, not to pursue further conversations and interviews with them at all. Indeed, I’ve come across many cases where men are likeable and their criminal histories so easy to explain in terms of economic deprivation, especially since about half of ex-offenders deported from the UK to Jamaica are convicted of drugs offences. So why not focus on these cases?

The problem with ignoring those whose crimes I find unacceptable is that it reinforces the silence on male violence. I shouldn’t shy away from difficult cases because they don’t fit my conception of the ‘likeable, suffering deportee.’ To do so is to evade ethical and moral uncertainty in the research process, and it risks constructing male violence as a marginal phenomenon. Male violence isn’t a marginal phenomenon, and seeking to challenge deportation policies shouldn’t encourage me to pretend that it is.

To challenge deportation policies, I don’t have to defend the criminal actions of those who are deported. But it does make it easier for me, on a human level, when I can.

The Researcher and Shared ‘Maleness’

It’s also important to interrogate my own ‘maleness’―which is of course intersected by my racial, sexual, and class identities, among others―and the work that it does in the research process. I need to question not only the ways in which I select informants, but also the ways in which I listen. When these two informants spoke about their crimes, my response wasn’t one of fear. I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t like them, but it didn’t trigger anything for me, nor did I feel in danger. That is, I felt uncomfortable hearing these men speak of their violence, or excusing it, but I wasn’t fully apprehending it. I wasn’t uncomfortable enough, somehow; my ability to process their brutality was limited, and I think this has a lot to do with my experiencing the world as a man. This is why I need to be very conscious of my own experiences and gender identity as I begin to write about these individuals.

I’m conscious that there is a kind of ethnographic capital in me being a (heterosexual) man, in my ability to inhabit ‘men’s worlds’ and that this can be problematic. Is it that men feel I’ll understand when they explain that rape is a ‘grey area,’ or that I’ll accept euphemisms about ‘domestic problems’ because I’m a guy too? Similarly, some informants seem to assume that everyday invasions of women’s space in the public realm―such as catcalling, leering, or commenting on a woman’s appearance―is something that I relate to.

After hearing a man tell me about his life of homelessness, isolation, family rejection, and ultimately deportation, I find it hard to know how to challenge him when, minutes later, he’s hailing female passers by in a manner that is both invasive and aggressive. This might be because I just don’t want to criticise this man, especially not from my ‘enlightened standpoint.’ Moreover, when he states that ‘these uni girls are up themselves,’ I recognise that, in this moment, his male entitlement is folded into his insecurity about his own worth―and it all feels thorny.

But it might also be my selfish desire not to rupture the ‘male bonds’ that are so central to ethnographic rapport. Given that there are marked class and racial differences between me and my informants, our ‘getting on as guys’ is central to what we share and can talk about. I don’t mean to say that I am passing as a sexist to make friends in the field, but when we both relate because we’re men, I have to question what it is we’re relating to.

Equally, my silence might simply be cowardly awkwardness and a desire to distract and digress rather than confront somebody who’s acting in a wholly disagreeable way. I suspect my silence is nourished by all three of these concerns and failings.

Working Through Maleness

I’ve been wrestling with a number of problems surrounding gender, both in reference to my informants and to myself. I’m working out how to pursue understanding without condoning male violence. I need to find nuanced ways to challenge racist and gendered stereotypes without imagining that gender-based violence is marginal or exceptional. In terms of my maleness and the research process, I want to capitalise on the mutuality that comes through us both being men―or more specifically, heterosexual men who grew up in England. I both enjoy and gain from sharing with my informants: talking about my partner, my family, or Manchester United. This process, this getting to know one another, is gendered, but so too is the way in which informants explain their crimes, and so too is the way in which I process the information.  

Overall, it’s important that while exploring the many ways in these men have been marginalised and subject to different forms of violence, I emphasise that they still retain contradictory forms of gendered power and control, and that I don’t write these out of my account.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

de Noronha, L. (2016) Challenging Stereotypes without Glossing Over Male Violence: The ‘Maleness’ of Researcher and Researched. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/01/challenging (Accessed [date]).

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