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Aalborg University in close contact with male cultures


“In order to understand masculinity, we need to look beyond the political equality agenda,” explains Aalborg University professor Ann-Dorte Christiansen. Professor Christensen is heading the university’s current research project studying masculinity ranging from the left-wing ‘Autonom’ activist milieu in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro area to Falck rescue services and slaughterhouses.


“In my opinion, there is a lack of knowledge of men as gender that goes beyond the agenda of gender equality. It is important not only to look at equality between men and women, but to broaden the perspective to social equality,” explains Ann-Dorte Christensen, professor at Aalborg University, Denmark. Over the past 10 years, the study of masculinity has occupied a central position at Aalborg University and recently Ann-Dorte Christensen and Sune Qvotrup Jensen edited the highly recommendable themed issue of NORMA entitled ‘NORMA Special Issue: Men, resistance and political radicalization, vol. 5, no. 2, 2010.’

“We edited this issue of the journal partly to present some of our own research about masculinity and political radicalisation, as well as to present a wider global perspective within the area of masculinity studies in radical political movements.”

“In these movements, there’s a tendency to construct a particular form of masculinity which leaves no room for fear or vulnerability, but where the tougher side of masculinity is reinforced, for example, by excluding women. This is a phenomenon that exists throughout the world and throughout history.” 

“As dealt with in the special issue of NORMA, this is a phenomenon that we can see in the ANC in South Africa, in the left-wing movements in Sweden in the 1960s, and in the ‘Autonom’ environment in the inner-city Nørrebro area of Copenhagen over the past decade. It is interesting to locate dominating masculinities and to analyze how constructions of masculinities play a decisive role, for instance in relation to the new economies of Africa, or in relation to war in general, where an extreme form of masculinity dressed in Ray Ban sunglasses and a soldier’s uniform has been allowed to spread.”

Women excluded in radical movements
“In NORMA, I have written about men in the activist ‘Autonom’ milieu in Nørrebro. I came into contact with this organisation when studying women’s empowerment within radicalised movements. However, the closer I got, the clearer it became that even within radical left-wing milieus (such as the group ‘Antifascistisk Aktion’, which is exclusively made up of men) there is a great deal of repression of women and of those men who can not live up to the special norms of hyper-masculinity and violent behaviour. And it was the gender differences and dominating norms of ‘being a man’ within this milieu that struck me most, and which I wanted to work more with.”

“In these milieus, a certain group of men set the tone by propelling themselves into a hyper-masculinity, which later on they come to dislike. But when these men take part in the sorts of extreme action practiced by such groups, these extreme forms of masculinity are brought to the fore. In terms of politics, the constraints that restrict how you can work and how you can act outwardly also affect a person’s behaviour from the inside. This is all well and good if we’re talking about a democratic movement. But if we’re talking about more extreme forms of masculinity, such as those you see in parts of the ‘Autonom’ milieu of Nørrebro, violence exists beyond the area of political action in the form of violence between men within the movement itself and violence within the men’s personal relationships.”

“I think that it’s striking that the types of action practiced by the radical right-wing ( who are the left-wing’s hated enemy and who they fight against) are often the types of action that end up being adopted, despite the differing values held by the two opposing movements, so as to make the fight a ‘man-to-man’ battle.”

“The men of the radical left are shaped by ‘their enemies’, by their own milieu, and by the police and authorities. In many areas, the police take high profile action, for example their work in the area of social housing. Nevertheless, it is precisely here that we need to be aware that the police, in some cases, humiliate young men. And we need to be aware of the effect this humiliation has on these young men.”

“Even though those in the radical left-wing (unlike those in the right-wing) have many ideas about equality, they generally take a repressive view when it comes to both women and ethnic minorities. This makes it very difficult for the men in these radical left-wing organisations to live up to their own ideals.”

“The issue of gender has probably always existed within the radical movements. Some of us can remember this from the 1970s when the women refused to make tea for the revolution and, contrary to the men, were of the opinion that anything concerning their private lives was political. The reaction was the emergence of the women’s movement. All this raises the question: ‘what is a true revolutionary?’ For this is very much associated with a man.” 

John Wayne in the workplaces of Denmark
Is there a ‘John Wayne syndrome’ in Danish work culture? What does being a ‘real’ man mean, and what are the implications for safety in the workplace? These are just some of the questions that Aalborg University in cooperation with the Department of Occupational Medicine, Regional Hospital Herning aims to answer through the MARS project about Men, Accidents, Risk, and Safety (2010-2013). This large-scale project, running from 2010 to 2013, is headed by Professor Ann-Dorte Christensen and financed by The Danish Health and Safety Research Fund . When a serious accident occurs in the workplace, the probability that a man is involved is extremely high. In fact, men are twice as likely as women are to be involved in a serious accident at work, and 10 times more men are killed in the workplace than are women. This means that 92% of all fatal work accidents affect men making this the most common cause of death for men under the age of 50. And this is not merely due to the fact that men tend to work in the most dangerous jobs. 

‘Rambo’ rather than an ‘Officer and a Gentleman’
“We selected two focus areas – the Falck rescue service and slaughterhouses. Both of these business areas experience a large number of work accidents, and we presumed that there would be different ideals of masculinity in the two areas,” explains Ann-Dorte Christensen.

One key issue is to find different forms of masculinity and different ways of being a man. Is there a ‘John Wayne syndrome’ in the Danish work culture? What effect do factors such as the perception of what being a ‘real’ man means and expectations of masculine behaviour have on risk taking and safety in the workplace?

“We expect that there are differences in the types of work accidents and safe behaviour in the two business areas, with the safety issues affecting the abattoir workers probably involving heavy lifting and long-term physical wear.”

The risks among the Falck rescue workers, on the other hand, may be related to a symbolic representation of being a strong, uniformed, and heroic ‘Rambo’-type man. But there may also exist a more ‘Officer and a Gentleman’ culture of masculinity reflecting the modern, caring man.

The men from MARS
The project consists of a quantitative section with questionnaires which are sent out to all Falck stations and slaughterhouses in Denmark two times, twelve months apart. This part of the project is headed by assistant professor Claus D. Hansen.

“Here, we are aiming to identify the safety cultures within the two focus areas and to see whether or not there are any dominant masculinity ideals associated with certain work cultures. Examples could be not asking for help and managing everything on your own, driving fast, or not following the various safety precautions. Or, perhaps a situation exists where older employees cling on to old-fashioned ideals of masculinity and younger employees are more safety conscious? In addition to this, we also ask about attitudes towards children, household chores and about the men’s attitudes towards female managers – all in order to test the differences between the old and the new ideals of masculinity.”

“Personally, I believe that age and family background are important parameters.”

“In this study, the questionnaires are combined with a qualitative study carried out by PhD student Morten Kyed. He is conducting an investigation on the relationship between gender identity, work environment and work accidents in the two trades based on fieldwork and qualitative interviews. The PhD project focuses on both the collective attitudes within the two business areas and on how the men have been brought up to be men through their education, training in the workplace, childhood upbringing, and gender socialisation – including looking at their relationships with their own fathers.”

“The men out in the workplaces have given a warm reception to the questionnaires and to Morten Kyed. For the majority of them, it’s new that we’re making this link between masculinity, work environment and safety. This does throw up certain challenges for getting the information across however, but we’ve experienced a great deal of interest in the project – also in relation to seminars and contact with the trade unions.”

Behind both the project and the special issue of NORMA is the MARS group. This group consists of masculinity researchers from Aalborg University (see fact box) and is the focus of some international attention. A result of this attention is that the MARS group has a working relationship with a Swedish project focusing on the rescue services (led by Professor Ulf Mellström) and with a project on men and alcohol problems at University of Gothenburg . Additionally, the group is developing partnerships with international masculinity researchers such as the American masculinity researcher Michael Kimmel and Jane Parpart, who has written about the construction of masculinity in radical political movements on the African continent in the special issue.

In addition to all this, research work is being carried out in the field of men’s work and family life, parenthood, and paternity leave by assistant professor Lotte Bloksgaard, who has been one of the key persons in building up this field of research. She is currently working on a project for the Danish trade union 3F focussing on men, masculinity and their use of paternity leave. 
The new overlooked group – top managers and minority men
Various players have contributed to developing the foundations of masculinity research in Denmark, but Ann-Dorte Christensen believes that there is a need for a joint effort in the area, as has been seen in Norway and Sweden.

“Another of my current projects is the INTERLOC project in which we study citizenship, daily life and identity in relation to gender, class, and ethnicity in a residential area in Aalborg. In this project, we’ve discovered a strong presence of highly actively empowered minority women. But the other side, there is almost no focus on some potentially exposed minority men, who are more marginalised than the women.”

“You find the same tendencies in the education system. Here, many minority women do well, but many minority men find it difficult to cope. And in this area, there is a need for more knowledge about what leads to the potential exclusion of these men.” 

“The dominating media images focus on repressed ethnic minority women and violent minority men. The women are portrayed as victims – for whom something must be done; the men are portrayed as being outside society and criminalised. There is an enormous need for further investigation of this field.”

Another area where Ann-Dorte Christensen sees a need for research is that of men in top management and high-level politics.

“Today there is a growing tendency to focus on men as a gender within high-level politics, for example in relation to former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. And when male Danish party leaders begin mentioning their improved clothes style at party conferences, it emphasises an increasing focus on the fact that men are beginning to become more aware of how they dress and represent themselves,” concludes Ann-Dorte Christensen. 

Relaterede links

NORMA - special issue: Men, resistance and political radicalization, vol. 5, nr. 2, 2010. Ann-Dorte Christensen and Sune Qvotrup Jensen (red.) 

The Special issue of NORMA examines both masculinity in relation to top-level politics and in relation to safety. Researchers, including Jane Parpart, look at the new wars and global conflicts and examine the role played by poverty to recruitment. The journal also looks at how political radicalisation is closely linked to gender/masculinity in the ANC, the Danish left-wing ‘Autonom’ milieu, the left-wing movements of the 1960s, and during Denmark’s occupation during World War II.

Find the NORMA special issue in KVINFO’s library

Participants within the MARS project:
Aalborg University:
Ann-Dorte Christensen, Professor (Project Manager)
Claus D. Hansen, Assistant Professor
Sune Q. Jensen, Associate Professor
Lotte Bloksgaard, Assistant Professor
Morten Kyed PhD Fellow

Department of Occupational Medicine, Regional Hospital Herning:
Kent J. Nielsen, Psychologist
Kurt Rasmussen, Medical Doctor and Head of Department

PhD dissertations on masculinity from Aalborg University:
Sune Qvotrup Jensen: ‘Fremmed, farlig og fræk. Unge mænd og etnisk/racial andenhed. Mellem modstand og stilisering’ (Danish only). PhD dissertation, Aalborg Universitet, 2007. Borrow from KVINFO’s library

Lotte Bloksgaard: ‘Arbejdsliv, forældreskab og køn. Forhandlinger om løn og barsel i tre moderne virksomheder’ (Danish only). PhD dissertation, FREIA- Feminist Research Centre in Aalborg, Aalborg University, 2009. Borrow from KVINFO’s library

Jeppe Lyng: ‘Maskulinitetskonstruktioner blandt højreradikale mænd - et studie i kritisk mandsforskning’ (Danish only). Under completion.

Morten Kyed: ‘Maskulinitet og arbejdsulykker. En kvalitativ undersøgelse af sammenhængen mellem kønsidentitet, arbejdsmiljø og arbejdsulykker i to udsatte brancher(2010-2013)’ (Danish only).



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