Making space for ‘Engaged Masculinities’: Considering men on undergraduate Education Studies courses

The ‘boy issue’ is a perennial theme of research in education and a topic that features in many undergraduate Education Studies courses. Similarly, the dearth of male primary school teachers and arguments around ‘male role models’ are typically taught about, too. Yet this paper contends that men and masculinities in Education Studies itself are under-considered (Pulsford et al, 2023). It is suggested here that collectively we are yet to develop a theoretical vocabulary or ways of working that engage with men’s gendered experiences in Education Studies. We argue that by addressing the shifting, complex and contested notions of masculinity with our students, Education Studies can better equip them to navigate their HE experience, whilst also building an affirmative sense of masculinity in relation to Education Studies’ broader goals – and, in this way, make space for ‘Engaged Masculinities’.

Gender – including debates about Trans rights, the ‘manosphere’, the unequal impacts of the pandemic and ‘cost of living’ crises – has been a headline theme of our troubled times. In contemporary Britain’s ‘culture wars’ there is a sense of danger associated with an unsteady gender terrain, but this may obscure a broadly positive attitude about more open and inclusive notions of gender and gendered identities. Recent theorising suggests that young men’s sense of masculinity is becoming more ‘inclusive’ (Anderson and McCormack, 2018) and ‘caring’ (Elliot, 2016), as they reject domination and opt for less hierarchical interactions and relationships. Nevertheless, concerns about sexual misconduct and violence in universities remain, with the climate of ‘laddishness’ in these environments being called out (Jackson and Sundaram, 2020). This raises a number of biting issues, and here the focus will be on curriculum and pedagogy; there is a strong case for seeking more relational (Stahl, 2021) and transformative (Keddie and Mills, 2009) approaches to engage our male and female students with these issues.

Against that broad context, this paper examines men’s accounts of their experiences on Education Studies degree programmes in the UK. Drawing on survey and interview data, as well as personal accounts, we consider how these men feel about their degree course – their motivations, challenges, and ambitions. The paper argues that Education Studies’ emphasis on social justice and shaping a better world through education resonates in important ways for these men, and via this it considers the potential of our ‘Engaged Masculinities’ notion: that these men are unavoidably engaged with masculinity issues in education which can make them a potent force for change.