When I grow up, I want to be like you": young men, poverty and aspirational masculinities in contemporary Nairobi
Chimaraoke Izugbara (ICRW)
Paper short abstract:
We address "aspirational masculinities" among male youth in Nairobi's informal settlements. Male youth aspirations are complex,fashioned at the crossroads of structural constraints and agentive projects for a good life, and simultaneously supportive and resistive of hegemonic manliness ideals.
Paper long abstract:
Building on recent calls for more focus on street-level optimism about life and the world, exemplified in the concept of ethics of possibility ('what gives lives a sense of purpose or direction or how people search for the best way to live—even in dire and hostile circumstances), we address the question of "aspirational masculinities" among poor urban young men in Kenya. Our data and material come from ethnographic work in two slum communities in the country's capital city, Nairobi. We use the term "aspirational masculinities" to describe visions of how urban young men living in Nairobi's poor communities anticipate being men. The young men we studied acknowledged economic marginality and adversity as constraints on their ongoing development into 'real' men. While constituting 'proper' masculinity in traditional terms of marriage; hardiness, provisioning; breadwinning; and self-reliance, urban Nairobi youth also aspired for masculine identities that border on caring, positive emotions, relationality, and the rejection of violence. The masculinity aspirations of poor Nairobi youth are complex; fashioned at the crossroads of structural constraints and agentive projects for a good life, and simultaneously supportive and resistive of traditional hegemonic manliness ideals. They are limited by and reflect an objective condition of everyday and enduring inequality while also signifying a deep unmet yearning for positive social and livelihood changes.
Aspiring men: disrupting the narrative of African masculinity in crisis