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University of Silesia in Katowice

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Masculinity studies. Interview with Professor Adam Dziadek

07.06.2017 - 15:20 update 07.11.2019 - 06:08
Editors: MJ

At the turn of 2012 and 2013, a group of seven scientists representing the Faculty of Philology at the University of Silesia in Katowice applied for a research project grant dealing with the concept of masculinity in Polish literature and culture from the 19th century to the present day. The project has been awarded by the National Science Centre in the prestigious Maestro 4 competition for experienced scientists conducting research improving the current state of knowledge and important for the development of science. The project manager is Professor Adam Dziadek, who discusses an attempt to think thoroughly about the history of Polish literature in the context of various types of Polish masculinity.

prof. Adam Dziadek
Prof. Adam Dziadek. Fot. Sekcja Prasowa UŚ Professor Adam Dziadek. Photo credit University of Silesia Press Office

Dr Małgorzata Kłoskowicz: Professor, the addressees of the Maestro competition announced by the National Science Centre are experienced scientists who conduct pioneering, often interdisciplinary, scientific research. As part of this competition, funds were also awarded to a project concerning the category of masculinity in the Polish literature and culture from the 19th century to the present day. In what sense does this topic fit into the scope of innovative research in the context of Polish literary and cultural studies?

Professor Adam Dziadek: In the global scientific discourse, especially when it comes to humanities, the subject of masculinity has been functioning from around the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, but its lush development did not occurred until the 1980s. I am referring in particular to the context of research conducted in American and Western European research centres. Important social and cultural changes took place then, which were also reflected in the sphere of academia. There was virtually no such kind of research in Polish literary or cultural studies. When at the turn of 2012 and 2013 our team began the work on the grant application, in our country there were few available literature studies devoted to the phenomenon of masculinity. Already in the course of our project, the pioneering book by Tomasz Tomasik entitled Wojna – Męskość – Literatura [War – Masculinity – Literature][1]. Almost in parallel, as part of the National Science Centre’s Preludium 4 competition, Agnieszka Wróbel led the project „Polska proza powojenna (1945-1989) w perspektywie badań nad męskością” (“Polish post-war prose (1945-1989) from the perspective of masculinity research”), and as part of the National Science Centre’s Opus 5 competition Monika Szczepaniak finalised studies on military masculinity in Polish literature and culture in the context of the “Great War”. We closely followed subsequent publications and projects that corresponded to the issues of our research, we also modified the research plan to emphasise other, equally important aspects of Polish masculinity from the nineteenth century to the present.

MK: The time frame proposed in the subject of the grant application is extremely wide. What was the criterion for choosing the texts for analysis?

AD: First of all, we did not conduct traditionally understood historical-literary or thematic studies.   We have also not created a rigid reading list that should be subject to this type of analysis. Texts of fundamental importance for the project emerged during discussions at grant seminars, and thus already in the course of the project we are talking about. Therefore, we treated Polish literary texts from the 19th century to the present day as a collection of data about masculinity. We were looking for certain cracks in them, revealing undefined places. For example dr Filip Mazurkiewicz, a member of the research team, made a surprising analysis of Józef Wybicki’s Mazurek Dąbrowskiego – a song from the end of the 18th century that later became a national anthem. The song refers to the history of Polish Legions fighting on foreign soil as they were deprived of their native place. It is therefore a story about Polish masculinity which was “displaced” as a result of historical events, and we, by analysing the text, can describe the consequences of this dislocation. Anyway, in our research we involved other canonical titles by Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Witold Gombrowicz, Jerzy Andrzejewski and many others. In accordance with the assumptions of the project, we wanted to attempt to thoroughly rethink the history of Polish literature in the context of various types of masculinity that have evolved in our culture over the last two centuries.

MK: Did the selection of the research topic and the wide range of texts connected to it require the use of various research tools?

AD: Studies of masculinity are essentially interdisciplinary ones. We draw on tools used in several different areas of knowledge. We are interested in works in the field of cultural studies, sociology, psychology and history. We combine psychoanalytical perspective with the scientific legacy of world-wide research in the field of feminist literary criticism, gender studies and queer theory. We also assumed that the analyses undertaken in the esearch must be anti-metaphysical in nature – hence the various deconstructions based on discourse analyses are of key importance to them. I would also like to recall two particularly important names for us – Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes – whose texts were one of the important sources of inspiration for creating the framework of the methodology developed collectively by our team.

MK: Let’s talk about the category of masculinity. The tradition of research in the field of feminist criticism just mentioned put the category of femininity in the light of its interests. Is masculinist discourse a response to feminist discourse?

AD: I look at men’s studies or masculinity studies conducted for many years in the world that examine the category of masculinity in the sociological, psychological, ethnological and finally gender context, and I get the impression that the researchers at some point realised the lack of this type of research in the sphere of study. The history of the development of masculinity studies, clearly indicates that it developed not as a counterweight to gender-oriented feminist studies, but as their total complement. In this sense, the category of masculinity cannot be regarded as the opposition of the category of femininity – they must be seen as mutually complementary and equivalent research perspectives.

MK: You mentioned the men’s studies or masculinity studies that have been conducted in the world for years. Can one use the methodological tools developed there in the context of research on Polish masculinity?

AD: Not really, because they are tools developed in different cultures and they cannot be easily transferred to Poland. Conducting research, we established cooperation, among others, with Professor Raewyn Connell, a retired sociologist at the University of Sydney, who is one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject of masculinity. She is also the author of the theory, from which emerges the concept of “hegemonic masculinity” which is in every culture a kind of model pattern – the basis for making judgements. In her text entitled Margin becoming centre: for a world-centred rethinking of masculinities, which was published in my translation into Polish in the second edition of ‘Teksty Drugie’ (in issue 2 from 2015), she places research on masculinity in a global perspective.

According to Connell, all methodological tools developed on so-called the global North, namely in the United States or Western Europe, and used to describe the category of masculinity are actually useless when we try to apply them to describe the situation of the countries of the global South located in Australia, Africa or South America. These are countries with a colonial past, which means a phenomenal difference in experience. Raewyn Connell’s theory interested us because of Polish history or the specific socio-economic conditions of our country. In carrying out the assumptions of the research project, we analysed cultural texts emerging at a time when Poland was losing and regaining independence, when we were experiencing wartime and post-war reality, when we were finally experiencing the effects of changes in connection with the political transformation in 1989. Each of these events also affected masculinity constructs.

MK: This masculinity or these masculinities?

AD: Definitely these masculinities. One of Raewyn Connell’s key books is Masculinities[2], in which she deliberately uses the plural form. Conducting research in a global perspective, she unambiguously indicates many masculinities scattered around the world in various social, political, historical or economic systems. The term “masculinities” refers to social roles, behaviours and meanings attributed to men in a given society and time. Referring to Connell’s research, in Poland we could mark, for example, the concept of Silesian masculinity after 1989. In Silesia, the process of restructuring the mining industry and more generally the entire industry began then. These are dramatic events affecting men who lost the foundations of their own identity based, among others, on the ethos of hard work, which is often the only source of income for the family. The same story applies to other industrialised regions of our country. The consequences of those changes were often tragic, families were breaking up, men were committing suicide… Before our eyes there was a transformation of one of many Polish masculinities forming in a specific socio-cultural space-time. It is impossible to conduct this type of research only in relation to literary texts. We also learn to read the external sources. We analyse historical events and the current socio-political situation, including individual stories and collective experiences of men in Poland. While learning this category, we also try to re-read and re-examine our texts.

MK: Undertaking such a research topic requires, on the one hand, to look at the history of your own country from a distance, and on the other, to develop or discover a special sensitivity that will allow to see different shades of masculinity and freshly look at the social phenomena surrounding us…

AD: This sensitivity arises in us mainly under the influence of read texts.   We are not indifferent to the theories formulated by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler or Luce Irigaray. Other people’s stories and experiences also leave mark on us, not to mention broadening our horizons. The attitude of a scientist who must face new research topics, and these certainly include the categories of masculinity, is shaped in this way. It would be convenient to remain within the sphere of the proven, safe and tame knowledge. However, we dared to enter a difficult, incomprehensible and even dangerous sphere…

MK: …dangerous from the perspective of Polish socio-political or scientific sphere?

AD: Masculinity in popular opinion, at least in Poland, still appears to be a highly questionable subject of scientific research. Although there were many positions on this subject (I mentioned a few of them at the beginning of the conversation), we must remember that this type of research is in the initial stage of development and it is not certain whether it will develop as much as global men’s studies and masculinities studies. Research on masculinity in Poland is conducted reluctantly and it is as if masculinity is something absolutely obvious here. To a large extent it is determined by politics and religion. Interestingly, there have been many recent works formulating the thesis about the crisis of modern masculinity.

MK: Is masculinity really in a state of crisis today?

AD: The crisis began with the fall of the great Enlightenment invention which was faith in a certain idealised image of man. I think we have been dealing with these masculinity crises since they started to be discussed and defined. The crisis of masculinity is a purely discursive matter – there is nothing unusual about the effeminacy of modern men, in that they use cosmetics and care for their bodies, etc. Therefore, it is understood that the subtitle of the third part of the Histoire de la virilité[3], an excellent, collective work edited by Jean-Jacques Courtine on masculinity of the 19th and 20th centuries was marked with a question: La virilité en crise?  (“Masculinity in crisis?”).

MK: Professor, at the end of our conversation I would like to ask about the scientists who form your team.  Research on masculinities is not conducted by an exclusively male group…

AD: The phenomenon of masculinity cannot be fully described without the participation of women. The team consists of scientists associated with the Faculty of Philology of the University of Silesia:  professor Filip Mazurkiewicz, professor Wojciech Śmieja, dr Tomasz Kaliściak, dr Dawid Matuszek and professor Krzysztof Kłosiński, as well as professor Krystyna Kłosińska who is an excellent expert in feminist literary criticism. Without the feminine voice, the quality of discourse in the field of study on masculinity would simply be lacklustre[4].

MK: Thank you for the interview.

Full professor Adam Dziadek is the deputy dean for scientific development of the Faculty of Philology, an employee of the Department of Historical Poetics and the Art of Interpretation. His scientific research focuses on literary theory, comparative literature, 20th century literary history, and translations of scientific texts. He lectured, among others, at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Cultures (INALCO) in Paris and at the University of Fribourg (Université de Fribourg) in Switzerland. As part of the Foundation for Polish Science scholarship, he conducted research on the archive of Aleksander Wat at the Beinecke Library (Yale University). He is also the author of several author’s monographs (incl.Projekt krytyki somatycznej (Somatic Criticism Project); Obrazy i wiersze.   Z zagadnień interferencji sztuk w polskiej poezji współczesnej (Paintings and Poems. On the issues of interference of plays in Polish contemporary poetry), Na marginesach lektury. Szkice teoretyczne  (On the Margins of Reading. Theoretical Outlines) and dozens of articles published in collective volumes and prestigious journals, including in the columns of “Dziennik Literacki”, “Teksty Drugie” and “Przestrzenie teorii”. Since 2007, he has been a member of the editorial committee of “Pamiętnik Literacki”, and since 2011 the editor-in-chief of “Śląskie Studia Polonistyczne”. Manager of several innovative research projects (incl. research Notatniki Aleksandra Wata – spiralna nielinearność zapisu, in English: Aleksander Wat’s Notebooks – Spiral Non-linearity of Record as part of the National Programme for the Development of Humanities).


[1] A little later, there appeared such books Ładni chłopcy i szalone. Męskość i kobiecość w późnym pisarstwie Józefa Ignacego Kraszewskiego (Cute Boys and Crazy Women. Masculinity and Femininity in the Late Writing of Józef Ignacy Kraszewski) by Mateusz Skucha or an extremely interesting monograph by Sebastian Jagielski titled Maskarady męskości. Pragnienie homospołeczne w polskim kinie fabularnym (Masquerades of Masculinity. Homosocial Desire in Polish Feature Film).


[2] R. Connell, Masculinities. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles 1995.


[3] Histoire de la virilité.La virilité en crise? J.-J. Courtine. Éditions du Seuil, Paris 2011, vol. 3.

[4] As part of the project, a series of collective works is developed under the joint title “Formy męskości” (“Forms of masculinity”), which also contains articles by other scholars dealing with the issues discussed. The works were also published in the pages of ‘Pamiętnik Literacki’, ‘Teksty Drugie’ and ‘Śląskie Studia Polonistyczne’. In addition, in the series “Studia o męskości” (“Studies on masculinity”) of the Institute of Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, the following books have been published:

Odmieńcze męskości w polskiej prozie XIX i XX wieku (Gender of the henpecked. Queer masculinity in Polish 19th and 20th century prose) by dr Tomasz Kaliściak, Imiona ojców. Możliwość psychoanalizy w badaniach literackich (Names of the Fathers. The Possibility of Psychoanalysis in Literary Studies) by dr Dawid Matuszek, and Hegemonia i trauma. Literatura wobec dominujących fikcji męskości (Hegemony and Trauma. Literature against the Dominant Fiction of Masculinity), the author of which is. professor Wojciech Śmieja. In addition, the University of Silesia Publishing House in 2015 issued the habilitation thesis of Wojciech Śmieja entitled Homoseksualność i polska nowoczesność . Szkice o teorii, historii i literaturze. (Homosexuality and Polish Modernity. Outlines on Theory, History and Literature).

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