Public Debate

On imagined communities online, digital self and YouTube..

As life is moving deeper and deeper into digital existence, it’s important to discuss the change of society models: a change towards the digital self, creation and adaptation to imagined communities (however, in a slightly different sense to Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities). A few years back I watched a video on anthropology of Youtube and it all triggered a deep interest in the topic. Now, working with audiences on YouTube every day and helping to create a tailored content for them, I often wonder about the communities created (imagined). Why do these people like this content? Who are all these people behind the countless usernames and avatars? Is this brave and aggressive person actually really shy and obeying in the life offline? Have the BFFs online ever met or will ever meet outside of this platform?

The ‘self-image’ is the key to human personality and human behaviour. Change the self image and you change the personality and the behaviour. [Maxwell Maltz]

In my mind, this is exactly the quote to describe the individuals in modern digital societies. You can be whoever you want to be, there are no restrictions, no borders and no end to imagined communities. There’s even no time when it comes to our digital personae – you can exist everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Time doesn’t work the same way online as it does offline.

Identity & the concept of imagined community

Identity, the notion of “the self”, community, cultural change and social networks have been popular themes in anthropology and sociology from the beginning when writers like Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Alfred Radcliffe- Brown, Edmund Leach and others were debating community ties and individuality. Identity construction has always been linked to modernity and self-consciousness; for example, Mauss’ idea is that the person is the self; the notion of the self involves consciousness shaped by our mental and physical being (Mauss 1985[1938]: 1).

So this tells us – identity is a big part of the concept of self. Self is the totality of person’s thoughts, feelings etc. with regards to oneself as an object (Rosenberg, 1986). In this wide concept, our identity is whatever we show to ‘the others’, it is whatever others know us by (Altheide, 2000, p.2). To create an identity it’s not enough only deciding on our personality traits and claiming them ours, it’s also about others accepting these claims and associating us with our chosen identity (Stone 1989, p.188 – “coincidence of placements and announcements.”). In other words, in every community, online and offline, there is a need of acceptance by others, both – as part of this group and as the individual you have chosen (and been accepted) to be.

Identity in local (face-to-face) interaction is constructed based on rules of the certain setting. The physical existence at that point is what constraints and prevents people claiming more daring identities that would not fit their real life offline characteristics from social background and race to looks and gender. (Zhao S.; Grasmuck S.; Martin J., 2008, p.2 (p.1817)). These restrictions might be lower when interaction happens between two strangers, but let’s be honest, we’ve all seen someone trying to bullsh*t us into thinking they are something they’re not… it has its limits!


I mentioned in one of my earlier post that “people do have aesthetic addiction to objects and there is a great need for that physical proof of existence no matter how digital we are.” Even in the digital sphere we need to have a certain personality and traits. We need to prove to someone else we are a fan of this band or that we are interested in a certain type of sports etc. And even though we cannot physically touch or sometimes verify this information it is still important to us.

Considerations such as these can help us appreciate the notion of „imagined communities‟ (B. Anderson, 2006), both virtual (social networks, high-tech communication) or physical. Anderson’s work has been noted as one of the most influential works on imagined communities in anthropology nowadays and fairly so. His theory on imagined communities, when talking about creation of nations, is easy to weave in discussion on digital communities even though they are fundamentally different. The main point Anderson raises is that the communities are imagined because even in the smallest of them there is no chance that all the members know each other, however they do experience the sense of communion.

Digital self and the creation of identity online

Internet as most might argue has opened a way for expressing yourself in more ways than offline life ever could. Everyone can become an artist with their own gallery that will not cost a penny on Flickr, everyone can own a blog and become a writer in hopes someone would read their work, feed-back on it wherever they might be without leaving their homes or spending money on editors or post. However, these are just the few examples of internet extending the opportunities based on our ‘real-life’ interests. Main thing I am interested in is why do we seem to change our identity online and does it have an impact on our offline one? One’s identity often differs from that adopted in different online settings that may vary from anonymous to full exposure of the ‘real’ identity.

Internet has changed the traditional ways of how we look at ourselves, meaning there is also a way for us to make others see us differently. Internet has changed the rules of identity creation. More so, there is no need to stick to one identity. It is mainly due to the fact of the ‘missing physical body’ giving space to the disembodied text. And it can go the opposite way where even with the physical characteristics being visible we withhold any or some information about the off-line personae, giving us the control over our new desired identity. Tempting isn’t it?


S. Turkle (2011) points out that the creation of a ‘greater amount of culture’ doesn’t mean we are more sociable though, quite the opposite, we might have lost some of the sociability with the expansion of digital. She bases this on the fact that technology makes us less human. So is this one of the triggers that makes us to hide our real life self behind countless put on identities that might change some undesired physical or character traits? It can go to ridiculous lengths such as change from introvert to extrovert or even a digital change of the gender. And it can be empowering. This phenomenon of online roles has been researched a lot and it seems to me that our online identities are markers for what we secretly want to be, our hidden self which might be restricted in face-to-face interactions due to wide range of obstacles such as social background, race, gender and physical features.

One thing in my mind separates the concept of identity creation online and offline is the acceptance of your identity by others. Face-to-face interaction will always require the model described before where you claim the identity and others either accept it or declined it based on what they see before them. In my opinion, online identity creation is much easier to achieve as the other members of the online community will have to accept your identity the moment you claim it as they can’t verify details you don’t want to reveal about yourself, such as age, gender, race etc. (Not talking about stalkers here though, stay safe! ).

We have to remember however that no matter how limitless the online identity can be, there are some pre-determined parts of us and anchored offline relationships we carry with us to our online identity. People know people offline and interact with them online, get acquainted with the friends of their friends, losing some of that freedom of anonymity in the process. Let’s take G+ accounts as an example or even Facebook. Everyone is linked. Google learns information on our location, interests, etc. and based on that not only caters the advertising to our preferences but also suggests the connections – old classmates, people living in your town, people you have mutual friends with. This again implements certain constraints to identity claims.

So even though we could argue that identity online is the ultimate freedom and you can become whoever you want to, there are aspects that restrict this freedom from being limitless.

Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else. [Epictetus]

YouTube’s example of identity creation

YouTube as you probably know is the most viewed video-sharing site in the world and the third most visited website in the world overall behind Google search engine and Facebook (Alexa, 2015). Created in 2005 by three former employees of PayPal to make video sharing easier and sold to Google in 2006, YouTube has grown to be one of the most simple but at the same time one of the most complex networks on the web nowadays.

Most of the content is uploaded by individual users with  300 hours uploaded every minute in 2014 which was 3 times more than the year before and it’s still growing (YouTube data). Some of these individuals who create videos become highly influential and have a certain say in the creation of the identities of others, especially those of the younger age group. But is it only affecting their online identity? Or do they influence the everyday life decisions, choice of certain material things, choice of travel destinations and so on. And it works both ways. Influential or not, there are physical beings behind these online roles with feelings and choices. Creating an account on YouTube and putting time into making videos is one of the most popular ways to express ourselves for the new tech-savy individuals.

New media not only introduce new ways for us to express ourselves, but also new forms of self-awareness – new ways to reflect on who we are and how we relate to others [M. Wesch, 2009]

However, it is not only about ‘broadcasting ourselves’ as Youtube kindly invites us to do. It is about co-creation instead of creation – substitution of camera with community by letting them influence the content. What makes a successful YouTuber? Listening to your audience, letting them participate in making of your channel. “Let us know in the comments below, thumbs up if you like this video and subscribe for more” has become one of the most important phrases people add to their videos and it is working. Why? Because people love to be in charge as a default, they feel special when their suggestion is the one chosen from tons of comments and that makes them feel even closer to the person that seems to be the centre of this imagined community. The more appreciation you get from the influencer, the higher you step in the community, which is still in its core horizontal, anonymous and imagined. And it doesn’t end there, you can be a part of as many communities as you want, the more you surface online the higher the possibility to become influential even though this might not have any effect on your offline life.

Something to think about? Always.

Further readings:

  1. B. Anderson “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism” (2006)
  2. S. Turkle “Life on Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet” (1995)
  3. A. Acquisti, R. Gross “Imagined Communities: Awareness, information sharing, and privacy on the Facebook”
  4. H.A Horst, D. Miller “Digital Anthropology” (2013)
  5. T. Boellstorff “Rethinking Digital Anthropology” (2012)

On the feeling of guilt…

“Procrastination is not merely a curious human aberration, one of the many instances in which people failed to pursue their interest in an efficient and productive manner. It represents a dysfunction of human abilities that are important, if not essential, for coping with the myriad tasks, major or minor, that accumulate daily on our desks, in our memo books or in our minds…When we procrastinate we waste time, miss opportunities, and do not live authentic lives.” [Milgram, N.: 1991]

Recently I have been procrastinating with work related stuff and have been lazy, which has made me feel guilty. So I decided to overcome the feeling of guilt I feel on daily basis (and make myself stop the procrastinating) by exploring it. And what better way than a blog post.

Obviously, the feeling of guilt does not come only from simple things like procrastination. So, before writing up this blog post, I decided to do my own little research on reasons that make people feel guilty. I started off with asking: “What makes you feel guilty on daily basis”? I asked this to my friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter and later I decided to get in touch with couple of people that inspire me. The answers surprised me in the variety of reasons and also levels of guilt. So this made me look up academic definitions and research on levels of guilt.

What is guilt?

Encyclopedia of Psychology (2007) explains that guilt is: “A cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.”

F.Perls in “Ego, Hunger and Aggression: a Revision of Freud’s Theory and Method” (1951) argues that one of the earliest stages of “guilt” is determined by a break up or violation of rules that we have adopted internally as our personal standards. Author defines guilt as the feeling of self-punishment or “a vindictive attitude towards oneself” (p. 127). Perls argues that guilt is the awareness of contradiction of actions and morals. In short – guilt is a result of “failing” yourself or your principles.

In my life, guilt takes various forms and levels, so to say. I might feel a little guilty for skipping gym or having a late midnight snack, but I feel a lot more guilty when I give into pressure or fail to do something I have strongly decided to do. But can we measure guilt? And if we can, how? Is there one measure for all of us to asses how guilty we are? And if there is, does it change when our guilt involves interpersonal communication? And when does the feeling of guilt turn into the feeling of shame?

There have been several scientists that have tried to get to the bottom of guilt and shame, some of them base it on emotional expression, but never completely separated them (i.e. Darwin, who did the research observing his own son), some of them would turn away from this approach and instead give a greater importance to emotional experience that a person goes through while experiencing guilt or shame (i.e. Lange and James [1922] or Freud [1923]). However, one scientist (H.B. Lewis) decided to take it to the next level and pay a greater attention to the difference between the two. Her work was used to create the classic distinction between shame and guilt that is used now.

“The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done or undone is the focus [..]” [H.B. Lewis, p.30, 1971]

So basically, as always we return to self evaluation, principles and identity of one. I am not going to go deep into psychology or exploring the terms as I think this sums it up perfectly:


So, why the post about guilt when starting a new year? Because for the last 8 months I have put aside lots of the things I love, lots of the things that made me feel alive and I feel tired. But above this weird tiredness and routine hangs an amazing amount of guilt. Guilt about not doing things. And I guess it is better to get it all out here before it turns into shame. Before I feel bad about myself not the things I have (haven’t) done.

As the year turns a new page in us all (or at least we like to pretend it does, so we keep this one point of countdown when supposedly things are about to change) I have turned back to what makes me happy – writing (hopefully, this won’t be the last post), traveling, photography and generally just making time for myself in the middle of the crazy wheel I keep running in like a hamster. I have made the first steps towards a more happy, more alive me. Let’s hope it stays that way.

To finish off, whenever I think about guilt or shame I remember this:

Further readings:

  1. Heidy Lee Eire “The Shame and Guilt Inventory: Development of a new scenario-based measure of shame and guilt-proneness.” [Dissertation – available on]
  2. T.R. Cohen, S.T. Wolf, A.T. Panter, C.A. Insko “Guilt and Shame proneness scale [GASP]” [Available online]
  3. L.E. O’Connor, J.W. Berry, J. Weiss, M. Bush, H. Sampson “Interpersonal guilt: The Development of a New Measure” [Available online]
  4. S. Freud “Civilisation and It’s Discontents” [1929]
  5. M. Lewis, J.M. Haviland-Jones, L. Feldman Barret “Handbook of Emotions: Third edition” [Available online]

On image and it’s meaning in the age of ‘Snapchatting’.

Photography and the idea of still image has been around for a long time. The idea of a pinhole camera has been described as early as Aristotle and Euclid 5th-4th centuries BCE. However, first documented chemical black and white photography was carried out in 1820s (first colour photography came in late 1860s). In comparison, the photography back then and now differ greatly, starting with the simple fact of extremely long exposure, which would make taking picture a terribly long and complicated process. We entered the digital camera age only in 1981 when Sony unveiled Sony Mavica which technically was not fully digital, but it did save image on the disc eliminating the use of film. It’s been a long way till we got to where we are now and the possibilities of capturing image are still evolving by days.

Some say images have no space in traditional social sciences and that they are the disciplines of words. However, image, picture, visual plays a great role in society and the way people perceive things. In some parts of the world an image is believed to keep ones soul alive after death or the belief that taking photos is a bad omen and ones image should never be captured in a still image.

“Anthropology has had no lack of interest in the visual; its problem has always been what to do with it.” [MacDougal, 1997:276]

The Yoruba, an ethnic group in West Africa, have even incorporated photography in their contemporary and traditional culture such as rituals (see Sprague, S.F.: 2002, ch.11). A possibility of capturing the moment has always been as tempting as that big red button to push.

The meaning and value of the image

An image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts or records visual perception, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject – usually a physical object or a person, thus providing a depiction of it.

What an image means to every one of us depends on how we value it. Our images are memories, friendships and moments stopped and saved for later. Every image has its own story and its own value accordingly, from a casual snap on the train to a long planned family reunion portrait. It might be just me, but I feel like with the evolution of apps and social networks, the value of an image has fallen greatly. And that is where Snapchat comes in. But I’ll return to that later.

To be completely honest, I am a ‘sucker’ for pictures which is probably why this post was hanging about my drafts for so long in the first place. I like taking them, not a great fan of being in them, but as it happens I do have a massive amount of pictures online and offline. The hell with it, I even decorated my white room into a kind of ‘a gallery of good times’.


People have a great aesthetic addiction to objects, other people, emotions. During my visual anthropology course we talked about the perceiving of image as a part of the culture and tradition. As a medium for documenting the culture, capturing lives in the exact form and moment. In my head it is completely different than the pictures we take at the events or so called ‘selfies’ at home. Don’t get me wrong, we still do document the moment, the people, the objects but it is not the same. Hans Belting is talking about image linked with our mental images. A body is understood as “a living medium that produces, perceives, or remembers images that are different from the images we encounter through handmade or technical pictures”, therefore, image would be just a still portrayal of the emotions, memory, a part of this living medium but at the same time not. Belting completely turns away from the understanding of photography as just a type of art. However, I still believe that the practice of photography itself  is a type of art. And it probably should be treated like one.

Photography in a digital age could be compared to a selective memory – we can take millions of pictures and afterwards decide which ‘memories’ to keep and which just erase with a push of a button. With all the technological wonders our progress has given us, almost anyone can do it which, much like with economy, means the value of image is decreasing. To add to this, image has the power of capturing the real and the staged you. With the digital photography age and knowledge of photo editing softwares, it has become a less relevant question, as you can look at the picture and decide to re-take or retouch it, whereas, back in the day of film photography, image was something permanent, something that had to work from the beginning, something that captures the moment without a chance of changing the memories.

“As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are therefore coincides, with their production.” [Marx, Engels: 1974]

Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, sharing online and the conclusions.

I have talked a lot about social media, sharing, communication etc. I personally am one of the people that does a lot of sharing like pictures on Flickr, I do have both WhatsApp and Snapchat, I do share on Facebook, Twitter and on here. However, as an anthropologist, I would say that with all this ‘cloud’ type of sharing we have lost the main idea behind a valuable image.

When I am looking for an example, I love to get other people involved in an opinionated discussion before writing every post and so I did this time. I started with a question on photography and social media apps, just the general opinion. Apparently, with social media like Facebook and applications like WhatsApp there is ‘still some hope’ as some of my friends told me (mainly because you know your audience and the reaction to photos that can be shared, viewed, reviewed, copied, saved etc). Instagram was rated as an app where you share only what is really important, something that would matter to you (again keeping in mind your audience), something that would describe you with addition of cool effects and countless hashtags. Finally, Snapchat was nominated as the most obnoxious and maybe a little bit creepy app that would be the complete opposite of meaningful or even important memories. In fact, I was told that the pictures there are mostly meaningless (!!!) and it is only great for sharing “a shitty day/looks/nudes with your friends without worrying they will use it against you sometime as it will be gone in matter of seconds”.

This raised my attention. How can a photo be meaningless? The whole idea since the photography evolved from the very first attempts was to capture the memories in still images, nice and easy. I guess I could say that by the development of technology we are going back to a point where photograph is not a permanent, physical object. Another thing that worries me on this is the loss of fear of consequences. With photos being taken we are taking responsibility for what is portrayed on them. With Snapchat? No worries, just put it on for 1 second and puff they’re gone – no questions asked.. or will they?

“Snapchat is the fastest way to share a moment with friends. You control how long your friends can view your message—simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send. They’ll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We’ll let you know if they take a screenshot! Build relationships, collect points, and view your best friends. Snapchat is instantly fun and insanely playful. Show your friends how clever you can be and enjoy the lightness of being!”

This was the first description of Snapchat on iTunes when it just came out… This is the second one:

“Experience a totally new way to share today. Snap a photo or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They’ll view it, laugh, and then the snap disappears from the screen – unless they take a screenshot! If you want to share a Snap with all of your friends, add it to your Snapchat Story, where each Snap lives for 24 hours until it disappears, making room for the new.”

So at this point what has changed is the idea of telling you when someone decides to keep your 10 second moment for later. As I said before, people do have aesthetic addiction to objects and there is a great need for that physical proof of existence no matter how digital we are.

At the end of the day, it is no-one’s business what we decide to share and for how long. But I can definitely say that the release of Snapchat has marked a new age in photography. The one where it is no more about the image, it’s quality or the memory it keeps. It has marked the age of photograph as a means of conversation, a casual chat with no consequences, no long lasting memories and no promises. I just hope that with this new type of communication we won’t forget that the photograph can also be linked to our mental images, be used to keep important memories and value the moments captured through the lens.

Suggested readings:

  1. Belting, H. An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body (2011), available for purchase here
  3. Phelan, P. Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time in Signs, (Summer 2002) available here
  4. Collier, J. Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method (1967)
  5. Sprague, S. F. Yoruba Photography: How the Yoruba see themselves in Askew, K. and Wilk, R. The anthropology of media: A reader (2002)
  6. Banks, M. Visual methods in social research (2001)

On intercultural communication, learning the language and globalisation.

As Anthony J. Liddicoat has said in his paper “Teaching Languages for Intercultural Communication” (2005):

“Learning a foreign language is more than a simple task of assembling lexical items in grammatically accurate sentences. It involves fundamentally learning to communicate with others in that language and such communication involves an engagement with culture.”

So I decided it is time for this kind of post.

As stated by Gupta and Ferguson, changes in political and economic systems and migration of people has led to the situation where we have to re-evaluate the ways of exploring the cultures and maybe even redefine the concept of culture as a discrete phenomenon (1992). Culture is not a simple concept, therefore in my mind, changing it would mean changing the small components constructing it. The work of Gupta and Ferguson overall raises the wide issue of ‘place and space’: location, displacement, community and identity; it deals with change in Anthropology and it’s concepts due to the development of society, science, economy, politics etc. It talks about culture and cultural differences within the context of the modern globalized world. How big a part of a culture depends on where we come from? Does the certain culture only exists within a certain society, or it travels and changes together with people; or does a politically geographical distinction dictates the way of perceiving the culture as a part of certain people and territory?

Migration, nomads, foreign studies or work – are you supposed to have more than one culture or maybe none of them the same time? And where do we draw a line between cultures? Are there even several cultures or there is just one thing – a culture? Multiculturalism is a clear example of non-isolated cultures, of a movement as a part of human nature and culture, plurality concept (even though dividing cultures into subcultures seems to be an attempt of a distinct cultural view of world). National identity vs. Ethnic (cultural) identity: As J.Rotschild (1999) states, even though most countries are multi-ethnic; ethno-national self-determination is critical on a mental level. Dominant culture + ‘the others’ (concept of the otherness), plus mixture of cultures based on the power of dominant culture; (In my mind I would link this idea to A.D. Smith (1997) -> ethnic groups tend to form either by union or disunion of certain units -> Assimilation vs. Proliferation).

As a foreigner living in the United Kingdom, I can definitely say that it has not been easy for me to learn the “language”. And no, not in a grammatical sense of the word. Being here and studying anthropology I felt lost for at least the first month or so. I felt lost mainly because both – the environment and the study area – were completely new. I had to EXPLORE people through anthropological studies without having any idea how these people are different, are they different at all and what are their customs and mentality. With this we come back to the unloved idea of ‘the others’. During our classes we talked about ‘the others’ mostly when talking about groups of people that are considered to be not as developed technology-wise. But it isn’t as easy as that, is it?

When I told my supervisor I will carry out my research right here in the UK and, even more complicated, on people of my own age group and nationality, he called me crazy and offered me to go to the easy way. He offered me to write on the ancient pagan rituals and use of them nowadays in Latvia. For him, I was ‘the other’ from the place somewhere else which made this theme fascinating. For me the UK was “the other place” and I wanted to explore what I thought would help me to fit in. Basically, by looking for the reasons in other people like me I set myself straight. In time, I obviously made lots of friends who are British, learned the ideas, picked up some accents, social customs and even fell for a guy. I didn’t feel like ‘the other’ anymore, nor do I now. However, that had changed me – I feel more as ‘the other’ back home.

Language for people is like a marker of identity. Our language implies certain things about us and using a language means constructing our social identity. Language allows you to express yourself. In my opinion, learning the language is somehow showing respect for the other person and in addition to that, you enrich your world by engaging with another culture and more importantly learning to understand it.

Recently I had an interesting conversation in my friends car on what I value the most about learning foreign languages. I replied that in my opinion it makes you more tolerant as you learn a part of the identity through the language, you participate in a cultural exchange without even knowing it. Every language is a way to explore and understand. And exploring a second language is the most obvious way of intercultural communication. It is important to keep in mind that when someone communicates in their second language they automatically encode the ideas in language which is located within a certain cultural context. Hence, language learners have to engage with culture as they communicate which is not always the easiest of tasks.

This leads to exactly what S. Tambiah had said in his work “Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality” – he points out four main themes: rationality, relativity, translation and comparability and commensurability. All these points are tools to communicate, to understand “us” and “them” by explaining the information we gather in terms of our own understanding (S. Tambiah: 1990). In my opinion, it raises the question of “being lost in translation” or in other words misinterpretation. By interpreting cultures on our own knowledge basis, can we be objective or rational? Are any of the cultures better than the other? Even though Tambiah’s work has been written just over 20 years ago, a lot has changed since then. Global connections and information systems have been upgraded every day and cultures mix due to networking and social and economic organisations collaborating globally hence cross-culturally. Cross-cultural communication is happening not only in professional but also personal levels – people are migrating, i.e. labour migrants, integrate in the “local” society and become a part of it, but still with a different background, creating a new kind of cultural identity. However, the diversity of cultures has not been eliminated, as long as we acknowledge that we are individuals, there is a diversity in thoughts, traditions etc.

Models of intercultural communication have greatly changed accordingly, and one of the main communication changing aspects is globalisation. If we look back for almost forty years, E. Leach wrote: “Our internal perception of the world around us is greatly influences by the verbal categories which we use to describe it (…) we also use language to tie the components together again, to put things and persons in relationship to one another” (E. Leach: 1976, p.33). If we look at the ideas ten years later from that point on, late 80s and start of the 90s – anthropology has shifted from a clear idea of distinction between cultures who communicate to a much more open debate between relativists and rationalists. Ten more years later, Norman Long argues that globalisation is not uniformity but is to be considered diversity, since it allows more individual and self-organized system to operate and people become less united (N. Long: 2000, p.185). This leads to discussion on heterogeneity of society even modern and high-tech communication systems and media development should allow more easy communication. At some point it does. It is definitely much easier to find information on a certain project or interest, transfer information, check the facts etc. But this also allows the information to be more manipulated, used by the third parties or to be false.

And to conclude, it is always about understanding each other not about learning dry facts.

Further readings:

1. Hannerz, U. Mediations in the global ecumene in G. Palsson (ed.) Beyond Boundaries. Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse, Princeton Academic Press, 1993.
2. Leach, E. Culture and Communication: the logic by which symbols are connected. An introduction to the use of structuralist analysis in social anthropology, Cambridge University Press, 1976.
3. Palsson, G. Introduction: Beyond Boundaries in G. Palsson (ed.) Beyond Boundaries. Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse, Princeton Academic Press, 1993.
4. Tambiah, S., Magic, science, religion, and the scope of rationality, Cambrige University Press, 1990.
5. Liddicoat, A.J. and A. Sacrino (2013) Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning Wiley and Sons, New York.
6. Crozet, C., & Liddicoat, A.J. (2000) Teaching culture as an integrated part of language: Implications for the aims, approaches and pedagogies of language teaching. A.J. Liddicoat & Crozet, C. (Eds.), Teaching Languages, Teaching Cultures. Melbourne: Language Australia.
7. Gupta A., Ferguson J., Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference,
Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 1, (Feb., 1992), Wiley, URL 

Masculinity versus feminism: can men be feminists?

Just to start off.. I felt like my first post should be something serious and less playful. So here it is. I promise, next ones will be shorter and possibly more fun!


Mankind has always been concerned with different global and local changes in ‘society’; eschatological ideas have been at the forefront of popular consciousness for millennia, but for the last century, one of the most pertinent phenomena has been the shift away from a society dominated by patriarchy to one of greater gender equality. It is clear that women have shown temerity in their determination to attain their place in society. Though, as we look at society and the fight for equality today, we should ask, is it really just about equality between sexes or does it involve a wider issue regarding crave for gender domination? Have previous debates over equality helped to instigate a gender identity crisis? I decided to look at feminism and masculinity from the perspective of theory and test it with the perspective of some young men.  Through the small 10 minute talks with five males regarding their thoughts on feminism I will try to find out: can men be feminists or is feminism just for women?

But to start with it, a little bit of background to the debate in general. So what is contemporary feminism?

There are numerous definitions of what feminism stands for and every individual perceives it in their own way. Most common idea circulating in society is “equality between men and women”. This standpoint, of course, is true, but feminism as a theory goes deeper than just idea of equality between genders. To fully understand what feminism is today, we are supposed to look at the history of feminist thought and development of it up until today.

Even though the notion of gender and female/male roles in society has a long history (going even further than relationship between two sexes), the notions of maleness and femaleness are relatively new.

The first wave of feminism emerged in 19th century and is characterized as an idea in classic liberalism – on-going emancipation and self-determination of women in society, which is ruled by men. The prevailing concern in the first wave of feminism was the affirmation of equality between women and men and an attempt to abolish all prejudices concerning biological differences. Basically, the first wave of feminism was against embodiment of women in terms of both – men and women – being the rational human beings. Claire Colebrook in her book “Gender” (2004) talks about how this idea developed as a distinction between sex and gender, meaning that “one’s body or sexuality had no was a merely physical quality and had nothing to do with one’s subjectivity”. Even though the first idea is still a base for a feminist idea today, feminism has developed from that point on, i.e. Mary Wollstonecraft was a feminist by the standards of her day, but if she was writing today few would regard her as such.

As for the second-wave of feminism, it is considered to be more radical on equal rights than the first-wave (liberal feminism). It has originally evolved from shift of values and quality of life concerning educational changes in the middle of 20th century (1950s and 1960s), moving from woman’s role in reproduction and household to public policy building. Second wave feminists insisted that with acquiring education etc. gender oppositions should be either reformed or dissolved.

Second-wave feminists also emphasized that being different from men is not considered to be a failure regards reaching equality, being different as a woman was considered a value itself – feminine perspective on the world. Main idea of the feminists (also in anthropology) at the time was that gender matters and that gender-neutral position is not an answer. The main critique of the second-wave feminism mainly lies in the argument that it was “white led”, meaning that this feminism generalizes women, not taking into account their race, class or ethnicity.

In early 1970s several feminist organisations were formed by women of different races; they would ask for recognition from the so called ‘white-led feminism’, drawing attention to the needs of women of different class, race and ethnicity. Even though these organisations tried to go away from the term feminism as it had this association with supremacy, they still fought for the same thought. As the leader of the Black liberation movement of the time Assata Shakur puts it:

“To me, revolutionary struggle of Black people had to be against racism, classism, imperialism and sexist for real freedom under a socialist government”.

Third wave feminism is mostly said to be emerging from 1980 to the present (in other writings since 1990s). Anthropologists in earlier years had been concentrating on biological differences, which suggested that sex was a source and power phenomenon based in physical diversities between men and women. However, these questions cannot be cut down to a simple statement, since the 1980s feminism proposes a setback of the earlier separation of nature and culture by representing sex as a social category like gender, because humans do have social anticipations which are grounded on our physical body.

Additionally, more comprehensive work has made it more difficult to differentiate between biological and cultural factors. Feminist anthropology no longer focus only on the matter of gender unevenness, as this leads to negligence in various disciplines in anthropology. Instead, feminist anthropologists now recognize differences through categories like class, race, ethnicity, etc.; in other words, it is accepted, that nonetheless women share the same sex, it does not mean that they necessarily have the exact same essentials needs and experiences. Third wave feminism was also affected by postmodernism, which encouraged an evaluation of the representation of women.

An interesting thought on the third wave feminism has been offered by Julia Kristeva (1986). She states that relationship between the natural and cultural, male and female, subject and object etc. is a superior phenomenon that constructs our experiences. In earlier works she states, that the distinction between men and women is also moderated by “maternal flux”. In other words, without these differences, there would be no knowledge. In my opinion, she is trying to challenge gender in a way that our existence is primarily organised – through differences of body and maternal origins.

SO…What about masculinity?

First of all, I thought, what is that masculinity has to do with feminism? Why are people always mentioning these two as contrasts or even nemesis? Why are there public discussions on masculinity crisis?

In 1970s, women’s liberation movement supposed an opposition between masculinity and feminism, however at the same time (1970s and 1980s) masculinity studies in the academia cultivated a diverged dependency on the theories of feminism. 1990s masculinity movements pursued to regain the status of dominant gender over women, though the process was affected highly by the queer theory. Today, the situation is more balanced, and masculinity is perceived more as an independent field of studies. Nowadays, masculinity studies, same as feminism (and gender studies in general), explore the differences and interdependences between masculinity and femininity – men and women.

The main resentment between feminism and masculinity rose during the second wave of feminism, until in 1990s it deplored male discrimination and gathered men in groups united by the idea of male rights. However, this movement was not the only one men were active in, there were also some movements, smaller in numbers though, that were considered to be pro-feminism. The ideas of pro-feminist men mostly sought eliminating the privileged society and stated that masculinity has positioned itself against women as well as subordinated men (mostly meaning race and different sexuality). This leads to important aspect regarding masculinity studies today – homosexual rights movements. As Goldstein (1998) puts it in “The hate that makes men straight”, masculinity is recognized  through rejection of femaleness in men, hence homosexuality is disturbing mostly heterosexual men, as in their mind anxiety about their masculinity makes homosexuals feminine (notion of feminine masculinity).

When it comes to anthropology, it has been that men for ages have been talking to men concerning men. There are several ways anthropologists address masculinity like manhood, being a man (manliness), gender identity and social roles. As M. C. Gutmann puts it, problem with this is that there is no strict line between these concepts, which makes most of the writings to engage with more than one of the concepts, hence make their writing unclear. He divides these concepts and explains them in a way, that makes every anthropologist re-consider the use of the term:

  1. male identity – “anything that men think and do”;
  2. manhood – “anything that men think and do to be men”;
  3. manliness – “some men are considered more manly than other men”;
  4. men’s roles – “anything that women are not”.

Let’s not lie.. The notion of a gendered fieldwork exists. It is often argued, that women are more emotional, more engaged with the group of study, less objective etc. Well… maybe so, but, in my opinion, it is not all so ‘black or white’. Victor Seidler in his work “Masculinity and Violence” states, that men often grow to be strangers to themselves and backs up his opinion with the citation from Anne-Marie Fearon:

“I believe that all human beings, even male ones, are born (or are at any rate conceived) sensitive, loving, intelligent, open and real”.

Seidler then develops this idea further, by saying, that one of the main reasons for men to turn into expressive and possibly violent, arrogant and closed humans is closely related to feminism ideas and the notion of positioned relationships between men and women raising “(…) a sense of despair, guilt and a paralysing self-hatred” (V. Seidler: 1996, p.1 (63)). In my mind this linked in some way to the well-known citation by Simone de Beauvoir:

“One is not born a woman but becomes one”.

Are we really meant to be one or the other? And what determines otherness? Women or men, feminine or masculine, only because our body is born like one or the other sex? Or do we raise ourselves to believe that certain things are appropriate only to one or other sex (gender)? My question here would be – do we learn our gender? So often women are struggling with violence and abuse from men, but, at the same time, there are characteristics, introduced to us when we are just kids, that become encoded in our brain.

The main problem with feminism and masculinity is the stigma, that keeps dividing both genders by stating, that one is supreme to another or that there are certain expectations mentioned before based on our bodily differences. Sure, we are different and there are some things some people do better than the others, but that should not be decided for us by the gender.

In my opinion, a perfect example on what society thinks of masculinity is expressed through this citation:

“It (masculinity) is always something that you have to be ready to defend and prove. You have to prove that you are as much a man as everyone else.” (V. Seidler: 1996).

Let me make an example; genetically, ‘we’ as women are coded to look for a man, that could grant us safety; whereas emotionally, we might be more attached to one through characteristics, special connection or dialogue etc. This is how contradictive relationships are; it is all about proving a point, living up to different expectations. There are no good enough men – and that is just one of the issues of shaping and giving meaning to masculinity in my opinion. And it reflects in several spheres, like some ideas in English literature, i.e. writer George Bernard Shaw. I think, he shows masculinity as a type of a personal religion, as something that characterizes you as individual and is closely related to your education, psychological, philosophical etc. aspects and not by your gender. For example, his play ‘Pygmalion’ clearly shows Medea’s character as something existing outside of the traditional Greek policy, she is a strong character with somewhat heroic traits and characteristics. She is smart, volatile and powerful.

Now to the point. Can men be feminists?

Can men be feminists? This is a common question in different disciplines in social sciences. There are various debates winding around the question if men should be feminists (pro-feminists) and how actively they should involve in processes. Mandy van Deven in “Is feminism men’s work too?” cites Khary Lazarre-White (co-founder of Brotherhood/Sister Sol – a youth support organisation for Latin Americans and Afro-Americans) who says:

“It is essential for men to take an active role in the work to counteract sexism and misogyny because it is our responsibility. Sexism is not the problem of women – it is a problem of men.”

M. van Deven states, that idea of a man as a feminist is both – contradictory and fictional; the reason for this might be the emphasis on women fighting for their rights, that may exclude male involvement in it. There are writings on men in feminism, like “Men in Feminism” by Shira Tarant, that focuses on explaining the importance of feminist ideas in men’s everyday life and how the subordination of women is not tolerated by every man throughout the history.

I, however, was seeking for the answer to question if men can be feminists by narrowing it down to young men and their views on feminism. For the small ‘interviews’ I chose my five ‘experimental rabbits’ by randomly approaching young men in the library. The set questions were:

  1. How do you think, what is feminism?
  2. Do you think men can be feminists?
  3. Do you think men should be feminists?
  4. Do you consider yourself a feminist and why?

To be completely honest, the answers and their variety did not surprise me very much, I would say they were as predictable as the possibility of rain in Midsummer celebration (which is like really predictable). Since the start of studying anthropology, I have met a huge variety of individuals and talked to them about this subject, and for me all of them fall in two categories, which would further divide:

  1. People who disagree with feminist ideas: a) People with knowledge on what feminism is but finding it not legitimate; b) People who have an abstract idea of what feminism is that might be constructed on the stigma ruling in society and that find it absurd and even offensive.
  2. People who agree with feminist ideas: a) People with knowledge on what feminism is, finding it legitimate and call themselves feminists; b)People with knowledge on what feminism is, finding it legitimate but do not actively participate – call themselves pro-feminists; c) People that agree with feminist ideas but prefer not to call themselves feminist or pro-feminist for various reasons; d) People who have an abstract idea of what feminism is, think they are feminists, but base their opinion on stigma.

As for my results, interestingly enough the ideas divided in almost a half – those who have this stigmatic and pretty predictable opinion on what feminism is, where answers of respondents talk for themselves:

  1. “Women Hitlers”;
  2. “Feminism is a type of a ‘book club’ for housewives and lesbians who don’t have anything better to do than to bitch about men being superior etc.” (Some angry young man this one was, haha)

And the answers of those who have pretty strong ideas on what is feminism were:

  1. “A diverse set of ideologies united in their affirmation of women’s rights”;
  2. “Activities and ideologies towards equality for women”;
  3. “Something really important, but blurry as a concept. I think, feminism is active action that eliminates women’s subordination? Yes, that’s how I would put it.”

As for men being feminists, the answers were mostly like this: “I think they could be feminists, because the gender does not matter, what matters is the idea” or this: “I don’t think we can be fully feminist because we don’t exactly know what it means to be a woman. But I would say that we can be supporting feminist ideas.”

One idea caught my eye and I wanted to explore it further:

“Ha, sure they can… if they are gay!”

This opinion goes perfectly with what Gutmann had written on the role of gender – a man is everything a woman is not. In my opinion, this clearly shows the roles men have to play in order to be perceived as masculine, i.e. being considerate of women rights automatically means being homosexual? I think this lies in the pre-determined world of expectations, where the gender is a really important social construct. Or is this about fakeness?

Of course, when the question “should men be feminist” was raised I would get a really short and self-explanatory answer from one of the guys: “No!” One other was undecided on this question, and three of them replied positive (one of them, however, mentioned the aspect of being ‘for’ feminism ideas, instead of being feminist himself).

 As for conclusions…

To answer the question if it is possible for men to be feminists, we have to provide a coherent set of conceptual definitions as to what feminism, pro-feminism as well as masculinity are. The theory I incorporated within this, in my opinion states that men can be feminists, since the idea of gender equality eliminates gender as such, however during my small interviews I gained results that showed the division between the ‘camps’ and stigmatic thought. However, since there were only 5 informants and they were chosen randomly, these results are not in any way representative of the general opinion among young men.

These interviews made an impression that social setting is really important, when it comes to openness on sensitive questions, such as masculinity, sexual orientations, roles of gender etc. I felt that the guys were a bit nervous, bothered by what other people might think of them, the judgement of their answers.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that, in spite of what my interviewees said or did not say, I still think men can be feminist and that there is no great difference between the positions of pro-feminist or feminist. As one of the examples I used is also the quote from the interview mentioned above – “the gender does not matter, what matters is the idea”.

And just for a better and more mellow mood, here is Hugh Laurie and ‘Let them talk’ 🙂

If interested in some of the theory behind this, read these:

  1. Bell, Diane. Daughters of the Dreaming. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
  2. Bernard, H.R. Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (4th edition), Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2006
  3. Colebrook, C. Gender. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
  4. Gardiner, J. K. (ed.). Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory: New Directions. Columbia University Press, 2002.
  5. Geller, Pamela L, and Miranda K. Stockett. Feminist Anthropology: Past, Present, and Future. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
  6. Gutmann, M. C. Trafficking in Men: The Anthropology of Masculinity in Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 26 (1997),
  7. Hayes, B. C., McAllister I. & Studlar, D.T. Gender, Postmaterialism and Feminism in Comparative Perspective in International Political Science Review  Vol.21, No. 4, Women, Citizenship, and Representation. (2000),
  8. Kemp, S. and Squires, J. (eds.) Feminisms. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
  9. Kristeva, J. and Moi T. The Kristeva Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.
  10. Kristeva, J. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1981.
  11. Seidler V. Violence and Masculinity in Rethinking masculinity: philosophical explorations in light of feminism (May, L., Strikwerda, R. A. & Hopkins, P. D.), London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1996.
  12. Thompson, B. Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism in Feminist Studies Vol. 28, No.2, Second Wave Feminism in the United States, 2002,
  13. Van Deven, M. Is Feminism Men’s Work, Too? In Herizons, Fall, 2009.