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The quality of manhood: masculinity and embodiment in the sociological tradition



This paper argues for the need to revisit classical sociological texts with a view to excavating the masculinity that inheres in these texts and saturates the concept of the social. Primarily through an examination of Durkheim and Simmel, it explores the strategies whereby masculine individuals could be released from corporeality and granted the sort of embodiment that allowed them to transcend their particularity and become social agents. It is argued that male embodiment is deeply sedimented in the sociological imaginary as the very condition of social action and the constituent of social agency. Thinking through the conceptual lenses of corporeality, embodiment and agency exposes some of the ways in which the analytical scaffolding of ‘the social’ rests on a deeply gendered ontological foundation. While the sociological tradition may indeed have continued salience for contemporary sociologies of the body, a relatively unreflexive recuperation of these texts is problematic. This paper challenges those who seek to rehabilitate the classics in the service of an embodied sociology to produce a much fuller accounting of the truncated corporeal terrain upon which classical sociology developed, and one which explicitly recognizes its gender.