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Among the boys: recreational activities and the construction of gender identity through socializing with masculine family members and friends, in the working classes

Clémence Perronnet

Research Framework: Recreational activities and cultural preferences and practices are a way of affirming and situating oneself in the social world, as much by one’s class or age as by one’s gender or place of residence. To say it in other words: “if you play soccer, like video games and listen to rap music… then you are a working class boy”.

Objectives: This articles seeks to question this apparent obviousness, looking at how young working class boys construct their gender through recreational activities, and asking what role is thence played by socializing with masculine family members and friends.

Methodology: We use data collected during a qualitative study led though observation and individual interviews with 20 boys and 11 girls who attend two classes of CM21 (10-11 year olds) in a working class neighborhood in the city of Lyon, France.

Results: The recreation and sociability network inhabited by the young boys is very masculine, an “entre-soi” or socio-cultural homogeneity that is built against the feminine. As for the parents, their gender roles are well differentiated, and the fathers and mothers interact differently with the boys. Horizontal sociability among peers (brothers, friends, cousins) also plays an important part in taste-making and masculine identification. At the individual level, the ostensibly homogeneous “entre-soi” is less uniform than it seems, and the ways of being a boy turn out to be both varied and hierarchized. Social distinction strategies appear within the gendered order.

Conclusions: Hence, this work questions the applicability of the social distinction model, showing that despite the common and shared nature of “the boys’” recreational activities, fine variations of practice set the stage for tiering within the male group.

Contribution: It also invites the reader to consider the heterogeneity of social groups through the combined description of what shapes community and what, from within, creates difference.