Benjamin Brühwiler, MA


Benjamin Brühwiler studied History, Social Anthropology and Economics for three years at the University of Basel before enrolling in the Master Programme of African Studies, which he completed in November 2007. Subsequently he did nine months of national service at an orphanage and a vocational school in Ifakara, Tanzania and then spent some time in Dar es Salaam preparing a proposal for graduate studies. In fall 2009 he enrolled as a PhD student at the Michigan State University. He is currently Teaching Assistant and after the first year of coursework he plans a dissertation on the social history of credit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, under the guidance of Prof. Laura Fair.

MA Thesis

MANaging Bankruptcy. Masculinities in Dar es Salaam, 1985-1990

My MA thesis looks at masculinities in Dar es Salaam in the late 1980s. It examines masculinities on various levels of society and discusses their relevance in the three broad analytical fields of work, household relations, and sexualities. The newspapers Daily News, Sunday News, and Weekly Magazine constitute the main primary sources. Since my study is concerned with how expectations and ideals of masculinity were expressed, I look at the ways in which men were written about and portrayed in articles, advertisements, letters to the editor, and comics. These sources serve as starting points for the discussion of discoursive constructions of masculinity in the late 1980s, which are analyzed and concomitantly historicized and complemented by more general discussions of social, economic, and political changes. The economic downturn, the introduction of a market-based economic policy, the continued urbanization, and the rising spread of AIDS proved to have a major impact on social change and gender transformation.
Men in Dar es Salaam experienced the late 1980s in different ways. For most men it was a difficult period as far as their situation at the workplace, their position within the household, and their control over female sexuality were concerned. However, this did not necessarily mean that they were in a crisis as men, as much of the masculinity literature has suggested. Rather, different men reacted in different ways to the challenges of masculinity which they were experiencing. While some men reformulated forms of masculinity, others reinforced existing forms so that various forms of masculinity remained important.
On the one hand, a minority of men was able to perpetuate conventional ideals of masculinity such as the male breadwinner. A small fraction of them even had the capacity to live up to these ideals on a previously impossible scale as they gained access to enormous amounts of money in the new political climate of economic liberalization. “Big man”-like ideals of masculinity such as mtajiri were thereby perpetuated by “local patrons” and lived in new ways, for instance by “sugar daddies.” On the other hand, many men found it increasingly difficult to live up to the ideals of masculinity, which had been dominant in Dar es Salaam during previous decades. As money had become essential to reach adult masculinity, the serious economic crisis of the 1980s presented a challenge for most men in Dar es Salaam. Even though men had more work opportunities through which they could earn an income, it became difficult for them to maintain their income levels.
As a result, notions of masculinity were contested in multiple ways. When many men lost their expected position as the main breadwinners of the household, for instance, their status as the heads of households and as adult men became challenged. Some men opted for neglecting the responsibilities of a head of household by minimizing their support for household members and utilizing violence to maintain control over women. In the absence of sufficient salaries, they tried to maintain conventional ideas of masculinity in the household through the use of other means, and thereby defend their male privilege. Outside the household, they chose to spend their money on their own interests such as socializing with male friends and having sexual relations with other women.
Other men reshaped contested notions of masculinity and created new forms of masculinity. Young poor men, who were unable to get married and fulfill the conventional expectations of men, drew on identities such as the Swahili sailor and the Jamaican Rastafarian to formulate new ideals, which did not build on the availability of money. At the household level, men, together with women, reconfigured a non-oppressive masculinity through everyday action. It included equal relationships with wives and the sharing of household responsibilities and care for children. Discourses on male sexualities were heavily influenced by the spread of AIDS. In this context, monogamous relationships were most powerfully promoted and widespread ideals of polygyny became contested in that process.
While considering and analyzing the nexus of masculinities, AIDS, and violence extensively, my study avoids dealing with few and problematic aspects of masculinity only, as so much of the previous masculinities scholarship has. It avoids treating notions of masculinity as cultural and ahistorical givens and instead traces them back historically and looks at them as being simultaneously perpetuated, reconfigured, and challenged in different spheres of men’s lives.