Director of the Visiting Fellows Programme
Anna Korhonen
Head of International Affairs
tel. +358-(0)50-563 63 07

Coordinator
Eeva Korteniemi
tel. +358-(0)50-4150 571

aleksanteri-fellows [at] helsinki.fi

Aleksanteri Institute
P.O.Box 42 (Unioninkatu 33)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi
firstname.lastname [at] helsinki.fi

Location & Connections

 

Visiting Fellows 2014-2015

Charlie Walker, University of Southampton, UK

Masculinities and Wellbeing in Contemporary Russia
(1 August- 17 September 2014)

Biography:
Charlie Walker is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Southampton, UK, and Honorary Research Associate at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, UK. Prior to joining Southampton he was CEELBAS Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Social Inequality in Russia and Eastern Europe at the Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford. He completed his PhD at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham, in 2007.

Charlie Walker’s research interests lie in the sociologies of youth, gender, work and education, with a geographical focus on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. His research has explored processes of social stratification surrounding youth transitions to adulthood, focusing in particular on the influences of class, gender and place in shaping differential educational and labour market outcomes amongst young people in post-socialist states. His contributions to the field include the monograph Learning to Labour in post-Soviet Russia (Routledge 2011) and the edited collection (with Svetlana Stephenson) Youth and Social Change in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (Routledge 2012).

Charlie Walker is currently conducting research on men and masculinities in Russia, examining men’s gendered performances at home, work and leisure and exploring the relationship between these performances and different dimensions of wellbeing. He is also co-investigator in a project exploring the wellbeing of the elderly and of families with young children in Moscow.

Alongside his research interests, Charlie Walker has interests in qualitative and ethnographic research methods. He is editor (with Sue Heath) of Innovations in Youth Research (Palgrave 2012).

Abstract of current research:
During his visit to the Aleksanteri Institute Charlie Walker will be analyzing data from his project ‘Masculinities and Wellbeing in Contemporary Russia’, conducted between October 2012 and October 2013. The study explores the changing ways in which working-class men ‘do’ masculinity in three spheres of their lives – work, home and leisure – and the relationship between these gendered performances and their wellbeing. As such, the project seeks to move away from the notion of a ‘male crisis’ in Russia rooted in an understanding of masculine identity and wellbeing as synonymous with work. Instead, it explores the different ways in which men have responded to change in various aspects of their lives, and the complex ways in which performances and validations of masculinity in these spheres variously impact upon their wellbeing. The main bulk of the data produced by this study consists in extended interviews with sixty skilled and semi-skilled male manual workers between the age of twenty-five and forty in a range of industrial occupations in the cities of Moscow and Ul’yanovsk. These interviews were complemented by observations while spending time with various sub-groups of the men in leisure and family contexts.

A key strand in the work emerging from the study so far has been the ability of the men in the study to cope with the wider cultural transformations that have positioned manual workers and manual labour itself at the bottom of Russia’s emerging symbolic economy. While theorists of neoliberalism and neoliberalisation point to a devaluing and even abjectification (Tyler 2013) of those without access to the self-making resources of the neo-liberal subject, the men in the present study were able to construct value across a range of sites, such that subjective wellbeing was shored up by a variety of masculine performances across the three sites of work, leisure and home. Of much greater significance as a threat to men’s wellbeing, both physically and materially, was their long-term economic marginality and difficulties associated with, for example, the acquisition of housing, and related threats to health stemming from overwork and illicit forms of employment. Indeed, against a background of more than a decade of almost continuous economic growth, most of the men remained in search of ‘stability’, especially those in Ul’yanovsk, and talked of the elusiveness of stability despite the significant improvements to their situations since the 1990s (which older respondents had experienced). In turn, material difficulties had a direct impact on the men’s subjective wellbeing by limiting their marital prospects – a number of respondents were single men living with their parents in their late thirties or early forties. Overall, the research suggests that theories positing the ‘end of work’ (Bauman 1998) and the ‘abjectification’ of the working class under conditions of neo-liberalism risk ignoring not only the subtle ways in which social actors create value through classed and gendered everyday practices in different life domains, but also, the ongoing economic marginalization experienced by younger manual workers, in Russia as in Western Europe (Roberts 2013).

During his time at the Aleksanteri Institute Charlie Walker intends to continue analysis of the data from the project and draft an article addressing the themes outlined above.  It would draw upon an analysis of work-based subcultures, bodily practices at work and in leisure, leisure/domestic activities such as DIY, and aspects of consumption, all of which would provide the basis for an argument regarding the creation of ‘value’ through everyday performances of classed masculinity amongst Russian working-class men.

Email: charlie.walker [at] soton.ac.uk

Academic hosts at the Aleksanteri Institute: Meri Kulmala and Elena Minina