Current social change efforts in the psychology of men and masculinities can be characterized as attempts to either reconstruct or deconstruct masculinities. Should we aim to create more prosocial meanings of masculinities or should we reduce the psychological impact of masculinities on human behavior? We recently sat down with Dr. Ethan Hoffman from Stanford University and Dr. Michael Addis from Clark University to discuss their new research exploring the theoretical bases, practical implications, and future directions of these contrasting approaches, published in our flagship journal, Psychology of Men & Masculinities (full cite below).
Hoffmann, E., & Addis, M. E. (2024). To reconstruct or deconstruct? A fundamental question for the psychology of men and masculinities. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 25(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1037/men0000440
What were the key questions you were addressing in this article?
Our article, a theoretical review, identifies and explores a conceptual distinction running through research and practice in the psychology of men and masculinities. In a nutshell, we see two approaches to the contemporary psychology of men and masculinities: on the one hand, an attempt to reconstruct masculinities into a healthier version of itself, and, on the other hand, an approach that seeks to deconstruct masculinity and decrease its importance a social and psychological category. (We do not address a third approach—that of entrenching traditional masculinity—given the overwhelming volume of research shows that traditional masculine norm adherence is associated with negative personal and social outcomes). Taking this distinction as our starting point, we set out to answer the following questions: What are the theoretical underpinnings of each approach? That is, what assumptions do they make about the nature of masculinity, and, in particular, about its necessity and changeability? What do these two approaches look like in practice? To what degree is either approach supported by the empirical literature? And how, in the absence of clear empirical support for one approach or the other, is one to go about choosing between these two approaches?·
What were the main conclusions of your article?
Our review—which looked at applied research on interventions aimed at boys and men and at clinical research on CBT and ACT processes as proxies for reconstructing and deconstructing masculinity—did not find strong evidence in favor of either a reconstructionist or deconstructionist approach. In part, this inconclusive conclusion reflects a shortage of applied research on interventions that attempt to deconstruct masculinity—whereas there is a considerably larger applied literature on reconstructionist approaches. Perhaps, with further study, one approach to practice will emerge as clearly preferable to another. However, we suspect that the choice will ultimately come down to the specifics of a particular practice or scholarly context, and most importantly, to one’s goals and values. For example, we also suggest that reconstruction might be more impactful (however defined) at an earlier stage of gender identity development, and deconstruction more valuable later on. For another, more controversial example, we suggest—although the point is not fully developed in the present article—that reconstruction may be problematic insofar as it appropriates femininities and/or recapitulates the old misogynistic trope that masculinities have distinct, essential strengths relative to other gender categories.
What are the key implications of your article for research, policy, or practice?
The main idea that we hope readers take away from the article is, simply, that we have options when it comes to where we are going as a community of researchers and practitioners. It’s been clear for some time that there is considerable enthusiasm within the field for attempts to reconstruct masculinity into something healthier—the idea of cultivating positive masculinity. However, this is not the only choice we have. Deconstruction is another option—one that is theoretically coherent, has empirical promise, and carries different and potentially advantageous philosophical assumptions about the nature of masculinity. We don’t want to see the field hemmed in by the (in our view, untested) notion that men need masculinity, and would like to see further exploration of how we might help men to deconstruct and transcend their masculinities. We also hope that researchers and scholars take up our call to be explicit and precise around their philosophical assumptions and social goals/values. We think that such specification is vital if we are to evaluate how we, as communities of professionals, are impacting men and those around them.·
Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?
We would be gratified to see other teams and researchers take up the questions we raise in this paper, including: how can masculinity be most effectively reconstructed/deconstructed? Which approach is more helpful, under which circumstances, and with whom? What are the lived experiences of men who do reconstruct and/or deconstruct their masculinity, in other words, what is it like to deconstruct or reconstruct masculinity? We include some specific suggestions for research towards the end of our paper, and warmly welcome the community to take these suggestions up.·
How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?
Both of us have long been interested in the philosophical underpinning of the psychology of men and masculinities (that is, ontology and epistemology) and in the dynamic relationship between professional psychology (what Graham Richards calls Psychology with a capital “P”) and the psychologies of the people we study (psychology with a lower-case “p”). That came together with several other strands, including interest in how third-wave behavioral therapy concepts might be applied to the psychology of men and masculinities as well as some level of alarm at the possibility that the field is driving full steam ahead towards an embrace of positive masculinity as a project of reconstruction without fully considering the alternatives or grappling with the wider social ramifications of this project. We hope, even if readers disagree with our conclusions, that the distinction between reconstruction and deconstruction is helpful for readers and helps cast greater visibility onto the philosophical assumptions and social impacts of research and practice in the psychology of men and masculinities.
Ethan Hoffmann, Ph.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Stanford University School of Medicine
Michael Addis, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology