James G. Rice
This paper explores the under-researched positions of men as clients within a mate- rial aid charity system predominantly geared towards assisting women and children. The research on which this paper is derived, is from a multi-year ethnographic research project that focused on the practices of material aid charities in contemporary wealthy societies. The project was largely conducted at the Icelandic charity Mæðrastyrksnefnd (Mothers’ Support Committee) in Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland. This particular organisation formed in 1928 to support widows, single mothers and their children at a time when the state sponsored social welfare system was practically non-existent. The founding ideology of this organisation parallels the long-standing charitable practices of evaluating their clientele based upon sub- jective interpretations of ‘worthiness’ and notions of dependence and vulnerability, and which also arguably mirrors the core ideologies of many social welfare states. Despite some common claims by the staff to the contrary, Mæðrastyrksnefnd did indeed assist men, but certain ‘kinds’ of men who were perceived by the staff to embody a form of masculinity which deviated from the normative but shared cer- tain aspects of positionality as their ideal clientele. From the micro perspective of one specific organisation, the gendered practices of evaluation and classification has implications for understanding how gender, and forms of masculinity in spe- cific, are produced, reproduced and contested in the context of forms of bureau- cratic governance and the politics of social welfare.
charity, Iceland, masculinity, gender, subjectivity, bureaucracy, governance