What is the significance of gender and masculinities in understanding conflict?
Through an ethnographic study conducted between 2013 and 2016, this book explores the politics of competing and sometimes overlapping masculinities represented by the state armed forces and the non-state actors in the Kashmir valley. In addition, the book broadens the understanding of women’s agency through its engagement with the construction, performance, and interplay of masculinities in the conflict.
Combining existing elements of both feminist research and critical scholarship on men and masculinities, the book highlights the significance of foregrounding the interplay of men’s identities in conflicts to understand agency in a meaningful way. Through the focus on the simultaneous play of multiple masculinities, the book also questions the oversimplified and monolithic usage of masculinity being associated only with violence in conflicts.
The empirical data in the book includes interviews and narratives of multiple stakeholders belonging to diverse vantage points in the Kashmir conflict. Some of these include activists, widows, wives of the disappeared, ex-militants, surrendered militants, participants of the stone-pelting movement, mothers of sons killed in the conflict, women representatives of the village Halqa Panchayats, and army personnel. The book also draws from alternative material in the form of graffiti, folk songs, poetry on graves, and slogans. Through anecdotal reminiscence, the author reflects on the challenges of field research in Kashmir that served as an opportunity for self-contemplation.
Amya Agarwal is a senior researcher at the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut at the University of Freiburg and teaching fellow at University College Freiburg.
About the Author
Contesting Masculinities is a significant contribution towards understanding a diversified masculinity in the context of the Kashmir conflict. Drawing on diverse theoretical constructs, and backed with rich ethnographic field notes and observations, Agarwal has produced a compact treatise worthy of engagement.
Few books have the ability to say something new about intractable conflict. Contesting Masculinities and Women’s Agency in Kashmir not only provides novel analysis of conflict in Kashmir, but it does so while also fundamentally enriching our understanding of how masculinities operate. With careful attention to detail, Amya Agarwal shows the varied ways that manhood is attached to militancy through time and challenges the tired accounts of violence that treat gender as a synonym for women. By reading this book, the reader will not only understand how masculinities fuel conflict but also how they relate to vulnerability, joy, and love. This book will shift the way conflict is understood.
Amya Agarwal should be applauded for moving away from the normative gender analyses of the Kashmir conflict so far. Through extensive fieldwork, she documents men and women’s agency in the Kashmir conflict by focusing on the multiple contesting masculinities shaped by class, religion, and location. This is a must read for all Kashmir watchers, gender studies and politics students, and all those who care about empathy and nuances in a world full of binaries and certitudes.
The book is an important addition to the scholarship on Kashmir’s conflict, especially in the area of masculinities. It further uses a combination of decolonial, feminist and ethnographic frameworks to understand gender in a conflict zone. It is based on multi-sited fieldwork and brings in data and findings from multiple stakeholders, which makes it richer. The book is going to be useful for researchers working in the field of international relations, sociology, anthropology, gender studies and Kashmir studies.
[This] book is an essential read on the Kashmir conflict, as it contributes significantly to the scholarship on Kashmir, particularly masculinity studies, an area which has thus far remained under-researched. As an ethnographic study, the book has engaged multiple stakeholders in Kashmir, taking its cue from the theoretical insights from various conflict zones as well as from feminist approaches and critical masculinity studies, making it a rich resource for scholars across multiple disciplines.
9/9/21, Choice: This book was included in a feature highlighting forthcoming Asian and Asian American Studies titles.