What makes a man? Rereading Naven and The Gender of the Gift, 2004

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In this essay, I argue that the concept of masculinity that was first developed in Bateson's Naven, his 1936 monograph about ritual and society among the Iatmul, a New Guinea people, was an originary moment for the constructivist position that has come to hold sway, not only over masculinity studies in Melanesia in specific, but over masculinity studies in general. My thesis, however, advances a more definite claim: Bateson's prescient view of gender did not come to theoretical maturity in masculinity studies, either areally, or more broadly defined, for another 50 years, when it was given new articulation by Marilyn Strathern in The Gender of the Gift (1988). In order to make the connection I see between these two books, I first reread Bateson's argument in Naven with regard to its view of Iatmul masculinity. I then turn to Marilyn Strathern's conception of gender in Melanesia, again with an emphasis on masculinity. After discussing my claim that the one gave rise to important dimensions of the other, I conclude by briefly defending that assertion against a methodological challenge, that of Whig interpretation, which is inevitably raised against this kind of intellectual history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-232
Number of pages14
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Constructivism
  • Feminism
  • Gender
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Marilyn Strathern
  • Masculinity
  • Melanesia


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