Book Review Forum — Jordanna Matlon’s “A Man among Other Men: The Crisis of Black Masculinity in Racial Capitalism”

A Man among Other Men: The Crisis of Black Masculinity in Racial Capitalism (Cornell University Press, 2022) employs a political economy analysis of race, gender, and culture to intervene in dominant narratives around the “crisis” of Black masculinity. Examining competing constructions of modern manhood in the West African metropolis of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Jordanna Matlon—associate professor at the School of International Service at American University, visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, and Antipode author—uses ethnography, interviews, and visual analysis with informally employed Abidjanais men to provide qualitative insight into their experiences, survival strategies, and means of social and self-affirmation in the absence of steady, dignifying work. For one year amid an ongoing civil war, Matlon conducted fieldwork with two groups of men symbolic of the country’s political and economic crisis: street propagandists for then-President Laurent Gbagbo and deeply precarious mobile street vendors. Matlon found that Abidjanais men faced deep anxieties around breadwinning, and that these anxieties invoke enduring colonial and racialized legacies that extolled a modern masculine ideal. She argues that the privileges afforded to and expectations of male breadwinning that emerged with wage labor in industrializing Europe and later disseminated across the colonies persistently clash with the penalty of Black racial identity.

Matlon foregrounds her fieldwork with a broad chronological and transatlantic analytic to show how French colonial legacies and global media tropes of Blackness articulate via imperial constructions and across transnational circuits to root Abidjanais masculine identity and value within economic processes of labor, consumerism, and commodification. By locating Black masculinity historically and in the lived present of racial capitalism with an emphasis on the labor strategies, representational repertoires, and performative identities of men in Abidjan and across the Black Atlantic, she theorizes the relationship between political economy and the politics of representation, the material and ideological dimensions of racial capitalism.

Using theory, history, and ethnography, A Man among Other Men offers an account of global Black masculinity that illuminates the sustained power of imaginaries even as capitalism affords a deficit of material opportunities. Revealed is a story of Black abjection set against the anticipation of male privilege, a story of the long crisis of Black masculinity in racial capitalism.

We’re delighted to present here four critical commentaries on the book—by Erin Collins (Dartmouth College), Carrie Freshour (Georgia State University), Malini Ranganathan (American University, Washington, DC), and Jonathan Silver (University of Sheffield)—and reply by Jordanna. Together they form a generative conversation, exploring the value of the book (as well as its limits) and mapping routes for future research. Many thanks from everyone here at Antipode to Jordanna, Erin, Carrie, Malini, and Jon.

Review 1 — Erin Collins

Review 2 — Carrie Freshour

Review 3 — Malini Ranganathan

Review 4 — Jonathan Silver

Author’s Response — Jordanna Matlon