Monday, March 23, 2009

"The Company He Keeps"

New from the University of North Carolina Press: The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities by Nicholas L. Syrett.

About the book, from the publisher:
Here is the first book to recount the full history of white college fraternities in America. Nicholas Syrett traces these organizations from their days in antebellum all-male schools to the sprawling modern-day college campus, paying special attention to how fraternity brothers have defined masculinity over the course of their 180-year history.

Based on extensive research at twelve different schools and analyzing at least twenty national fraternities, The Company He Keeps explores the formation of what Syrett calls "fraternal masculinity." He describes how men have gained prestige and respect, especially from other men, by being masculine. Many factors--such as class, religiosity, race, sexuality, athleticism, intelligence, and recklessness--have contributed to particular versions of fraternal masculinity at different times. Whatever the criteria, Syrett demonstrates the ways that fraternity brothers' masculinity has had consequences for other students on campus as well, not just through exclusion from the organizations themselves but often from college life more broadly. He argues that fraternity men have often proved their masculinity by using their classmates as foils.

The book also investigates the culture of sexual exploitation that had made its home in college fraternities by the 1920s. Syrett offers explanations for the origins of this phenomenon and why it persists. He also recounts the hidden history of gay men in college fraternities from the early twentieth century onwards.

Readers will find in The Company He Keeps not only an engaging history of white college fraternities, but also an insightful account of the evolution of a much more widespread culture of youthful and sexually aggressive masculinity.