The role of language

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Theoretical framework

Grounded theory (GT) is the inspirational method in the constructing of this qualitative study. It is important to stress that this study is inspired by GT and it is in no way an example of GT
The idea of GT is to develop an empirically grounded theory based on data that has been collected and analysed in a systematic way (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The point of using this method is that the researcher wants to generate a theory that comes from the ground and derives from the people within the area of interest. Therefore it is crucial not to be bound by a theory before commencing the research. Padgett (2008) states that the usage of theory in the qualitative research can make it hard to explore and keep an open mind. After having spent time in the field in rural Kenya the theories started to gather, and during the coding of the data the decision fell on social constructivism and the gender perspective. Padgett (2008) advocates an open mind but she also says that a study cannot take place in conceptual vacuum. A theory can help the researcher to interpret what is found in the research. More important the theory can offer an anchor for the reader to understand the concepts and findings in this study (Charmaz, 2006).


Bryman (2011) explains constructionism in the following way:
An ontological position, described as constructional, meaning that social characteristics are the result of interplay between individuals and not a phenomena that is “out there” and separate from those involved in their design. (Bryman, 2011, p. 341)
Constructionism derives from the ontological idea that the reality is constructed from our doings and perceptions (Bryman, 2011). In other words this means that the perception of reality will become the way we interpret it. We see and experience things in accordance with our expectations. We therefore tend to explain things based on what we already believe to know (Mattsson, 2012). Humans are social beings and therefore share experiences and knowledge with each other. Thus, we will make interpretations together by the social process of acting and speaking. Our shared assumptions of reality and how tings exist are also shared and made by the politics, by the news and by science (ibid). The assumption of manhood and womanhood comes from our mutual and shared perception of how men are and how women are, as well as the assumption of how they should be.

The role of language

According to Burr (2003) language plays an important role in social construction, as it is not only the means of merely communication. The language can be used to describe a person’s character as a certain personality, depending on for example experience and life situation. When a person uses the words to describe personality, experience and life situation it is perceived as something that exists independently of the words used to describe it (ibid). Simplified, language is seen as something that is used to label and describe our internal and external state. Burr (2003) means that we as humans to a great extent construct our reality and the world around us by the usage of language. Because the words are constructing reality that means that reality can be constructed in different ways depending on the words used to describe it.


“A discourse refers to a set of meanings, metaphors, representations, images, stories, statements and so on that in some way together produce a particular version of events. It refers to a particular picture that is painted of an event, person or class of persons, a particular way of representing it in a certain light” (Burr, 2003, p. 64).
The usage of language can also be seen as descriptions of reality and facts and is mentioned by Burr (2003) as the creation of discourse. A discourse is explained as a way to actively construct identities or to have legitimate versions of events and is connected with social structure and practices. The words used in social interactions between people, are a tool to create truth and justifying the practice connected to it.

Constructing gender identity

Mattsson (2012) describe that within constructionism there is the notion that sex and gender are something constructed, socialized or fostered. Within this framework the gender should not be seen as something biological and fixed, but rather as something that should be seen as elastic. How gender is perceived is dependent on the social, historical and cultural context. While growing up we learn how to act and do our gender because it falls within the social contexts. Gender can be explained as constructed by what we say and how we act. Living up to the expectations of our gender by how we behave, say and what we notice. Men do masculinity by speaking in a certain way, wearing certain clothes and relate to women as they are expected to do (Iversen, 2011).


Masculinity in Kenya has changed over the years especially considering the British colonialism and the impact it had over Kenya (Silberschmidt, 2001). The clear role of a man has changed, this change is a fact of socioeconomic transformation and poverty. Silberschmith (2001) means that now it is somewhat paradoxical because of the notion that a man is the head of the house and the decision maker, but now they find themselves discontent due to powerlessness and poverty. This effects the masculinity stereotype and challenge it.
The social science of masculinity revolves around the idea that there is a male sex role. Initially the science was created as a counteraction of emancipation of women, to justify womens’ exclusion from certain parts of society for example university education or voting (Connell, 2005). New literature and science around masculinity show that there is a significant discrepancy between the ideology of masculinity and the civic notion of its actions thus what masculinity really means (ibid). Masculinity is according to Connell constructed in multiple ways and can be defined by sports (the sportsman), media (in movies and advertising) and by news reports. Masculinity is not a consistent and isolated object but rather an aspect of a larger structure. Connell (2005) means that masculinity cannot exist without the contrast of femininity. The term masculinity can be connected with the construction of a sex difference and men differ and identify themselves in the contrast of women.

Performative acts

The idea of having an identity, for example masculinity, builds upon the expectation that some things are the same as they always were; he is a man because he acts as men do. Iversen (2011) describes Judith Butler as a prominent figure for understanding gender as constructed. According to Iversen, Butler means that a person becomes one´s gender through actions and therefore the gender is never completed, it is rather a process. Butler means that gender is a repetition of actions over time and she is using the idea of performative acts to understand how gender is constructed (ibid). “These actions are performative; the actions perform what they are supposed to describe” (Iversen, 2011, p. 237). How we act is what we are: “When a man holds up the door for a woman he is constructing sex. When different rooms are made for women’s and men’s toileting sex is constructed” (Iversen 2011, p. 238). So performativity is not a single action but a repetition of actions and the more gender is done in a certain way the harder it is to do gender in alternative ways. It becomes culturally incomprehensible to act outside of the expected performative acts (ibid.)
In this study the cultural factors and the construction of manhood together with the gender equality perspective stands out. The gender equality perspective is intertwined in the work for girls and this study will show how it is effecting the boys in a negative way. Not only does the gender equality work effect the boys but also the construction of ‘African culture’ and the construction of the gender image masculinity and manhood. According to Mattsson (2012) the construction of gender can be explained by how it is done, maintained and reproduced.


This qualitative minor field study was carried out through semi structured interviews with social workers in an organization located in the rural inlands of Kenya. Using a technique within the grounded theory approach the aim was not to generate a theory, but rather to generate an empirically grounded categorization from the collected data. In this section the process of creating this study will be described.

Choice of subject

This study has an inductive approach, where the analysis builds upon what can be observed. Before going to Kenya there where no subjects chosen for the study, instead the subjects emerged through spending time, in the rural inlands of Kenya, together with the person who acted as a gatekeeper, whom I have called Cathy in this study. The role of the gatekeeper is, according to Bryman (2011) a person who will give you access to the field of interest. Cathy is also the founder and manager of the organization serving as a platform for the empirical material. She thereby had a clear interest in the making of this study. To minimize the influence of her impact on the data collection, Cathy did not have access to the questions nor took part in the process of developing them. The research subject on the other hand was chosen together with Cathy. She had already noticed an area that she meant was in need of attention; the situation for the boy-child in rural Kenya.

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Organization serving as platform

The organization is an NGO mostly active in a rural area of Kenya. It is an organization that covers big areas with in social work and aid. To ensure the confidentiality of the organization and the social workers within it there will not be a specific declaration of what the organization does. However to give the reader context it is valuable to give as much information as possible about the organization in which the information is gathered. What can be mentioned is that it is rooted in a marginalized rural area and the that workers within the organization have knowledge of rural cultures and social norms as well as of the challenges facing the communities in the area with aimed focus to children and women.

Selection of informants

Informants that are active in the field of social work in one way or another were chosen. They work within Cathy’s organization and she selected them on my request of three men and three women who all receive a salary by preforming social work within the organization. To give a broader presentation of the source of information there will be a short presentation of the informant’s role in the organization. All of them are active in the outreach work done by the organization. All the names have been changed to fictive names.
Andy works in the field through schools. He is educating children and youth about lifestyle and how to avoid risks as a child or teenager. He also does outreach work in the community.
Iris works as a guardian in her community. She educates the community members about HIV/AIDS both presentational and informative for those who have HIV/AIDS. She also works in a women´s group.
Eric works mostly with children and women. He provides help to the ones who need it by filing reports to the police if something has happened. He is active in the communication with the schools around the organization.
Jane is working with organizing all the women-groups and is also active in the work with children in the schools.
Tom works as an educational teacher in an unconventional way. He writes plays and performs them together with a team in the purpose to educate the community.
Betty works with the registration and handling of the money collected in the women-groups. She also works as an informant within the same mentioned groups.

Data collection

All the interviews were conducted in the head office of the organization, which consists of two main rooms. One room is a shared desk-office landscape and the other one is Cathy’s room. To make sure that the interviews could be held in confidentiality Cathy’s office-room was used. In that way we had a separate room and a door to shut. I did not want the interviewees to feel uncomfortable. Therefore the room was prepared so that it did not represent the manager’s office and Cathy’s desk was set aside in the aim to make it a little less formal. Interviews were done during daytime when it was suitable for the interviewees, not to interfere with their planned workday. Charmaz (2006) suggests that an interview guide with open-ended questions can be used, to facilitate that the interview will run smoothly. For the first interview a list of questions was prepared, in the case that the first question didn’t suffice. After each interview the guide was formed in the direction that the information from the interviewee gave. In that way the categories was found and developed for this study.

Recording and transcribing interviews

Bryman (2011) describes what makes a good interviewer. In the aim to be as such some of his recommendations was followed. For example the recommendation of being open to what is said, react and be flexible during the interview. To be able to achieve this a Dictaphone was used to record the interviews. In that way there was no need to take notes during the procedure, which can be disturbing for both parties (Charmaz, 2006). The Dictaphone fulfils another purpose as well, it makes it possible to catch every word and special expressions that otherwise easily could be lost. Not only can the focus be placed at the words said but also how they are saying them. Charmaz (2006) means that it provides a deeper insight and nuance to what was being said. That also made the analysis more approachable. The technique of transcribing was verbatim and nothing was left out or changed, to conserve the exact meaning of the quotes. While using them in this study they are grammatically corrected and repetitions are removed to give the reader better access to the quotes and to the analysis of the result.

Coding and categorisation

During the transcription of the interviews a rough mind map was formed and noteworthy areas submerged. After this a more structured and detailed coding process started. Charmaz (2006) calls this analytical face initial coding: Initial coding means that segments of data are identified and given a name. Many codes were identified and later grouped together based on similarities. In other words, categorized. Several categories emerged, but three stood out as more relevant than the others. These three categories are: vulnerability by practice of professionals, vulnerability by culture and vulnerability by exposure. All of the informants speak about these categories in some way with their own words. Some expressions are mutual for all of them. Further in this study, every area will be presented with quotes from the informants. This is to give the reader the informants’ interpretation and opinion of what it means to be a boy-child in Kenya.
According to Charmaz (2006) the understanding for categories develops through focused coding. It was during this analyse phase that similarities and the differences in the categories was detected and defined as sub-categories. The sub-categories show a difference in perspective between the male and the female interviewees.

Quality criteria

Awareness of your own meaning in the interplay between you and the surrounding is an important part of conducting research. If there is awareness there is also room for reflection. Due to the nature of qualitative method, it is hard to provide a systematic account of the procedure compared with what can be done in quantitative research. Unlike the quantitative approach, measuring your data is not the aim of qualitative research. To be aware of your own impact on the informant is important for the trustworthiness of the research (Padgett, 2008). A trustworthy study implies that the researcher is aware of his or her own personal opinions and perceptions, and how these can impact the interpretation of the data (ibid). To minimize this, after every interview I consciously reflected over my emotions that were evoked (Charmaz, 2006) during the interviews and wrote them down for future reminding during the coding and working with data.
The importance of fullness in the data and of the researchers understanding of the background is something that Charmaz (2006) mentions. While settling on the subject for this study I wanted to know about the background where the data would come from. So, time was spent in the field to collect impressions and what could be found between the lines of what was said and done (Padgett, 2008). Bryman (2011) brings up the concepts of trustworthiness and authenticity as a way to evaluate a qualitative study. The trustworthiness of this study can be divided into two criteria, how credible and transferable it is.
Credibility- there is more then one possible way to describe the reality as it is perceived and this study has been carried out accordingly to the rules and the results of it will be reported to the organization and the interviewees. During gathering of data the permission was given by the informants to use their information. To ensure that this study has the potential to be credible, I read literature around the subject, country and continent. To be well acquainted with the subject of interest leads to the next criteria. Transferability- to transfer the results of this study or any other study can be somewhat difficult. To apply the findings from one organization in a certain time to another organization, in another time is not easily done. However giving ‘thick descriptions’ of the culture in which the study was conducted can facilitate it. That way there is a possibility to control how well this study could be transferred to another environment.

Social conditions and welfare
Vulnerable Children in Kenya
Millennium Development Goals
Children Act of Kenya
African culture
Previous research
Effects of MDG
Sociocultural aspects
Street children
Male circumcision
Theoretical framework
The role of language
Constructing gender identity
Performative acts
Choice of subject
Organization serving as platform
Selection of informants
Data collection
Recording and transcribing interviews
Coding and categorisation
Quality criteria
Ethical aspects
Hurdles of making this study
Findings – The vulnerable boy-child
Vulnerable by neglect of professionals
Lack of empowerment and information
Vulnerable by imbalances
Bad behaviour and the rise of jealousness
Vulnerable by African culture
No obligation
Becoming a man – circumcision
Dropping out of school
Head of the house, a sudden responsibility
Vulnerable by exposure
Street life
Drugs and alcohol
Seeking a belonging- creating a meaning
Professionals constructing vulnerability
Neglect by the construction of manhood
Construction of masculinity a performative act
Leaving school
Seeking for identity through manhood
The vulnerable boy-child A qualitative study of the situation for the rural boys in Kenya

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