Fragile masculinity: social inequalities in the narrative frame and discursive construction of a mass shooter’s autobiography/manifesto

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Mass shootings, where four or more people are injured or killed, are widely constructed as a contemporary American social problem. This article uses critical discourse analysis guided by thematic analysis to examine the text written and distributed by a mass shooter in California in 2014. Analysis of the narrative frame and discursive construction shows that the author is motivated by a precarious or ‘fragile’ relationship to masculinity that involves positioning himself against both women and other minority ethnic men in a way that underscores multiple social inequalities. This work contributes to the social science of narrative by building on the connections between positioning theory and framing, which are applied to a text that contributes to debates in feminist linguistics and broader discussions of mass shootings. The findings contribute to feminist linguistics by demonstrating how a mass shooter uses language to rationalise his actions through a frame of hegemonic masculinity based on social inequalities, namely gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and social class. Finally, this work contributes to broader discussions of mass shooters by demonstrating how this mass shooter does not construct or position himself in a way that is exceptional or extraordinary but rather hinges on a fragile form of contemporary masculinity that uses violence as a way to prove self-worth, dominance, and superiority.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-303
Number of pages15
JournalContemporary Social Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Contemporary Social Science on 09/08/2016, available online:


  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • feminism
  • critical discourse analysis
  • mass shootings
  • power
  • social analysis


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