How do binary and biological accounts of sex difference persist in spite of scientific evidence and political efforts to the contrary?

I approach acts of regulation as significant interventions in this process, since they establish the conditions for producing legitimate scientific accounts of gender and sex. Located at the intersection of sociology of gender, Science and Technology Studies, and political sociology, I seek to contribute an institutional perspective to feminist critiques of the scientific production of sex difference. I focus on biomedicine and sport, where recent regulations and policies have been the focus of considerable feminist critique and debate. I use qualitative methods to examine the institutional and epistemic mechanisms by which rule-making enables certain scientific accounts of gender and sex while disabling alternatives.

Dissertation: In “Inclusion and Exclusion: Institutional Reproductions of Sex and Gender,” I examine how practices of regulation and rule-making enable scientific accounts of sex as binary, biological, and distinct from gender. Looking to biomedicine and sport as two key institutional spheres where definitions of gender and sex have been asserted through regulation and contested in recent years, I ask: how are accounts of biological sex difference shaped by acts of regulation? Moreover, how do such practices suppress alternative accounts of sex and gender as complex, dynamic, and entangled? In answering these questions, this dissertation contributes an institutional perspective to feminist critiques of science and medicine, showing how regulation matters to both the production and nonproduction of certain accounts of difference across two quite different institutional spheres.

I draw on textual data and 110 interviews to analyze two cases: regulations for sex inclusion in biomedical research, and particularly the Sex as a Biological Variable (SABV) policies of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States (US); and the regulation of women athletes with naturally elevated testosterone, with a focus on the regimes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Whereas the former policies mandate the inclusion of sex in preclinical research, the latter seek the exclusion of women on the basis of their biological profile. In both cases, regulations define sex in binary and biological terms, promote sex as more fundamental than gender (to health, athleticism, and the pursuit of scientific knowledge), and are politically and scientifically contested. Each of my three empirical chapters makes distinct theoretical contributions, taking up the concepts of expertise, ignorance, and epistemological fields. More information about my dissertation chapters can be found here.


Intersections with Race and Nation: I engage intersectional injustices and especially the complex relationship between race, nation, and the institutional production of binary sex in “Dilemmas of Gender and Global Sports Governance: An Invitation to Southern Theory,” co-authored with Assistant Professor Kathryn Henne from the University of Waterloo and forthcoming in the Sociology of Sport Journal. This paper outlines a postcolonial theoretical agenda for scholars engaged in the study of gender and sports governance. In contributing to this collaboration, I draw on my dissertation data to examine the role of race and nation in the regulation of gender eligibility in international sport, showing how the scientific content of these rules and the practical context of their implementation promote a vision of white, Western femininity, concealed under the auspices of “objective” science. This construction of femininity underpins the disproportionate targeting of women of color from the Global South for enforcement actions. Scholars are increasingly concerned about a possible relationship between gender, race, and nation in this area of regulation. As such, this paper makes important contributions to intersectional gender scholarship and to debates surrounding the discriminatory impact of gender eligibility regulations in sport.

Divergent Pathways of Gendered Organizational Change: Women are still under-represented in decision-making positions in comparison with more base-level forms of organizational participation. In 2016 I received a PhD research grant from the Olympic Studies Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, to undertake archival research on the divergence between women athletes and leaders in the Olympic and Paralympic Movements. In the paper that I have developed based on this research, which I am revising and resubmitting to Gender & Society, I offer an account of organizational change to explain this discrepancy. I distinguish between organizational change that accommodates women’s participation and that which transforms gendered systems. To explore how accommodation as a distinct form of organizational change emerges over time, I offer a case study of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from the period 1967-1995. I argue that key to whether organizations change to accommodate or to transform is the dynamic relationship between external contingencies and an organization’s internal practices. In the case of the IOC, this process was visible at three levels: framing, structures, and advocacy. At all three levels, the IOC responded to external pressures by changing to accommodate women’s athletic participation, while resisting the transformation associated with the greater entry of women into positions of leadership. Ultimately, this form of change enabled the organization to remain masculine and male-dominated.

Participatory Budgeting: In my Master’s thesis, I asked whether democratic innovations in the United States attract citizens who are typically underrepresented within existing political institutions. I focused on participatory budgeting, an intervention that allows residents to decide how to allocate a particular pot of public money, taking PB Chicago as my case study. In a paper co-authored with Professor Chaeyoon Lim, which we are revising and resubmitting to Sociological Forum, we used survey and interview data to examine PB Chicago in terms of (a) who participated; and (b) the factors shaping participation, attending in particular to whether the process realized its stated goal of involving residents other than the “usual suspects.” We found that residents who voted in PB Chicago were more often white, college educated, and from higher income households relative to the local population. While these residents were not necessarily the most active participants across other stages of the process, we found little evidence that low-SES and minority residents are accessing the civic learning and empowerment gains associated with PB Chicago. While outreach strategies were important in shaping participation, structural constraints limited their impact. Indeed, we suggest that participatory interventions like PB Chicago are better understood as structurally aligned with the agendas of already empowered residents. You can read more about PB Chicago here.