Queer Conflicts, Concept Capture and Category Co-Option: The Importance of Context in the State Collection and Recording of Sex/Gender Data

26 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2021

See all articles by Ben Collier

Ben Collier

University of Edinburgh

Sharon Cowan

University of Edinburgh - School of Law

Date Written: August 20, 2021

Abstract

Queer, trans and non-binary lives, bodies, relationships, and communities often complicate the taken-for-granted processes through which the state manages those under its power. In this article, we explore the forms of power and harm at play in attempts to quantify people through administrative processes of state data collection about sex and gender, and, in the current UK and Scottish context, examine some of the sites for wider conflicts over constructions of sex and gender in public life. We emphasise the need to collect sex / gender data in way that reflects the intersectional lives of data ‘subjects’. We also suggest that governments and public bodies should not adopt a unitary definition of sex or gender in data collection exercises such as the census, or other administrative categories such as criminal justice records, and argue that those who lobby to record ‘sex not gender’ in data collection are engaging in a strategy of concept capture, i.e. replicating a binary, biological model of sex, that excludes trans and non-binary people, through the co-option of number of administrative and legal categories across a wide range of social and political life. We conclude by recommending that public bodies asking about sex and gender should: co-produce questions with the community that is being surveyed; ensure that the wording of each question, and its rubric, is sensitive to the context in which it is asked and the purpose for which it is intended; and avoid attempting to offer any overarching standard definition of sex or gender that would be applicable in all circumstances. To engage in meaningful sex / gender data collection and recording that does not cause harm, governments and public bodies should avoid relying on reductive, over-simplistic and generalistic categories that are designed to fit the standardised norm. In being attentive to individual contexts needs and interests when formulating categories and records, they can make space for more intersectional experiences rather than generalised category-type data to be made visible.

Keywords: Queer, trans, non-binary, data collection, sex, gender, law, concept capture

Suggested Citation

Collier, Ben and Cowan, Sharon, Queer Conflicts, Concept Capture and Category Co-Option: The Importance of Context in the State Collection and Recording of Sex/Gender Data (August 20, 2021). Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2021/20, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3908495 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3908495

Ben Collier

University of Edinburgh ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 9JY
United Kingdom

Sharon Cowan (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh - School of Law ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, EH8 9YL
United Kingdom

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