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UCL Women's Liberation



UCL Women’s Liberation SIG Autumn Term 2021 – Michael Biggs

By UCL Women's Liberation, on 14 October 2021

‘Queer Theory and the transition from Sex to Gender in English Prisons’

Dr Michael Biggs

An intriguing property of social theory is its potential, when put into practice, to alter the world to resemble more closely the model posited by theory. This self-fulfilling character has been shown for theories in disciplines that emulate natural sciences, like economics and psychiatry. I argue that queer theory too has the power to remake the world in its own image, using the case of prison policy in England. The notion that sex is merely the performance of gender helped to shift the criteria for incarcerating males in women’s prisons: from genital surgery to legal status, and then to gender identity. The implementation of queer theory enables us to unpack two distinct meanings of gender performance: dramaturgical, where the individual gives off the appearance of femininity or masculinity through body modification, clothing, and gesture, and illocutionary, the individual’s verbal claim to be man or women. This case demonstrates the impact of queer theory on institutional policy and elite opinion, even under a Conservative government.

UCL Women’s Liberation are delighted to welcome Dr Michael Biggs.

Dr Michael Biggs was educated at Victoria University of Wellington (in New Zealand) and Harvard University, and is now Associate Professor of Sociology and Fellow of St Cross at the University of Oxford. His research concentrates on social movements and political protest, ranging from the labour movement in the 19th century to the London riots of 2011. He has recently become concerned with the transgender movement’s encroachment on academic freedom and undermining of evidence-based medicine. He is a director of Sex Matters and serves on the advisory board of the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine. 

Date: 7th December 2021, 14.00-15.00 GMT

A recording is now available via UCL Media Central ‘Queer Theory and the Transition from Sex to Gender in English Prisons’


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