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Thesis Spotlights – Gender and Transgression: (Un)doing Masculinity and Femininity in Portugal and the United Kingdom Sara Merlini
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Thesis Spotlights – Gender and Transgression: (Un)doing Masculinity and Femininity in Portugal and the United Kingdom

Issue 44: Opening Up Sociology Wed 5 Feb 2020

Sara Merlini, PhD, Portugal

Email: sara.merlini [at]
Institution: Lisbon University - Social Sciences Institute, Portugal
Time: 1 June 2015 – 31 August 2019
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sofia Aboim
Funding: TRANSRIGHTS project: gender citizenship and sexual rights in Europe, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) of the European Union, under the Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007–13)/ERC grant agreement 615594.

Acknowledgements: This PhD thesis reflects only the authors’ perspectives and the European Union cannot be held liable for any use of the information provided.

Changes and continuities within gender practices can be understood from normative traditions and processes – gender attributions, appropriations and interpretations – that order and mark out social relations. Based on the history and social construction of gender transgressions between 1950 and 2015 we can know better how alternatives are being established, which can change gender (un)doings, cutting across the usual categorical analysis of gender studies. In British and Portuguese societies gender transformation dynamics sit side-by-side with gender conventions that form up and are formed by a model which divides gendered experiences into two discrete and opposing categories – masculine or feminine.

The processes of gendered (re)construction of boundaries permeate Transgender and Nonbinary phenomena, which increasingly become the targets of public perception and legal recognition. In Western (metropolitan) contexts, not belonging to the exclusive categories male/masculine and female/feminine – i.e. not doing or experiencing gender in a binary or antagonistic mode – represents a major transgression. Nonbinary alternatives, as experience and as discourse, reveal, challenge and rebuild the dominant social construction of gender practices.

Understanding the Nonbinary contribution to the (re)definition of gender implied three specific goals and in-depth studies of: i) how boundaries are established in gender naming; ii) the conditions of gender (re)production across historical and biographical times; and iii) the links between narratives and normative (re)production of gender transgressions. At the discursive level, we analysed the transformation dynamics and (self/hetero) legitimation processes of gender boundaries that have been at the core of cultural debates (and its wars). The study of the Nonbinary wiki archive allowed us to understand how gender boundaries are being drawn, and also their tensions and normative possibilities. At the experience level we looked, on the one hand, at the processes of gender (non) belonging across the life course and, on the other hand, at the processes of gender transgression in the story of life as it’s told. The lived life study brought relevant findings on gender detachment and belonging, highlighting the intersection between the biographical and socio-historical time in gender relations. The told story of life study complemented the previous two and brought new findings to the processes of change and normative (re)production of gender relations in Portugal and the United Kingdom. The knowledge gathered and presented in this dissertation was a small contribution for better understanding Nonbinary gender practices and the normative processes of gender relations.

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