Queer conflicts, concept capture and category co-option: The importance of context in the state collection and recording of sex/gender data

Ben Collier, Sharon Cowan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

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 ways that reflect 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 those who lobby to record ‘sex not gender’ in data collection are engaging in a strategy of concept capture (reducing sex to a binary, biological model that excludes trans and non-binary people) through the co-option of a number of administrative and legal categories across a wide range of social and political fora. 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 to be made visible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)746-772
JournalSocial and Legal Studies
Issue number5
Early online date24 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • sex
  • gender
  • queer
  • trans
  • non-binary
  • data collection
  • census
  • concept capture


Dive into the research topics of 'Queer conflicts, concept capture and category co-option: The importance of context in the state collection and recording of sex/gender data'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this