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The Challenge of Defining “Sex” and “Gender”: The Transgender Exigency




CMS: Comparative Media Studies

Faculty Supervisor:

Edward Schiappa

Faculty email:


Apply by:

February 10, 2020 for Spring 2020 credit.


Preferred contact by email. Campus phone: 253-3062

Project Description

This three-part research project explores controversies over definitions of sex and gender in the context of what I call the transgender exigency. Part One describes the transgender exigency—the relatively sudden rise of challenges to dominant definitions of sex and gender brought on by increased visibility of transgender individuals and political controversy involving transgender civil rights. My argument is that we are now in a “definitional rupture” that requires us to consider the process of defining itself. Part Two provides a rhetorical and argumentative analysis of specific definitional controversies involving transgender issues in various contexts, including competitive sports, marriage laws, bathroom bills, military service, and academic disciplines. Part Three puts forward specific policy recommendations with regard to the question of how to define sex and gender with particular attention to the transgender exigency. I am looking for students to research case studies of definitional controversies that would inform Part Two of the project. This UROP opportunity is for Credit Only.


Familiarity with gender theory would be helpful but not required.