Despite widespread agreement among social scientists that gender is a social construction, extant punishment scholarship approaches the study of gender as the study of criminalized “men” and “women.” This obscures the ways penal organizations produce, shift, and regulate the crossing of these very distinctions. This talk explores how prison gender boundaries change based on the historically evolving nature of imprisonment and its racial dimensions. As California prisons transformed between 1941-2018, prison administrators managed gender boundaries based on the changing penal logics and resources at their disposal (successively using strategies of segregation, treatment, risk management, and bureaucratic assimilation). Prisoners, in turn, made strategic choices about navigating gender boundaries to deal with the pains of confinement in shifting penal contexts. Prison gender boundaries thus reflect an evolving conflict between the prison’s efforts to label, control, and confine bodies, and prisoners’ capacity to resist.
Joss Greene is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University. He studies how gender boundaries are managed and navigated in high-stakes organizational contexts. Much of his work foregrounds trans people's organizational encounters to illuminate the tacit work of societal gendering, and he has conducted research on trans people's experiences with prisons, parole boards, reentry housing, and workplaces. He has published or forthcoming work in Signs, Social Problems, Theoretical Criminology, among other journals. He is currently writing a book about gender boundary struggles in California prisons from the 1940’s through 2018, and working on a community-engaged research project about activism during the COVID-19 pandemic.