Gender Bound: Making, Managing, and Navigating Prison Gender Boundaries, 1941–2018

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A core feature of prisons is their institutionalization of a fixed male/fe-male binary. Yet, definitions of and responses to prison gender bound-ary violation are historically variable. This article draws on archival data, 20 months of ethnography, and 136 interviews to investigate the making, managing, and navigating of gender boundaries in California men’s prisons from 1941 to 2018. As prisons transformed over the period of this study, prison administrators managed gender boundaries on the basis of the changing penal logics and resources at their disposal (successively using strategies of segregation, treatment, risk manage-ment, 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)993-1030
Number of pages38
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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