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What’s ‘gender’ anyway? Conceptualisations and operationalisations of gender in academic research

Doctoral and Postdoctoral Researcher Workshop, organised by A*, the Antwerp Gender and Sexuality Studies Network

Keynote speakers
Prof. Ellen Annandale, University of York
Prof. Marieke van den Brink, Radboud University


While gender increasingly takes up a central position in research across the social sciences and humanities, the way it is conceptualised varies broadly. For some, it is a rather fixed variable that helps to categorise people and detect inequalities, while for others it is a construction that defies categorisation and needs to be questioned. Research increasingly recognises the importance of discourses and representations in the social definition of gender norms, and questions the fixed binary man/woman by drawing attention to the diversity of gender norms and the fluidity of gender borders. However, it is not always easy to operationalise such fluid concepts, and to translate them into research practice, particularly in quantitative research which relies on categorisation. Moreover, the constructivist conception of gender – which questions the fixed gender binary – is increasingly criticised, particularly outside the realm of academia, and dismissed as an ‘ideology’.

This workshop for PhD and postdoctoral researchers aims to reflect on the conceptualisation and operationalisation of gender: how do researchers conceptualise gender, theoretically? How do they translate this into quantitative or qualitative research? Which methods do they use to study gender? And how do they position themselves in relation to broader societal debates on gender?

The workshop will be multidisciplinary, offering researchers working in different disciplinary contexts the opportunity to reflect on the way they incorporate issues of gender in their research. Based on that, they will discuss the strengths and limitations of each approach, aiming to come to a more multi-faceted understanding of the different meanings and uses of gender in academic research.

The program will consist of two kinds of sessions.

  • First, two international keynote speakers will reflect on the workshop topic from their respective fields of expertise.
  • Then, participants will be divided in a number of parallel sessions of 8-10 participants, where each will have the chance to briefly present their research, responding to four predetermined questions: What do you research? Which methods do you use? How do you conceptualise and operationalise gender? And how do you relate to broader scientific and societal debates about gender? Based on these presentations, a round table discussion will be held on conceptual, theoretical and methodological strengths, weaknesses and obstacles, as well as the relation between academic work and social debates.

In a closing session, the workshop moderators will present observations and conclusions from the different parallel sessions, followed by a plenary discussion and conclusion.