Loughborough University
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“I don’t think that’s something I’ve ever thought about really before”: a thematic discursive analysis of lay people’s talk about legal gender

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-04-12, 10:35 authored by Elizabeth PeelElizabeth Peel, Hannah Newman

This article examines three divergent constructions about the salience of legal gender in lay people’s everyday lives and readiness to decertify gender. In our interviews (and survey data), generally participants minimised the importance of legal gender. The central argument in this article is that feminist socio-legal scholars applying legal consciousness studies to legal reform topics should find scrutinizing the construction of interview talk useful. We illustrate this argument by adapting and applying Ewick and Silbey’s (1998) ‘The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life', ‘before’, ‘with’ and ‘against’ typology to interview talk about legal gender, and critique their cognitivist approach by offering a constructionist alternative. In our analysis, we offer a detailed discursive explication of three key legal consciousness themes. These themes offer a balanced representation of a dataset problematically ‘skewed’ towards sex-based rights feminist perspectives, namely that ‘before’ legal gender is an anti-decertification account, decertification would be risky for natal females; a ‘with’ legal gender construction is neither for nor against decertification per se, though the impact of decertification is produced in accounts as limited and unimportant; and ‘against’ legal gender is a pro-decertification classification, as not abolished legal gender is constructed as harmful to already marginalised groups. In concluding, we explore the reasoning for the lack of readiness for decertification currently, and return to the value of examining the construction of lay discourse about legal matters as talk is a form of social action. We suggest that applying discursive analysis to themes in legal consciousness studies enables a refocusing on the how rather than purely the what of divergent legal consciousnesses, and that this approach is a fruitful addition to feminist socio-legal studies.


Reforming Legal Gender Identity: A Socio-Legal Evaluation

Economic and Social Research Council

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  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Communication and Media

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Feminist Legal Studies






121 - 143




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Prof Elizabeth Peel. Deposit date: 6 April 2023

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