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Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of TampereFaculty of Social Sciences

Sari Irni

Sex Transformations as Side Effect:

Anabolic Steroids, Ageing, and Sports Politics in Finland, 1950-1976

This is a Collegium Researcher study that will be conducted between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017, and it is funded by TIAS. This study contributes to feminist theory, gender and sports history and science and technology studies. The study takes a new look to the history of bodily sex as a transformable phenomenon, and to the history of the hormonal moulding of bodies. It focuses on a case which has not yet received attention in the gender-sensitive, critical histories of hormone technologies: the scientific, technological and political developments related to ‘sex hormones’, where their effects on the so-called sex characteristics of bodies were not regarded as the essence of what these phenomena are. In the projects studied here, the effects on ‘sex characteristics’ were instead considered unwanted side effects.

This study focuses on both scientific and public debates related to anabolic steroids, synthetic products where such ‘side effects’ were minimised. This focus includes analysing discussions about curing weakness related to ageing, as well as the politicisation of anabolic steroids, especially in sports publicity. The study pays special attention to the gendered implications of this politicisation, when some of the crucial side effects of anabolic steroids were seen to consist of the ‘masculinisation’ of women. The study contributes to the analysis of how hormone technologies have been used – intentionally or unintentionally – in blurring the boundaries between female and male, and how such boundary-crossings have been negotiated both within science and in public. This study also complicates the notion of ‘risk’ related to hormone products by analysing how blurring the boundaries of female and male have or have not been defined as risky.

The study concentrates on the time period from 1950s onwards when the idea of anabolic effects of steroids was explored enthusiastically for various purposes, and before anabolic steroids were classified as ‘doping’ in sports. The discussions around 1976 are included, when anabolic steroids were for the first time prohibited and tested in the Olympic Games. The research material consists of mainly Finnish medical journals, newspapers, and archive material, which opens up how also Finnish scientists, medical professionals and other actors have been extremely active in the research and development of hormone technologies, and also actively discussing them in both international and national political arenas. The study is both a theoretical contribution, developing links between gender history and material feminism, and an empirical study, the methodology of which consists of science studies actor-network approach with critical modifications inspired by material feminist theory.

Keywords: ageing, anabolic steroids, gender, medicine, risk, sex, sex hormones, sport.

Performative Hormones: Affective and Medical Assignments of Sex
(project number 250836, 280544)

This is an Academy of Finland funded postdoctoral project (September 1, 2011–August 31, 2014), which is situated in the crossroads of feminist theory and science studies. The aim is, firstly, to analyse what I call hormonal enactments as technologies of sex that both maintain and rework the binary system of two sexes. In terms of hormonal enactments I concentrate on the following:

* medical technologies and practices in the form of hormone treatments, including the regulations and guidelines that enable and restrict these treatments, and the medical understandings of how hormones and hormone treatments ”work” in bodies, and

* experiences and practices of those who get hormone treatments. The latter includes the affectivity of hormones, meaning bodily feelings of how hormone treatments work (are they effective and in which sense), the hopes and emotions related to hormone treatments, including encounters with medical professionals, and the experiences of how hormone treatments bring about changes in and have an effect on every-day life. In terms of experiences, I study in particular transgender persons’ experiences of hormone treatments.

* The politics involved in and around hormone treatments, including the questions who gets treatments, which treatments are seen as risky and for whom, and which treatments become public issues and/or regulated by legislation.

Secondly, in this project I contemplate on feminist theory as a transdisciplinary field:

* The discussions about hormone treatments resonate with recent feminist negotiations between poststructuralism and new materialism, including encounters between natural science inspired feminist scholars and feminist scholars who draw their interest mainly from cultural studies and/or social sciences. I am interested in the ethics, politics and affectivity of these encounters.



Conference presentations, key notes and lectures

“Risky Transformations? Sex and the Negotiation of Hormone Treatment Risks.” Guest lecture organized by the Gender Institute and Department of Sociology and chaired by Prof. Charis Thompson, London School of Economics, February 20, 2014.

"‘Sex Hormones’ and/in Politics: Notes for a Political History of Sex". Presentation at The 5th Christina Conference on Gender Studies Feminist Thought – Politics of Concepts. University of Helsinki, May 24, 2013.

“The Politics of Materiality: Affective Encounters in a Transdisciplinary Debate.” Lecture at the Christina Research Seminar, Gender Studies, University of Helsinki, April 23, 2013.

“Hormonal Hygiene. Therapeutic Amenorrhea for Women with Disabilities in 1960s Finland”. Presentation at the conference Thought as Action. Gender, Democracy, Freedom. University of Bergen, Norway, August 16-18, 2012.

“Performativity of Hormones - Exploring the Affectivity of ‘The Biological’” Presentation at the conference The Politics of Location Revisited: Gender@2012. 8th European Feminist Research Conference. Budapest, Hungary, May 17-20, 2012. – Presented also at the conference Feminist Materialisms, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 26-27 April 2012.

“Gendering Apparatuses: Exploring Karen Barad’s Agential Realist Approach.” Key note talk at Gendering Asia Network Workshop, University of Reykjavik, Iceland. October 10-13, 2011.

”Performativity of Hormones.” Presentation at the International Congress on Culture, Health and Well-Being. University of Turku, Finland. September 21-24, 2011.


International workshops

Material Conversations – Language, Nature, Power; May 14-15, 2013, at Åbo Akademi University, organised with the doctoral student Liu Xin. Work-in-progress workshop where Doctoral Students’ and Postdoctoral Researchers’ texts were commented by the workshop participants and by Prof. Vicki Kirby (The University of New South Wales, Australia) and Associate Prof. Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht University, The Netherlands).

Exploring Posthumanist Feminism; May 7, 2012, at Åbo Akademi University, organized with the doctoral student Salla Peltonen. Work-in-progress workshop where Doctoral Students’ and Postdoctoral Researchers’ texts were commented by the workshop participants and Prof. Myra Hird (Queen’s University, Canada).



For publications produced within this project, please see publications in my personal home page

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