Performance, Spectacle, Affect: The Polygraph’s Sexual Politics

Jessica Lingel*, Heather Jaber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the technical and psychological accuracy of the polygraph has been contested almost since the device’s inception, it continues to enjoy substantial popularity within law enforcement and federal agencies throughout North America. This paper excavates the sexual politics of the polygraph focused on two key arenas where the polygraph has been a popular and powerful tool: identifying LGBTQ applicants and employees within federal agencies and determining parole for convicted sex offenders. Key questions guiding this analysis include the following: What are the relationships between the polygraph and disciplining sexual deviance? How does the polygraph fit within a larger history of surveilling and controlling sexual alterity? Drawing on theories of affect and spectacle, the paper unravels the polygraph’s role as an accomplice to state-sanctioned projects of heteronormativity. Through analysis of training materials, practitioner memoirs, and policy guidelines, the polygraph is situated as an early precursor to surveillance infrastructure that attempts to identify, manage, and predict deviant sexuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Lavender Scare
  • design values
  • polygraph
  • sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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