Learning the gendered culture of physics

In physics, gender is simultaneously highly invisible and highly visible. On one hand, the discipline as such is often seen as completely unaffected by social structures, making gender on one level highly invisible. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of physicists are men, making gender on a different level very visible. In this tension of the in/visibility of gender, physics students are learning to become physicists – a learning that involves both the learning of content knowledge and the constitution of a physicist identity. The focus of this talk is on the latter, on how physics students constitute gendered physicist identities. In particular I am interested in how this takes place in relation to their participation in laboratory work.

In the talk I focus on how the physics students I have interviewed can be understood as constructing the boundaries of the physicist community and identities as physicists in relation to these perceived boundaries. For example, what do physics students see as appropriate and inappropriate practices in the laboratory? Which approaches to laboratory work are seen as having/giving high status? What does it take for a physics student to identify as a physicist?

The theoretical point of departure is a conceptualisation of both gender and learning as aspects of identity constitution, instead of viewing them as individual attributes. In short, I explore how physics students simultaneously `do physics’ and `do gender’. In doing so I am able to provide new and deeper insights into issues of physics, learning and gender, which also will be discussed in relation to implications for teaching.