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Abstract and Figures

Despite significant gains in K-12 mathematics achievement, females(1) in the United States are still underrepresented in STEM careers. While many researchers have focused on individual traits of women and girls that might contribute to promoting persistence in these areas, others have taken a broader approach to look at the social practices that routinely exclude women from masculinized spaces. We follow this perspective, and use an interactionist view of identification to shed light on this mechanism. To accomplish this, we take as a starting point the practices of textile crafts, which themselves involve mathematics, but which have traditionally been understood as feminized. In this analysis, we compare six women’s experiences in math classrooms to their experiences in crafting communities with an eye to what differences in these identification processes might contribute to broader sex-linked differences in participation.
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Room for Everyone?
Identification Processes in Crafting
Katherine Chapman, Melissa Gresalfi, Amanda Bell
Vanderbilt University
Weaving identification from available
engagement practices in CRAFT and in MATH
(* + in math class )
Liked math
Math Teacher
Math norms
logical, pattern
driven, sense of
a single right answer
-driven, sense of
mathematics as a constellation
of connected topics
sensemaking, particularly to
overcome dyscalculia
as a student
rote, repetitive; as
a teacher
multiple pathways
solitary, black and white,
confusing, anxiety
speed, natural ability, no clear
full identification
full identification, though makes
separate claims about
professional mathematicians
rejected some aspects but
strongly identifies with the
full rejection
rejected math, though identified
with math
Crafting norms
seeing things fall into place;
putting in the time; using
-focus; skilled iteration;
balance; flexibility; fuzziness;
-oriented; crafter as final
authority; expertise takes time
many ways to engage; fluid
movement between practices;
mistakes are inevitable and
people will help you
-oriented; lots of
resources; expertise shows in
The goal of this project is to explore how identities develop through
relationships with practices and narratives, connecting with the
significant literature from the Learning Sciences that explores the
situated nature of identity. Specifically, this analysis contrasts identities as
they develop in two distinct domains: school mathematics and craft.
Although there are many differences between school math and craft, we
chose these contexts because they are both spaces where mathematical
thinking and reasoning could occur. However, whereas school math is
often seen as alienating, boring, and accessible only to the privileged few,
crafting is demonstrably a life-long practice that invites broad
participation. We wondered why mathematics is positioned so differently
in these two domains, and whether and how such different positioning
might result in the development of different relationships.
We take a view of identification as an interactional achievement (Cobb,
Gresalfi, & Hodge, 2009; Gresalfi & Cobb, 2011), looking at how personal
identities—the extent to which a person identifies, complies, or resists—
develop in relation to prevailing normative identities in a given social
context (Cobb, Gresalfi, & Hodge, 2011)
theoretical framework
Semi-structured interviews were conducted by one of the first two
authors over the phone, audio recorded, and later transcribed by a third
party. Transcripts were reviewed by all three authors in four distinct
phases of inductive coding.
Remarkable within-person consistency across the contexts of mathematics and crafting.
It is not the case, for example, that each woman was performing in one way in math class and in a completely different way in her crafting community. Rather, in each case, the rationale that the women described for their
identification, compliance, or rejection of the normative identity was consistent, whether for math or for craft. Participants brought something they felt personally committed to—be it a focus on process, a love of logic, or a deep
need for deliberate sense-makingand that was in a sense measured against the local normative identity.
Differences in identification with school math that were not always perfectly aligned with liking math or not.
In three of the cases women rejected the local normative identity of mathematics, resulting in disidentification with mathematics as a discipline. In two cases, individuals identified with the practices of the class, perhaps because
they felt they were recognized and valued in math class. In a final case, one woman was able to carve out her own space in which to identify with mathematics, despite embodying certain conflicts with the local normative identity.
Crafting is a space where everyone can carve out their own way of being.
In this space, multiple identities were recognized and valued, and many women even moved fluidly between those practices, while still maintaining a commitment to a dominant preference. Thus we find, in crafting there is
remarkable consistency across the normative identities available precisely because those identities are themselves heterogeneous, allowing for the legitimate participation of many different kinds of crafters. As a follow on to the
recognition of this consistency, next steps include a potential “lines of practice” reading of engagement in both domains, as suggested by the graphic below.
We acknowledge that this is a preliminary sketch. Future work will
compare these findings to the larger corpus in an effort to explore any
patterns that emerge, both in other knitters and crocheters, and in
comparison with sewers and weavers. More work is needed to
investigate and document how these identification processes intersect
with the social construction of gender and other identities, both within
and across these different settings.
Furthermore, we seek to further articulate these lines of engagement in
robust problem-solving activities across math and craft. In this figure (at
left) we trace the problem solving and sensemaking activities
described by each participant in the two domains. In all cases
participants described rich engagement in craft that were often absent
in math, or at least absent in math class, further emphasizing how
identification is influenced not merely by personal interest, preferences,
or inclination toward a particular kind of task, but by the opportunities
to engage afforded students in different domains.
limitations and next steps
This work is part of the Re-Crafting Mathematics study, a partnership between Indiana
University and Vanderbilt University, funded by the National Science Foundation
flexibly using resources
experiencing /pursuing self-sufficiency &
personal judgment
enjoying the feel/process
finding new challenges
problem solving / sensemaking
pursuing beauty
accessing and applying
epistemic authority
pursuing a sense of completion / skill building Caroline
Olympia *
Lucinda *
Paula Paula *
Liked math in school:
Didn’t like math in school:
in CRAFT only
Full-text available
Designers in out-of-school spaces often negotiate the meaning of mathematics as part of the design process, determining what to include in classes and exhibits both implicitly and explicitly. This analysis suggests that instead of keeping these conversations behind the scenes, we should foreground them for participants. In doing so, we may actually be helping to expand their sense of what counts as mathematics as they participate in legitimate communal activity. The focal analysis examines the case of one participant in a knitting summer camp as she encounters the mathematics that the facilitator deemed necessary to move the knitting project forward. Together they negotiate whether their work counts as knitting or as mathematics, and what the consequences for that designation are for how they make sense of the activity. I argue that this kind of encounter has the potential to build bridges between everyday and school mathematics and thus to broaden participation.
Full-text available
Gender research in mathematics education has experienced methodological and theoretical shifts over the past 45 years. Although achievement studies have used assessment tools to explore and subsequently challenge the assumption of male superiority on mathematics assessments, research on participation has unpacked these studies' sex-based achievement comparisons by exploring the masculinization of mathematics through qualitative methods. This article offers a review of gender research in mathematics education with analysis of its findings as well as conceptual and empirical contributions. Current understanding of mathematics as a gendered space, however, can be further broadened through intersectional analyses of gender and its interplay with other identities (e.g., race or ethnicity, class). Implications for future gender research, particularly the adoption of intersectionality theory, are raised to inform more nuanced analyses.
Full-text available
Why does sex segregation in professional occupations persist? Arguing that the cultures and practices of professional socialization serve to perpetuate this segregation, the authors examine the case of engineering. Using interview and diary entry data following students from college entry to graduation, the authors show how socialization leads women to develop less confidence that they will “fit” into the culture of engineering. The authors identify three processes that produce these cultural mismatches: orientation to engineering at college entry, initiation rituals in coursework and team projects, and anticipatory socialization during internships and summer jobs. Informal interactions with peers and everyday sexism in teams and internships are particularly salient building blocks of segregation.
Full-text available
This article presents an analytical approach for documenting the identities for teaching that mathematics teachers negotiate as they participate in 2 or more communities that define high-quality teaching differently. Drawing on data from the first 2 years of a collaboration with a group of middle school mathematics teachers, the article focuses on a critical initial condition for teachers to improve their practice—determining that the effort required is worthwhile. The results speak directly to a central issue that arises when supporting teachers' efforts to improve their instructional practices: their motivation for affiliating with a vision of teaching that involves centering instruction on student thinking.
Full-text available
Our primary purpose in this article is to propose an interpretive scheme for analyzing the identities that students develop in mathematics classrooms that can inform instruc- tional design and teaching. We first introduce the key constructs of normative iden- tity and personal identity, and then illustrate how they can be used to conduct empir- ical analyses. The case on which the sample analysis focuses concerns a single group of middle school students who were members of two contrasting classrooms in which what it meant to know and do mathematics differed significantly. The resulting analyses document the forms of agency that students can legitimately exercise in partic- ular classrooms, together with how authority is distributed and thus to whom students are accountable, and what they are accountable for mathematically. In the final section of the article, we clarify the relation of the interpretive scheme to other current work on the identities that students are developing in mathematics classrooms.
The Mathematics of Quilting: A Quilter's Tacit Knowledge of Symmetry, Tiling and Group Theory
  • K Hebb
Hebb, K. (2003). The Mathematics of Quilting: A Quilter's Tacit Knowledge of Symmetry, Tiling and Group Theory. In Meeting Alhambra, ISAMA-BRIDGES Conference Proceedings (pp. 511-520). University of Granada.