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Figuring Worlds; Imagining Paths: A Feminist Exploration of Identities in Higher Education Biology
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8520-2642
2022 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Higher education biology is a natural science discipline that is numerically female biased on undergraduate level across most international contexts. In Sweden, Germany, and the UK, for example, more than 60% of all undergraduate students are women. However, equally prominent in these European contexts and beyond is the progressive decrease in the percentage of women along the academic career ladder, resulting in fewer than 30% of women among full professors in biology. This numerical decline contradicts unproblematised understandings of biology practices as gender-neutral, where biology as a female-coded and “soft” natural science discipline is perceived as free from gendered processes of in- and exclusion. As pointed out by feminist critics of science and science education researchers, gender-neutral discourses hide gendered processes; they unmark, neutralize, and normalize masculinity in natural science practices. Gendered norms in relation to issues of identity and participation in higher education science have been addressed rather extensively in male-dominated natural science disciplines such as physics. However, only a few studies focus these lenses on higher education biology. In this thesis, I explore how university students and teachers negotiate identities, make meaning of emotions, and figure worlds of higher education biology. As a trained biologist and a becoming gender scholar and science educator, I explore biology cultures from in- and outside perspectives. Working from within and between disciplines also provides me with theoretical and methodological tools to understand processes of enculturation in higher education biology, building on an eclectic theoretical framework, combining feminist, social constructivist, and cultural perspectives. I analyse students’ study motivation texts and teachers’ teaching statements from a Swedish context, as well as interviews with university biology students from three European universities in Sweden, Germany, and the UK. Across the four papers included in this thesis, narrow masculine norms of science, and particularly research, emerge in students’ and teachers’ identity work. These norms are challenged through alternative and broader imaginaries of biology practice and interpretations of participation within. On the one hand, recognizing broader identities has the potential to widen the practice of higher education biology. On the other hand, students negotiating alternatives to the norm risk not being recognized in interactions with research-focused teachers and hence being hindered in developing a sense of belonging to biology communities. Female students showed a tendency to imagine participation in broader ways, and the clash of this with the  normative cultural imaginaries within higher education biology risks contributing to the progressive decrease of the percentage of women in biology at universities. Taken together, this thesis provides further evidence for how higher education biology is far from a gender-neutral natural science discipline. While hegemonic and masculine norms of doing science and research are visible in university biology students’ and teachers’ identity work, alternative imaginaries provide possibilities for change towards a more diverse field of biology.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2022. , p. 110
Series
Uppsala Interdisciplinary Gender Studies ; 3
Keywords [en]
Biology Education, Communities of Practice, Discourse Analysis, Feminist Science Studies, Figured Worlds, Gender, Higher Education, Science Education, Science Identity
National Category
Gender Studies
Research subject
Gender Studies; Education; Biology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-470866ISBN: 978-91-513-1469-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-470866DiVA, id: diva2:1648694
Public defence
2022-05-20, Geijersalen (6-1023), Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3P, Uppsala, 09:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

The defence will be in hybrid form and can be attended online on this link https://uu-se.zoom.us/s/65225245821.

Available from: 2022-04-27 Created: 2022-03-31 Last updated: 2022-06-14
List of papers
1. “Quite ironic that even I became a natural scientist”: Students' imagined identity trajectories in the Figured World of Higher Education Biology
Open this publication in new window or tab >>“Quite ironic that even I became a natural scientist”: Students' imagined identity trajectories in the Figured World of Higher Education Biology
2021 (English)In: Science Education, ISSN 0036-8326, E-ISSN 1098-237X, Vol. 105, no 5, p. 837-854Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Studying biology entails negotiating knowledges, identities, and what paths, more or less well-trodden, to follow. Knowledges, identities, and paths within the very practices of science are fundamentally gendered and it is, therefore, critical to recognize when exploring students' learning and participation in natural sciences. Even though students' numbers in undergraduate Higher Education Biology are female-biased, it does not mean that gendered processes are absent. In this study, we focus on early undergraduate biology students' identity work at a Swedish university, analyzing 55 study motivation texts discursively. Embedded in a Figured Worlds framework, we explore how students imagined and authored themselves in(to) the Figured World of Higher Education Biology along two imagined identity trajectories, the Straight Biology Path and the Backpacking Biology Path. While the first and numerically dominant imagined trajectory entails typical stories of a scientific child striving toward a research career, the latter recognizes broad interests and biology competences to be collected in a backpack for transdisciplinary use. Students imagining the Backpacking Biology Path authored themselves in relation to and explicitly not as having a linear trajectory, which positions the Straight Biology Path as dominant and culturally recognized. Our findings reveal gendered myths about science practices present in Higher Education Biology, yet also contested through alternative imaginaries. We, thereby, show that it is crucial for Higher Biology and Science Education to be aware of how students imagine their trajectories and how they negotiate masculine norms of science to create spaces for diverse and alternative identity trajectories.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2021
Keywords
discourse analysis, figured worlds, gender, higher education biology, identity trajectories, identity work
National Category
Gender Studies Educational Sciences
Research subject
Gender Studies; Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-448872 (URN)10.1002/sce.21673 (DOI)000670373700001 ()
Available from: 2021-07-09 Created: 2021-07-09 Last updated: 2024-02-12Bibliographically approved
2. Intelligible identities in university teachers’ figured worlds of higher education biology
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Intelligible identities in university teachers’ figured worlds of higher education biology
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Higher education biology has often been imagined, perceived, and described as having reached gender equality in terms of who gets to participate in the disciplinary practices. Despite a numerical female bias in undergraduate enrolment, higher education biology, like any other natural science discipline, is a world whose landscapes are shaped by (re)productions of historical, cultural, and social norms. In order to understand what identities, what ways of being, are recognized by university biology teachers in these worlds, we analysed 94 teaching statements written when applying for faculty positions in biology at a large Swedish university. In and through teaching statements, university biology teachers negotiate and perform overarching disciplinary norms and discourses with the goal to present themselves as intelligible candidates. The texts are statements of value, which display implicit and explicit identities teachers consider to be recognized in the world of higher education biology. These identities are at the centre of this article. Using an eclectic discourse analytical framework, we could identify two imagined intelligible identities: the Research Science Teacher and the Facilitating Science Teacher. Research Science Teachers position research and associated masculine-coded competences as the ultimate anchor point for themselves and students. They consider (good) researchers to be ultimate knowers and consequently to be best suitable for university teaching with the goal to recruit students into research. Facilitating Science Teachers, even though aware of the hegemonic position of research, disentangle imaginaries of what makes a (good) researcher from what makes a good university teacher. They thereby allow themselves to transgress dominant imaginaries of research as the ultimate competence for themselves and for students, and create spaces for alternative ways of being and doing. Identifying university biology teachers to position masculine-coded research norms at the centre of biology practice, this study provides further evidence that higher education biology is not a gender-neutral educational space. It furthermore contributes to a more nuanced understanding of reproductive processes in science education, providing perspectives to together overcome intergenerational (re)productions of hegemonic norms of doing science.

Keywords
Biology, Discourse Analysis, Figured Worlds, Gender, Higher Education, Science Identity
National Category
Gender Studies Didactics
Research subject
Gender Studies; Education; Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-470806 (URN)
Available from: 2022-03-29 Created: 2022-03-29 Last updated: 2022-03-31
3. Enthusiasms, passions, and interests: Comparing students’ and university teachers’ meaning making of emotions in higher education biology
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Enthusiasms, passions, and interests: Comparing students’ and university teachers’ meaning making of emotions in higher education biology
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study explores and compares how university biology students and university teachers make meaning of enthusiasm, passion, and interest while negotiating participation in communities of biology practice. Biology is often assumed to be a gender-neutral practice and though previous work has found emotions to be part of university biology students’ and teachers’ identities, there appears to be assumptions about enthusiasm, passion, and interest being homogenous and understood collectively across science contexts. Here, I problematize taken-for-granted understandings of emotions in the supposedly gender-neutral context of higher education biology. Using a discursive analytical framework made it possible to identify a variety of ways in which meanings of emotions are made and directed, displaying overlaps and tensions between students’ and teachers’ understandings. Science and research-related makings of meaning are challenged by broader meanings that reach beyond science and research enthusiasm, passion, and interest. Female students tend to have broader understandings of higher biology education and risk not being recognized and reinforced in interactions with research-focused teachers. A lack of reinforcement hinders students in developing a sense of belonging to the community of biology practice and hence jeopardizes their participation. Exploring meanings of enthusiasm, passion, and interest shows how students’ identity work is influenced by gendered imaginaries of participation and thereby provides further evidence for biology not being a gender-neutral discipline.

Keywords
Biology, Communities of Practice, Discourse Analysis, Emotions, Figured Worlds, Higher Education
National Category
Gender Studies Didactics
Research subject
Gender Studies; Education; Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-470814 (URN)
Available from: 2022-03-30 Created: 2022-03-30 Last updated: 2022-03-31
4. ‘Biology must become better at seeing the human beings behind it’: University students’ identity work across European contexts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>‘Biology must become better at seeing the human beings behind it’: University students’ identity work across European contexts
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Higher education biology, numerically female-biased at undergraduate level across national contexts, has been given little attention in exploring norms of scientific practice. This study brings into focus how university biology students negotiate identities in relation to figured worlds of higher education biology. Empirically grounded in 27 timeline interviews with students from a Swedish, a German, and a British university and using an eclectic theoretical framework of feminist science critique, science identity, and figured worlds, we identified three hegemonic imaginaries in students’ narratives: showing dedication through sacrifice, being forced to "fake it to make it", and survival of/as the fittest. We then demonstrate how these imaginaries are negotiated by three female biology students who consider themselves successful and who want to pursue a PhD in their future. We thereby make visible how the three students successfully negotiate these norms, yet disavow and challenge them. This conflict suggests that they consider themselves successful despite the pressure to engage in the “typical” practices they contest. Our findings provoke discussions on how the above-mentioned imaginaries risk contributing to a decrease of female participation in higher education biology across academic ranks.

Keywords
Discourse, Feminist Critique of Science, Figured Worlds, Higher Education Biology, Science Identity
National Category
Gender Studies Didactics
Research subject
Gender Studies; Education; Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-470810 (URN)
Available from: 2022-03-29 Created: 2022-03-29 Last updated: 2022-04-10

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