In Sweden today women are greatly under-represented within university physics and the discipline of physics is also symbolically associated with men and masculinity. This motivates in-depth investigations of issues of physics, learning and gender.
This thesis explores how physics students' simultaneously constitute the practice of physics as enacted in student and research laboratories and their physicist identities in relation to this practice. In particular, it focuses on how these constitutions can be understood as gendered. Previously, physics education research has often limited 'gender perspective' to focusing on comparisons between man and woman students, whereas this study conceptualises gender as an aspect of social identity constitution. A point of departure for the thesis is the theoretical framework which combines situated learning theory and post-structural gender theory. This framework allows for a simultaneous analysis of how students 'do physics' and 'do gender', thereby making a theoretical contribution to physics education research.
In the empirical study twenty-two undergraduate and graduate physics students were interviewed about their physics studies, with a particular focus on laboratory work.
The analytical outcomes of the study illustrate a wide variety of possible identity constitutions and possible ways of constituting the physicist community of practice. For example, the students expressed conflicting interpretations of what are suitable practices in the student laboratory in terms of the value of practical versus analytical skills. The boundaries of the physicist community of practice are constituted in relation to, for example, other disciplines, interdisciplinary practices and a traditional femininity practice. Thus, the thesis demonstrates the complexity in physics students gendered negotiations of what it can mean to be a physicist.
The ambition of the thesis is further to promote discussions about gender and physics, by engaging readers in critical reflections about the practice of physics, and, thus, to inform the teaching practice of physics.