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Exploring physics students' identities and social relations: Norms, exclusion and inclusion in a higher education context
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8180-5369
2013 (English)Conference paper, Poster (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Identity and social relations are topics which have not been studied to any large extent in the physics education research field (with a few notable counter-examples, e.g. [Danielsson, 2009]). Some studies indicate that these wider aspects of education are of great importance for students’ learning and persistence (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Forsman, Linder, Moll, Fraser, & Andersson, 2012). A few studies in different disciplines have focused on the social relations among physics students, e.g. Cathrine Hasse’s anthropological studies (Hasse, 2002), and have found that there exist many culture specific codes and norms affecting whether a student feels included or excluded in the social context of university physics studies. In these contexts socio-economic background, gender, ethnicity, age and possibly other identity categories have been shown to be important for students’ experiences (Hasse, 2002; Danielsson, 2009). This recently started research project will aim to explore these issues of norms, identity and social belonging in physics students’ experiences of their studies. My theoretical framework will draw from theories of social identity, gender, disciplinary discourse (Becher, 1987) and situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). To approach the students’ paths into studying science, narrative analysis, focusing on the students’ own accounts of their development, will be used. Some starting questions are: How have the experience of fitting in or not fitting in earlier in life formed one’s course of life and the choices that led to studying the current educational programmme? How do these experiences influence inclusion or exclusion today? How do gender and other identity categories come into play in one’s identity construction? How do all these aspects influence the formation of a professional identity? This qualitative study will complement statistical studies, which show a complex pattern of reasons for student persistence in higher education (Forsman et al., 2012). The qualitative approach will enable understanding of the intricate interactions forming individual students’ identities, and of the reasons for a single student to choose or not to choose specific educational programmes, careers or life paths.


  • Becher, T. (1987). Disciplinary discourse. Studies in Higher Education, 12, 261–274. doi:10.1080/03075078712331378052
  • Danielsson, A. T. (2009). Doing physics – doing gender: an exploration of physics students’ identity constitution in the context of laboratory work (PhD thesis, Uppsala University).
  • Forsman, J., Linder, C., Moll, R., Fraser, D., & Andersson, S. (2012, February 2). A new approach to modelling student retention through an application of complexity thinking. Studies in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/03075079.2011.643298
  • Hasse, C. (2002). Gender diversity in play with physics: the problem of premises for participation in activities. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 9, 250–269. doi:10.1207/S15327884MCA0904_02
  • Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.
  • Seymour, E. & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder, Colorado: Westview.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
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Physics with specialization in Physics Education
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-201992OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-201992DiVA: diva2:660779
Nordic Physics Days, Lund University, June 12-14, 2013
Available from: 2013-10-30 Created: 2013-06-18 Last updated: 2013-11-06Bibliographically approved

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