Research in gender and education has evolved from a focus on issues of equity and access, to difference and intersectionality, and more recently subjectivity and identity (Dillabough, McLeod, & Mills, 2009). While science education research has continued its focus on access, difference, and identity, gender research within the field has become fused, and possibly lost, within other social categories (Scantlebury, in press). McRobbie (2009) labeled the erosion of feminist research through the devaluing of its ideas and goals as disarticulation. She argued that rather than producing new goals and themes across social categories, disarticulation acted as a ‘dispersal strategy’, to the detriment of all social groups. Feminism was no longer viewed as a place where different subordinate groups could learn from each other and identify common political causes feminist ideals (McRobbie, 2009).
Despite calls from feminist researchers for a more nuanced examination of gender in science education, such as, how various social categories intersect and interact with one’s gender (that is, intersectionality), using queer theory to challenge hetereonormative assumptions in science and schooling, and expanding data analysis to include a broader interpretation of gender than the dichotomy of feminine and masculine (Hussenius et al, 2013). Currently, the percentage of papers with ‘gender or feminist or equity’ as a research category in peer-reviewed science education articles is less than five percent (Hussenius et al, 2013). In areas of science education research that produced the most published articles such as changing students’ conceptions or examining teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, researchers have rarely addressed gender issues (Andersson 2010; 2013). But science and science education are social organizations, and as such are gendered (Acker, 1990). Gender influences who studies, participates, and engages in science. An ongoing trend is that females are overrepresented in the biological/life sciences and males are disproportionally represented in the physical sciences (Hill et. al., 2010). Previously, researchers have suggested that achievement and attitudinal differences accounted for the gendered pattern of females’ and males’ science participation. However, meta-analytic studies have shown minimal differences in achievement between females and males (Hyde & Linn, 2006). Researchers suggest that larger societal structures, rather than differences between groups, explain why academically capable and qualified women chose not to enroll in physical science and/or engineering majors or more than three times the number of boys indicated their interest in a computing, engineering or mathematics career compared to girls (Sikora & Pokropek, 2012). However, gender studies at society’s structural level rarely examine outcomes in terms of gender and other social categories and the engagement of students in science remains highly gendered.
In the early 1990’s Haraway challenged feminists to engage with reality and an examination of language because science and technology and the discourse that built these areas produced a ‘matrix of domination’. Science education research rarely uses critical theories when producing knowledge and recommending changes to teacher preparation, curriculum that would interest and engage all students, or the pedagogical practices that would deconstruct a ‘matrix of domination’. Barad (2003) argued that researchers had granted language ‘too much power” and called for feminists to re-engage with matter/material.
Material feminism considers language and reality, and incorporates both into discussions of identity (Hekman, 2010). Material feminism offers a theoretical framework for science educators because it moves theorizing and analysis from the post modern and post humanities approaches to social critique that focused solely on language/discourse to incorporating matter. This theoretical paper introduces, and then discusses, how material feminism may offer a framework for science education researchers to re-examine how engaging with socio-cultural context as well as the physical contexts of learning, teaching and practicing science could make gender matter.
National Association for Research in Science Teaching (Narst) Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA