Organized Session

Gender and Work in the Mathematical Sciences

Organizer

Andrew Fiss

Michigan Technological University

Chair

Ellen Abrams

Cornell University

Metadata

Session Abstract

Gender expression is famously limited in the mathematical sciences. The lack of gender diversity within professional mathematical communities has been a major topic of research for at least a generation now, leading to considerations of the gendering of mathematical success, the gendering of mathematical work, and constructions of mathematical careers. This panel draws attention to the intersection of gender studies and science studies through the consideration of work in the mathematical sciences. In addition to revealing hidden workers in the mathematical sciences, gender studies perspectives can invigorate broader discussions of rationality, objectivity, inequality, and representation.

Our panel brings together such research through case studies about mathematics, logic, physics, and engineering, drawn from North American and European contexts of the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century. The first paper investigates gender as a differentiably available resource in mathematical logic in the early years of Johns Hopkins University. The second analyzes periodical paratext to indicate the transnational construction of gendered engineering identities at the turn of the twentieth century. The third paper introduces considerations of gendered care into the analysis of early-twenty-first-century mathematical careers. Finally, the fourth paper introduces changes to current issues in theoretical physics inspired by appreciating gender studies perspectives on the work. Taken together, our papers broadly encourage shared consideration of the complexities of gender in the mathematical sciences.

Presenter 1

Real Working Men: Performing Gender in Nineteenth-Century Mathematical Logic

David Dunning

Princeton University/Oxford University

Abstract

From 1879 to 1884, Charles Peirce (1839-1914) taught logic at the newly founded Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he and his graduate students collectively published influential research in mathematical logic. Though their work was communal, the culture of mathematical and logical research at Hopkins revolved around a myth of the individual man of genius: a shared vision of luminary professors collaborating with talented students was premised on a particular archetype of how the master should be and how his apprentices should aspire to become. Christine Ladd (1847-1930; later Ladd-Franklin), one of Peirce's most adept students, participated in this mythology in a circumscribed way. She endorsed the image of the "man of genius" in her interpretation of her teacher's often disorganized conduct. Her own prowess earned recognition in the form of a generous fellowship, though as a woman she was barred from receiving a Ph.D. upon completing the degree's requirements. James Joseph Sylvester (1814-1897), the head of the mathematics department, listed her among the "actual producers and investigators-real working men" who made his department so strong, and she contributed one of the most important articles in a joint volume of graduate student research published in 1883. She surveyed the proliferating symbolic notations that characterized mathematical logic, introduced her own, and used it to develop a general solution to the Aristotelian syllogism. Though her early achievements in logic were considerable, she later concluded she had been too self-effacing on the matter. Returning to logic, she jotted a note: "Why be so modest about it? I have decided not to be so any longer." Analyzing gendered invocations of modesty and genius, confidence and obscurity, I will show how gender operated in this mathematical-logical community as a partly flexible though differentially available resource for reading one's colleagues and performing one's own work as a logician.

Metadata

Presenter 2

The Paper for Practical Men: Transnational Constructions of Engineering Identities through Periodicals

Andrew Fiss

Michigan Technological University

Laura Kasson Fiss

Michigan Technological University

Abstract

Drawing attention to the masthead of the Pacific Coast Miner (1890s-1906), which proclaimed it to be "The Paper for Practical Men," this paper analyzes the transnational construction of engineering identities through periodicals. The paratext of engineering periodicals (mastheads, advertisements, etc) subtly asserted particular views of readers and connected to complex discussions of masculinities, science, and practical work at the time. Joining recent scholars who argue that the paratext of nineteenth-century women's periodicals disrupts binaries between domesticity and work and between ornamental knowledge and useful knowledge, we focus on the diagrams, advertisements, and mastheads that connect to issues of safety (artificial limbs, respirators) and the arts (pianos, illustrations). The presence of these features indicates complexity in the historical construction of gendered engineering identities.

Periodical studies provides a useful framework for this complexity, moreover, because it acknowledges the related shifts in journalism that occurred at the turn of the twentieth century. The so-called "New Journalism" incorporated interviews and opinion pieces as well as a more personal style, including the use of the first-person singular. Similarly, explicit commentary on other news outlets gradually removed the reliance on "scissors-and-paste" (the practice of copying news from one outlet to another). Finally, changes in publishing made possible detailed illustrations and specialized markets. Such changes asserted the importance of the identity of the journalist and more broadly identity in journalism. Investigating periodicals from Canada, the United States, England, and Germany, this paper investigates the construction of engineering identity through and with the construction of periodicals, foregrounding the complex gendering of work.

Metadata

Presenter 3

Men Play, Women Care? The Different Experiences of "Becoming a Mathematician" among Contemporary Male and Female Early Career Mathematicians

Milena Kremakova

University of Halle-Wittenberg

Abstract

Using a social constructivist and feminist theoretical framework, and linking together insights from the sociology of care labour, this paper investigates the gendered aspects of becoming a professional mathematician during the PhD and postdoctoral phase among contemporary early career mathematicians. This touches on a range of gendered issues such as: the chances and decisions that lead to the pursuit of an academic career; the overlap of work and leisure in professional mathematics; choice of subfield and topics of study; relations with supervisors and fellow students; challenges of combining study/work with personal life, relationships, family and becoming a parent; self-perception and identity as a mathematician; experiences with open and tacit discrimination (or the lack thereof).

The discussion unpacks mutually exclusive narratives that nevertheless coexist in mathematics, such as the ideology of objectivity and openness to everyone "who has something interesting to say" vs the factual and widely accepted as normal prevalence of a masculine culture in the mathematical sciences. The paper calls for recognition of the fact that a division of labour is important for creating new mathematics, and that currently this division of labour is largely institutionalised along gender lines which is connected to a devaluation of certain forms of mathematical labour. An argument is put forward for a more inclusive and less individual-centred definition of "mathematical labour" which includes (some of the) care labour which forms an essential "scaffolding" that enables the pursuit of mathematical knowledge.

The paper draws on a database of ethnographic interviews with male and female early career mathematicians in the UK and Germany collected between 2012 and 2019.

Metadata

Presenter 4

Subjectivity, Epistemology, and Quantum Theory: Making Way for Intersubjectivity

Tori Reeder

Michigan Technological University

Abstract

In both gender studies and physics there is a push for subjective interpretation to better understand and explain anomalies in quantum theory. This is due, in part, to a paradigm shift in theoretical physics: we need a different way of understanding conceptual discontinuities between general relativity, or principles in classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. General relativity or classical mechanics assert that the laws of physics are the same regardless of one's state of motion, whereas quantum mechanics explain and describe the motion and nature of subatomic particles mathematically. Recent discoveries in quantum theory give rise to misunderstandings of how a phenomenon in classical mechanics works differently in a quantum state. The goal of many physicists in this field is to discover a unified quantum field theory that joins classical mechanics or general relativity to quantum mechanics. In order to do so, it is imperative that subjective interpretation be used to explain quantum behavior. I examine broader instances in quantum theory to understand how principles in quantum mechanics fundamentally changed the way humanities scholars -- from gender studies and beyond -- and scientists conceptualize their epistemological framework. I utilize Davidson's conception of intersubjectivity to build a theoretical framework. Then, I examine how feminist (and non-feminist) scholars have argued for subjective interpretations in physics, including how they theorize a new epistemology for quantum theory. I argue that not only is there a necessity for intersubjective interpretation, but such interpretation becomes an integral part of creating a new epistemology for understanding anomalies in quantum theory.

Metadata