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Women in physics? : identity and discourse in Taiwan Tsai, Li-Ling

Abstract

This dissertation argues that the deeply held hope for gender equity in science can no longer be simply realized as a project to increase women's participation in science. Understanding women's vexed relations with science requires a reconceptualization of the terms women and science, not as given categories to signal how "women" are coping with their disadvantaged positions in "science," but rather as two discourses formed in relation to each other, in institutional practices and in particular social and historical contexts. This dissertation investigates discourses of women and science by focusing on women in physics in Taiwan. This focus extends debates about gender and science by showing that the intervention of a particular discourse—in this case, the discourse of "women in physics"— into an existing discursive field exposed the contested terrain of the gender politics of physics and the identity politics of women physicists in Taiwan. "Women in physics" emerged as an internationally legitimate subject position in Taiwan in 1999 following a call to form a local working team on women in physics. The participants I interviewed utilized this internationally legitimate subject position to reconstruct, in different ways, their gendered identities in physics. Scholarship in the field of gender and science education studies has, over the past three decades, focused on equity and inclusion to address gender inequalities in science. This dissertation suggests, by contrast, that a focus on identity is necessary for understanding gendered career decisions in science. The term identity refers to how individuals perceive themselves and how others respond to their claims; identity involves the purposes, interests and contexts of particular naming processes. In the structural inequalities of gender and science, a focus on identity aims to track individual and collective forms of agency exercised in changing discursive fields. This dissertation concludes by viewing curriculum as a discursive field where various discourses provide subject positions and produce potential meanings through teaching and learning. Hope for social transformation can be situated in the interventionary power of new discourses and the subsequent reconfiguration of gendered identities in existing institutional practices.

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