Choosing more mathematics: an exploration of participation and learner identities in the further mathematics network

Smith, Catherine Anne (2011) Choosing more mathematics: an exploration of participation and learner identities in the further mathematics network. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


In this thesis I investigate how students account for their choices of whether or not to study further mathematics within an after-school widening participation programme, the Further Mathematics Network (FMNetwork). I seek to conceptualise how patterns of participation in advanced mathematics arise not only from unequal school provision but in the 'logics' of individual students' decision-making. I draw on a qualitative research project examining a) fourteen promotional, administrative and evaluative FMNetwork documents, and b) observations, interviews and email qucstionnaircs with twenty four students in three sites. These sites were chosen to include differences in socio-geographic and classroom contexts amid the shared feature that without the FMNetwork these students could not study further mathematics. I use a theoretical framework based in Foucauldian ideas that sociocultural discourses construct within them practices of the self: the possibilities for being a knowing, active, choosing self in that system of knowledge and social practice. In the texts and students' accounts I analyse the discourses that shape meaning in further mathematics and look for ways they support or conflict with practices of the self in contemporary society. I argue that mathematics and (FMNetwork) further mathematics draw on different discourses, and that the discourses of further mathematics contain inherent ambiguities that students can use productively or struggle to reconcile. Mathematics students arc positioned as making secure developmental progress to practical maturity and autonomous self-management. Further mathematics accelerates and/or distorts this progress. I show the students' precarious positioning as self-entrepreneurs who choose risk and face consequences, and also as children whose self-promotion may be illusory. I argue that students' choice and participation in the FMNetwork are best understood as a project of becoming independent. Thus doing further mathematics allows students to contest their experience of some school or social exclusions, notably where experiences do not fit a dominant model that learning mathematics successfully feels fast, effortless and requires the validation of others. However, this project of doing further mathematics as becoming independent adds to the insecurities they experience about progress and responsibility, leaving them exposed to the logic that giving up is the mature response.

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