A study into identity formation : troubling stories of adults taming mathematics

Part, Tracy (2016) A study into identity formation : troubling stories of adults taming mathematics. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis investigates how adult learners continuously negotiate their relationship with schoolroom mathematics through discourses akin to being ‘more’ or ‘less’ able to ‘do’ and ‘be’ mathematical. It argues that mathematical identities are politically and socially constructed, and that available forms of knowledge inscribe particular mathematical practices on the individual in the classroom. By paying attention to the precarious and contradictory productions of the self, and investigating the allure of undergoing a transformation of the self, I contribute to critical understandings of the psychic costs of re-engaging with learning mathematics as an adult learner.

This analysis is a critical narrative inquiry of stories of adults (not)taming mathematics. As an iterative study into identity formation it puts theory to work in unusual ways. In bringing together internal and external processes (and the intersection of biography, aspiration and discursive practice), I unmask how participants underwent what Mendick (2005) calls “identity work”. Working with a Lacanian psychoanalytical through a Foucauldian tradition, I navigate the construction of selfhood during processes of reinvention as (non)mathematical subjects, experiencing ‘success’ (and alienation) through models of collaborative learning, in the contemporary mathematical classroom.

The study examines the lived experiences of 11 adult learners using a range of qualitative methods. I actively seek the complexities within various types of provision (including adult education, further education, work-based learning, and community outreach programs) and the multiple forms of knowledge available (or not) through authoritarian discourses of education.

Engaging a mobile epistemology, this thesis connects subject positions, techniques of power, psychic costs of reinventing the self, and how the processes of visceral embodiment of mathematics affects learning in the classroom. It argues that mathematical identities are discursively constructed, and the relationship between selfhood and ‘being’ and ‘doing’ mathematical-ness is told as much through narratives characterised by affection as by fear. Rather than provide answers or ‘best practice’ for the collaborative classroom, I conclude with an explanation of why I question common sense assumptions, such as that adult learners want to be placed in a hierarchical positions and judged as independent mathematical thinkers in class, and the practical implications for this in the classroom.

PartTracy - PhD Full Thesis.pdf - Published Version

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