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Cultural Models of Physics

An Analysis of Historical Connections Between Hard Sciences, Humanities and Gender in Physics
Chapter

Culture is generally understood to be the values, beliefs and practices that we inherit and transform over time. At a deeper level it can be argued that values, beliefs and practices stem from cultural learning. Science has downplayed the influence of culture in its internalist self-understanding. In this chapter I argue that science is formed through cultural processes, which influence the selection of who are able to perform as scientists. I use a cultural-psychological theoretical framework to analyze how selections of physicists' works through implicitly learned connections, which are only recognized as cultural, when they are contrasted with other ways of connecting. Cultural learning processes form conceptual connections over time, which are too self-evident to be questioned. They are only challenged when they are confronted with amazingly different connections. For many physicists in western European countries it has come as a surprise to learn that female physicists are found in larger numbers in the Southern and Eastern parts of Europe than in the Northern parts. Many possible sociological explanations have been proposed, but none have provided satisfactory answers. The cultural-psychological approach I propose offers a new understanding pointing to different historical formations of connections between gender, physics and the humanities. These connections can be understood as particular organizations of knowledge captured as different “cultural models” of physics. In Denmark, a Northern European country, we find a shockingly low representation of female physicists. In comparison, the southern European country Italy has a much higher representation of female physicists. It is argued that the difference is due to the work of historically formed implicit connections of gender and humanities in relation to physics, which are made explicit when the conceptions of physics in Italy is contrasted with conceptions of physics in Denmark.

Keywords

Cultural Model Nordic Country Official Publication Female Physicist Hard Science 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Danish University of Education, University of AarhusDenmark

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