Introduction: Why Do We Need Identity in Physics Education Research?
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Over several decades, studies have documented differences between men and women’s achievement and participation in physics, or have sought social or psychological explanations for differences in physics engagement. This dualistic understanding of gender and its consequences for physics learning has long been challenged theoretically, but only recently have new perspectives on gender and physics been taken up in the field of physics education research (PER). A recent epistemological shift in research on gender and physics education is turning our gaze away from documenting differences and rather towards understanding how gendered identities are constructed in physics learning and practice. As this book will detail, identity frameworks have much to offer our understanding of gender in physics education research. Frameworks that highlight identity work in physics can be used to explore how gender interacts with constructs like power, privilege, agency, discourse, positionality and inequity and how these are tied up in identity construction and trajectories into and out of physics. In this chapter, we introduce a growing scholarship using sociocultural frameworks to understand learning and participation in physics, that seeks to challenge dominant understandings of who does physics and what counts as physics competence. We discuss the various perspectives taken in the subsequent chapters of this book, and the potential these have to help us construct a broad picture of the complexity inherent in doing physics and doing gender.
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