Lecture Jokes: Mocking and Reproducing Celebrated Subject Positions in Physics

Part of the Cultural Studies of Science Education book series (CSSE, volume 19)


In this chapter, the authors explore the discursive construction of physics culture through lecture jokes in university quantum mechanics classes. Drawing on ethnographic data this research explores questions about how physics lecture jokes may structure possibilities for students to identify with physics and as physicists. The authors identify the ways that celebrated subject positions are constructed through jokes, and discuss the ways that jokes may do the discursive work of positioning students inside or outside of physics.


  1. Adams, D. (1979). The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. London: Pan Books.Google Scholar
  2. Archer, L., Dawson, E., DeWitt, J., Godec, S., King, H., Mau, A., et al. (2017a). Killing curiosity? An analysis of celebrated identity performances among teachers and students in nine London secondary science classrooms. Science Education, 101(5), 741–764. doi: 10/gctkbf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archer, L., Moote, J., Francis, B., DeWitt, J., & Yeomans, L. (2017b). The “exceptional” physics girl: A sociological analysis of multimethod data from young women aged 10–16 to explore gendered patterns of post-16 participation. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 88–126. doi: 10/gctkdj Google Scholar
  4. Banas, J. A., Dunbar, N., Rodriguez, D., & Liu, S.-J. (2011). A review of humor in educational settings: Four decades of research. Communication Education, 60(1), 115–144. doi: 10/fr95jf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barthelemy, R. S., McCormick, M., & Henderson, C. (2016). Gender discrimination in physics and astronomy: Graduate student experiences of sexism and gender microaggressions. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(2), 020119. doi: 10/gctkc7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berge, M. (2017). The role of humor in learning physics: A study of undergraduate students. Research in Science Education, 47(2), 427–450. doi: 10/f3pdvv.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berge, M., & Danielsson, A. T. (2013). Characterising learning interactions: A study of university students solving physics problems in groups. Research in Science Education, 43(3), 1177–1196. doi: 10/f2z3vm.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berge, M., Danielsson, A. T., & Ingerman, Å. (2012). Different stories of group work: Exploring problem solving in engineering education. Nordic Studies in Science Education, 8(1), 3–16. doi: 10/gd4s2p.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Billig, M. (2005). Laughter and ridicule: Towards a social critique of humor. London/Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Carlone, H. B., Scott, C. M., & Lowder, C. (2014). Becoming (less) scientific: A longitudinal study of students’ identity work from elementary to middle school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(7), 836–869. doi: 10/f6dgcr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, T. (1999). Jokes: Philosophical thoughts on joking matters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cohn, C. (1987). Sex and death in the rational world of defense intellectuals. Signs, 12, 687–718. doi: 10/cvbz3vGoogle Scholar
  14. Danielsson, A. T. (2009). Doing physics – doing gender: An exploration of physics students’ identity constitution in the context of laboratory work. PhD thesis. Uppsala University.
  15. Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1), 43–63. doi: 10/fxdfdt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dowd, J. E., Araujo, I., & Mazur, E. (2015). Making sense of confusion: Relating performance, confidence, and self-efficacy to expressions of confusion in an introductory physics class. Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research, 11(1), 010107. doi: 10/gc5s8c.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Due, K. (2014). Who is the competent physics student? A study of students’ positions and social interaction in small-group discussions. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 9(2), 441–459. doi: 10/f25bmc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Francis, B., Archer, L., Moote, J., DeWitt, J., MacLeod, E., & Yeomans, L. (2017). The construction of physics as a quintessentially masculine subject: Young people’s perceptions of gender issues in access to physics. Sex Roles, 76(3–4), 156–174. doi: 10/f9nnjt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Geelan, D. (2013). Teacher explanation of physics concepts: A video study. Research in Science Education, 43(5), 1751–1762. doi: 10/gd4tnh.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gonsalves, A. J., & Seiler, G. (2012). Recognizing “smart super-physicists”: Gendering competence in doctoral physics. In M. Varelas (Ed.), Identity construction and science education research (pp. 157–172). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. doi: 10/cs4t.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gonsalves, A. J., Danielsson, A., & Pettersson, H. (2016). Masculinities and experimental practices in physics: The view from three case studies. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(2), 020120. doi: 10/f3rnhx.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hasse, C. (2002). Gender diversity in play with physics: The problem of premises for participation in activities. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 9(4), 250–269. doi: 10/dsr9f3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hasse, C. (2008). Learning and transition in a culture of playful physicists. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 23(2), 149–164. doi: 10/cxg4zs.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hasse, C., & Trentemøller, S. (2008). Break the pattern!: A critical enquiry into three scientific workplace cultures: Hercules, Caretakers and Worker Bees. Tartu: Tartu University Press. Scholar
  25. Ivie, R., White, S., & Chu, R. Y. (2016). Women’s and men’s career choices in astronomy and astrophysics. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(2), 020109. doi: 10/gc5vqt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johansson, A. (2018a). Undergraduate quantum mechanics: Lost opportunities for engaging motivated students? European Journal of Physics, 39(2), 025705. doi: 10/gctj9n.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johansson, A. (2018b). The formation of successful physics students: Discourse and identity perspectives on university physics. PhD thesis. Uppsala University.
  28. Johansson, A. (2018c). Negotiating intelligence, nerdiness, and status in physics master’s studies. Research in Science Education. doi: 10/gfjxxr Google Scholar
  29. Johansson, A., Andersson, S., Salminen-Karlsson, M., & Elmgren, M. (2018). “Shut up and calculate”: The available discursive positions in quantum physics courses. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 13(1), 205–226. doi: 10/f3rq2b.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuipers, G. (2006). Good humor, bad taste: A sociology of the joke. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood: Praeger.Google Scholar
  32. Marsh, O. (2016). ‘People seem to really enjoy the mix of humour and intelligence’: Science humour in online settings. Journal of Science Communication, 15(02). doi: 10/gd22z4.Google Scholar
  33. Martin, R. A. (2007). The psychology of humor: An integrative approach. Burlington: Elsevier Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nyström, A.-S., Jackson, C., & Karlsson, M. S. (2019). What counts as success? Constructions of achievement in prestigious higher education programmes. Research Papers in Education, 34(4), 465–482. doi: 10/gc8vmx.Google Scholar
  35. Riesch, H. (2015). Why did the proton cross the road? Humour and science communication. Public Understanding of Science, 24(7), 768–775. doi: 10/gd23sr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Roth, W.-M., Ritchie, S. M., Hudson, P., & Mergard, V. (2011). A study of laughter in science lessons. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(5), 437–458. doi: 10/fh7z7v.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Scherr, R. E., & Hammer, D. (2009). Student behavior and epistemological framing: Examples from collaborative active-learning activities in physics. Cognition and Instruction, 27(2), 147–174. doi: 10/ckc7qw.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shankar, R. (2015). Physics 200 – Professor Shankar. Accessed 4 Jan 2017.
  39. Söderlund, H. (2016). “Jättekul att det är så många tjejer här ikväll”: En interaktionell studie om humor och kön i tv-programmet Parlamentet. PhD thesis. Umeå University.
  40. Traweek, S. (1988). Beamtimes and lifetimes: The world of high energy physicists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Willey, A., & Subramaniam, B. (2017). Inside the social world of asocials: White nerd masculinity, science, and the politics of reverent disdain. Feminist Studies, 43(1), 13–41. doi: 10/gctj9r.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Communication and Learning in Science, Engineering Education ResearchChalmers University of TechnologyGöteborgSweden
  2. 2.Department of Science and Mathematics EducationUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden

Personalised recommendations