Dealing with ‘fragile identities’: resistance and refiguring in women mathematics students

Many learners may be successful in mathematics but nevertheless see themselves as existing only on the margins of the practice, or as lacking stability in it – in this sense, they have what can be called a fragile identity. Although this kind of relationship with mathematics is not limited to girls and women, they do appear to express such fragile identities more often or more readily. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data from undergraduates in three English universities, this paper presents an analysis of the way in which university mathematics is differentially experienced by men and women, and of the part this may play in women’s ongoing narratives of self as mathematicians. It is suggested that some women resist traditional positionings in the mathematics world, drawing on local resources which enable a sense of agency as successful students and a refiguring of their relationships with mathematics.