Urban girls’ engagement with science within lessons, class visits and family visits to science museums
: Interactions of gender, social class and ethnicity

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There are persistent gender inequalities in science participation, further stratified by social class and ethnicity. This study takes a sociological approach to examine how interacting social axes shape girls’ engagement with science within lessons, class visits and family visits to science museums. The data were collected through interviews, focus groups and observations with the girls (n=15), their parents (n=10) and their science teachers (n=4) and analysed by drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of social reproduction and Butler’s theory of gender performativity.
The main contribution of this study is an in-depth understanding of the vital role that social contexts play in shaping girls’ engagement with science. This study found that ethnicity complicated the influence of working class backgrounds, in that high parental aspirations and support for science positively shaped their identification with the subject and their aspirations. Yet, there was a gendered and ethnic aspect of science capital, which challenged how they recognised and deployed their limited resources. Engagement with science was produced when their resources and dispositions aligned with expectations of a particular social context. A change in a physical setting was not enough to open up opportunities for engagement, without also a shift in norms, values and recognition. Performances of heterofemininity were mostly in tension with engagement with science in the context of the science class. The girls who behaved well and worked quietly, performing restrained heterofemininity, risked invisibility. The celebrated ways of engaging with science required confident displays of knowledge, enacted through ‘muscular intellect’. The family context provided different opportunities for the girls’ engagement with science to the science class, but these were constrained by the challenges they encountered during their science museum visits.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLouise Archer (Supervisor) & Justin Dillon (Supervisor)

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