Bourdieu, networks, and movements: Using the concepts of habitus, field and capital to understand a network analysis of gender differences in undergraduate physics.

08:00 EDT 12th September 2019 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "Bourdieu, networks, and movements: Using the concepts of habitus, field and capital to understand a network analysis of gender differences in undergraduate physics."

Current trends suggest that significant gender disparities exist within Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education at university, with female students being underrepresented in physics, but more equally represented in life sciences (e.g., biology, medicine). To understand these trends, it is important to consider the context in which students make decisions about which university courses to enrol in. The current study seeks to investigate gender differences in STEM through a unique approach that combines network analysis of student enrollment data with an interpretive lens based on the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu. We generate a network of courses taken by around 9000 undergraduate physics students (from 2009 to 2014) to quantify Bourdieu's concept of field. We identify the fields in which physics students participate by constructing a weighted co-enrollment network and finding communities within it. We then use odds ratios to report gender differences in transverse movements between different academic fields, and non-parametric tests to assess gender differences in vertical movements (changes in students' achievement rankings within a field). Odds ratios comparing the likelihood of progression from one field to another indicate that female students were more likely to make transverse movements into life science fields. We also found that university physics did a poor job in attracting high achieving students, and especially high achieving female students. Of the students who did choose to study physics at university, low and middle achieving female high school students were more likely to decrease their relative rank in their first year compared to their male counterparts. Low achieving female students were also less likely to continue with physics after their first year compared to their male counterparts. Results and implications are discussed in the context of Bourdieu's theory, and previous research. We argue that in order to remove constraints on female students' study choices, the field of physics needs to provide a culture in which all students feel like they belong.


Journal Details

This article was published in the following journal.

Name: PloS one
ISSN: 1932-6203
Pages: e0222357


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