Contradiction and conflict between 'leading identities': Becoming an engineer versus becoming a 'good muslim' woman

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This paper builds on previous work (Black et al., Educational Studies in Mathematics 73(1):55-72, 2010) which developed the notion of a leading identity (derived from Leont'ev's concept of 'leading activity') which, we argued, defined students' motive for studying during late adolescence. We presented two case studies of students in post-compulsory education (Mary and Lee) and highlighted how the concept of a leading identity might be relevant to understanding motivation in mathematics education and particularly the 'exchange value' or 'use value' of mathematics for these students. (Lee's identity was mediated by mathematics' potential exchange value in becoming a university student, and Mary's more by its perceived use value to her leading identity as an engineer.) In this paper, we follow up Mary's story as she progresses to university, and we see how she is now 'led' by contradictory motives and identities: Mary's aspirations and decisions seem to be now as much related to her identity as a Muslim woman as to her identity as an engineer. Therefore, we argue that more than one identity/activity may be considered as 'leading' at this point in time-e.g. work versus motherhood/parenting, for instance-and this raises conflicts and tensions. We conclude with a more reflexive account of leading identity which recognises the adolescent's developing awareness of self-an ongoing process of organisation as they experience contradictions in managing their education, work, domestic, community and other lives. © 2013 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages13
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Activity
  • Development
  • Leading activity
  • Leading identity
  • Motives
  • Self


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