An Aesthetic Knowing of Mathematical Identity: Performing stories of Mathematical Identity through filmed drama

Student thesis: Phd


This research is grounded in critical concerns about UK mathematical performance and anxious mathematical identities. More usually these concerns focus mathematics educational policies away from growing academic interest in the role of 'affect' (emotions, attitudes and beliefs) in mathematics education, links between mathematical anxieties and identity, and how mathematical performance can also be how we think, feel, be and 'act' in social contexts. The thesis, which includes the film 'Performatics: Performing stories of mathematical identity through filmed drama' (Performatics), documents the 'identity work' of three postgraduate students (actors), who study mathematical courses, as they developed dramatic scenes framed in terms of their 'shared feelings' about mathematics. The researcher became immersed in the lives of prospective participants (through science communication and drama) to recruit actors comfortable and committed enough to dedicate eight months to this research, which generated 70 hours of raw footage edited into the final film. As Arts Based Research (ABR), 'Performatics' is a whole research process constituting data collection, analysis, discussion and dissemination. Two ABR methods were adopted. Firstly, 'Playbuilding' (Norris, 2000) structured the drama process in order to provoke, compile and construct scenes about experiences with mathematics. Secondly Jean Rouch's observational cinema captured the drama construction process and accounted for the actor's imagination (dream like scenes of past experience) as part of their identity, which is conveyed in the film. In addition, Rouch's approach claims that filmmaking and editing is an inherently rigorous and analytical research process. The ABR is underpinned by principles of 'aesthetic knowing', which has two meanings here: Firstly, situated in practice, with an in-the-moment, perceiving, feeling, sensing of a situation linked to hermeneutic phenomenological interpretation of human experience (Ricoeur) with identity as dialogic (Bahktin, 1986); mediated by others (including the past and possible/imagined selves). The second is aesthetic knowing through experiences of beauty (Levy, 2015). 'Performatics' supplements knowledge on identity by claiming (i) that there are features of dramatic methodology and film that can be adopted from other fields (observational cinema and theatre studies) to show the intangible, inner aspect of identity. Features that include a wider grasp of emotions and cultural semiotics, and a means to represent past experience in the non- discursive ways that the storyteller may recall them, (ii) In doing so the affective property of story becomes more apparent and (iii) the audience becomes witness to the dynamism of storying in a way not possible in a written text.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Williams (Supervisor), Pauline Prevett (Supervisor) & Michael O'Donoghue (Supervisor)


  • Mathematics Education; Identity; Arts Based Research; Film; Drama

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