Scientific difference.

Essay by madrussianstalin September 2003

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American research on women's scientific underrepresentation has relied mainly on studies in the

United States, survey-type research and Western cultural models. This paucity of cross-cultural

data, especially from non-western cultures, impedes our understanding of cross- cultural

variations in the science gender gap and significant cultural variability within American society.

This paper reports results of anthropologically-oriented research exploring how the cultural and

social context in which science is learned and practiced contributes to the gendering of science.

Ethnographic research carried out in India in 1988 focused on female college student decisions

to enter scientific academic fields. In 1989-90, the study was expanded to a broader pre-college

student sample, using a culturally-meaningful questionnaire created for this purpose and 4

Western math/science questionnaires adapted to the Indian context.

Preliminary analyses of these data suggest a theory of the sexual division of Indian scientific

labour in which macrostructural features (educational system, occupational and class structure)

intersect with cultural models of family, gender, and science to frame the academic decision

making process, producing, ultimately, a predominantly male scientific community.


findings question the generalizability of American-generated "deficit" theories of female

scientific underrepresentation to non-Western cultural settings, suggest new factors that might

be significant cross-culturally as well as in the West, and have implications for the design of

international programs for increasing women's scientific representation.

Gender, science and technology has become a focus of inquiry for scholars from a

wide-variety of disciplines. The voluminous literature ranges from new forms of gender

hierarchy resulting from technologies introduced by multinational corporations in Third World

nations (cf. Warren and Bourque 1989) to the impact of cooperative learning strategies on girls'

performance in science courses (See Kelly 1992, Weisbard and Apple 1993 for a comprehensive


KEY WORDS: gender & science, Indian women, women and education, cross-cultural...