Professor in Cultural Learning – University of Aarhus – Denmark

Learning and transition in a culture of playful physicists (2008)

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It has been argued that in higher education academic disciplines
can be seen as communities of practices. This implies a focus on what
constitutes identities in academic culture. In this article I argue that the
transition from newcomer to a full participant in a community of
practice of physicists entails a focus on how identities emerge in
learning how to highlight certain aspects of personal life histories. The
analysis of interviews with 55 physicists shows that physicists often perceive
experiences in their childhood as the first step into their
professional identities as physicists. These experiences involve
recollections of the ability to think scientifically (e.g., ‘go beyond the
surface’), and the ability to play with toys which can be connected to
the practical life of physics. The process of identity formation can be
described as developing in a relational zone of proximal development,
where old-timers recognize particular playful qualities in newcomers
as a legitimate access to a physicist identity. The article discusses how
play which physicists connects with a scientific mind can constitute a
relational zone of proximal developments in a community of practice as
a particular “space of authoring” in a physicist culture, which cut
across other cultural differences.

European Journal of Psychology of Education
2008, Vol. XXIII, nº 2, 149-164
© 2008, I.S.P.A.

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