Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 89, Issue 2, pp 185–204 | Cite as

Positioning in mathematics education: revelations on an imported theory

  • Beth A. Herbel-Eisenmann
  • David Wagner
  • Kate R. Johnson
  • Heejoo Suh
  • Hanna Figueras


We develop theory within the field of mathematics education based on analysis of an imported theory—positioning theory—and the way it is used in the field. After summarizing positioning theory, we identify some conceptual fuzziness, particularly in core terms “positioning” and “storyline.” We offer Lemke’s idea of timescales as a way to refine the theory. We then use the refined theory to analyze strong examples from mathematics education literature as a source of insight into how this theory is being and could be used in the field. We identify the need to be clear about scale in describing positioning and storyline, to recognize that multiple storylines and positionings are at play in any interaction, to be specific about the role of communication acts in development of positioning and storyline, and to differentiate among different kinds of positioning. We claim that attention to these issues will help researchers recognize narratives and relationships at play that may be outside their expectation and also underpin stronger warranted claims.


Positioning Positioning theory Storylines Timescales 



This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. #0918117, Herbel-Eisenmann, PI; Cirillo and Steele, co-PIs). Opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed here are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF. We would like to thank David Pimm, Anna Sfard, and two anonymous reviewers for their insights and feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beth A. Herbel-Eisenmann
    • 1
  • David Wagner
    • 2
  • Kate R. Johnson
    • 3
  • Heejoo Suh
    • 4
  • Hanna Figueras
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Teacher EducationMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of EducationUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada
  3. 3.Department of Mathematics EducationBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Teacher EducationMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.Department of Teacher EducationMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  6. 6.PirkkalaFinland

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