Discursive geographies in science: space, identity, and scientific discourse among indigenous women in higher education
Despite completing undergraduate degrees in the life sciences, few Indigenous women choose to pursue careers in scientific research. To help us understand how American Indian students engage with science, this ethnographic research describes (1) how four Navajo women identified with science, and (2) the narratives they offered when we discussed their experiences with scientific discourse. Using intensive case studies to describe the experiences of these women, my research focused on their final year of undergraduate study in the life sciences at a university in southwestern US. I point to the processes by which the participants align themselves with ideas, practices, groups, or people in science. As each participant recounted her experiences with scientific discourse, they recreated for me a discursive geography of their lives on the reservation, at home, at community colleges (in some cases), and on the university campus. In the construction and analysis of the narratives for this research, mapping this geography was critical to understanding each participant’s discursive relationship with science. In these discursive spaces, I observed productive “locations of possibility” in which students and their instructors: valued connected knowing; acknowledged each other’s history, culture, and knowledge; began to speak to each other subject-to-subject; and challenged normative views of schooling. I argue that this space, as a location of possibility, has the power to transform the crushing impersonalized schooling that often characterizes “rigorous” scientific programs in a research institution.