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Failed Encounters or the Challenges of Rendering Gender a Matter of Concern

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Illdisciplined Gender

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This chapter argues that gender both as embodied performance and as a subject matter participates in (dis)enabling much needed contact zones between the physical sciences, science studies and gender studies, albeit in ways that often go unnoticed. Here I take scientists’ propensity to object to, or cast as irrelevant, particular gender performances as a resource to rethink how we might present asymmetrical gender relations in science in ways that incite concern and responsibility. Taking the example of a research presentation, I re-examine how my embodied collaboration with graphs, voices and theory geared to render gender a tangible matter of fact was in part achieved by bracketing the practices and technologies of particular research strategies, casting gender as a social construct rather than a socio-natural hybrid and enacting a mode of critique rather than foregrounding multiple ontologies. I argue that a lack of concern and responsibility is better engaged by making the entanglements, practicalities and tensions of gender and accountability explicit.

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  1. 1.

    Teaching encounters at departments of physics included the course Physics and Gender ( and the International Summer School: Diversity in the Cultures of Physics ( Research encounters included the two international symposia: Interferometric Investigations of Physical Knowledges and Gender in the Making (2011) and Materialities and (Dis)embodiments of Naturecultures (2012) that we co-organised at the Centre for Gender Research as well as individual research projects by the group members. On this basis an interdisciplinary reader develops the notion of interference to bring into conversation heretofore dispersed texts that explore the situated interactions of gender and physics in the making. Here the physical phenomena of propagation, diffraction, resonance and refraction are used to conceptualise the histories, epistemologies, cultures and knowledge transfers of physics and gender.

  2. 2.

    The research that we reported on had been conducted as part of the project ‘Knowledge, Institutions and Gender: An East-West Comparative Study’ (KNOWING) that explored epistemic contexts and cultures in the natural and social sciences in five European countries. For more information, see

  3. 3.

    As Law has argued referring to Haraway’s notion of interference, ‘some things are endlessly produced and are very real. Others are not. Interference takes the form of enacting realities, tropes in speech and action, that will make a difference in the configurations of the real’ (Law 2004a: 4).

  4. 4.

    A disaggregation of Eurostat data by countries shows that the percentage of women in grade A positions continues to be highest in countries and sectors where wages, resources and prestige are lowest. In 2010 these were the higher education sectors in Romania, Latvia and Croatia.


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I would like to thank the members of the GenPhys group for their interest and encouragement to revisit this material and the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Part of the empirical material has been previously discussed in a Czech publication on boundary contestations in Socialní studia (2012/2013).

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Correspondence to Dagmar Lorenz-Meyer .

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Lorenz-Meyer, D. (2016). Failed Encounters or the Challenges of Rendering Gender a Matter of Concern. In: Bull, J., Fahlgren, M. (eds) Illdisciplined Gender. Crossroads of Knowledge. Springer, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-15271-4

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