On definitions of mathematician

Published in Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, 2023

Recommended citation:

Ron Buckmire, Carrie Diaz Eaton, Joseph E. Hibdon Jr., Katherine M. Kinnaird, Drew Lewis, Jessica Libertini, Omayra Ortega, Rachel Roca, and Andrés R. Vindas-Meléndez. On Definitions of “Mathematician” (2023). Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, 13(2), 8–38. https://doi.org/10.5642/jhummath.ZRUZ1463


The definition of who is or what makes a “mathematician” is an important and urgent issue to be addressed in the mathematics community. Too often, a narrower definition of who is considered a mathematician (and what is considered mathematics) is used to exclude people from the discipline – both explicitly and implicitly. However, using a narrow definition of a mathematician allows us to examine and challenge systemic barriers that exist in certain spaces of the community. This paper explores and illuminates tensions between narrow and broad definitions and how they can be used to promote both inclusion and exclusion simultaneously. In this article, we present a framework of definitions based on identity, function, and qualification and exploring several different meanings of “mathematician”. By interrogating various definitions, we highlight their risks and opportunities, with an emphasis on implications for broadening and/or narrowing participation of underrepresented groups.

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