Unmasking Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math: A Feminist Policy Analysis
Gleason, Shannon Christine
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Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) rests solidly at the top of education agendas, and holds a privileged position amongst academic disciplines in terms of funding and other forms of resource allocation. Yet, in spite of the overwhelming presence of STEM in education, there is little research that critically examines the nature and development of STEM itself, especially STEM policy problems, and particularly those related to the recruitment and retention of women and people of color (POC) in these fields. This study maps how STEM policy problems related to women and POC are discursively constructed, and examines the assumptions embedded within the framing of these problems. Using feminist science studies and feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis, this study analyzes representations of diversity and diverse bodies in 25 major STEM equity policy documents. It demonstrates that these documents merely superficially address social justice in education, and to democratic ideals of equal opportunity. Rather, the push to ‘include’ more ‘diverse’ bodies in STEM is about allowing these formerly excluded people the opportunity to participate in the global marketplace. In these documents, gendered and racialized bodies are used as tools to enact neoliberal global dominance, and diversity in STEM is therefore one of many discursive tools employed to discipline and assimilate women’s bodies and racialized bodies into compliance with their subjection as human capital. As such, STEM policy documents actually reify difference and legitimate inequity in their representations of women and POC. This study also shows that STEM is at a pivotal moment in history in which there are possibilities for radical transformative practices that reshape the way STEM is done, taught, and represented, as well as who STEM is for.