Olympic Legacy

One of the justifications for the Olympic budget is the pious hope that people will be inspired to participate in sport more than hitherto.  No previous Olympic games achieved this, and it’s easy to see why.  The Olympics offer a model of sporting activity that is unavailable to most and unattractive to almost everybody.  Running 150 miles each week is not an option or an aspiration for all but a handful of talents.  If the powers that be really want to raise levels of participation, they should offer the models suited to the mass of the population, with facilities to match (proper cycle lanes, school sports fields, local swimming pools,etc.).  There are rewards that come from participating in sport at a very low level, but you’d never know it from watching the Olympics.

This matters to the DMJ because the same point applies to mental activity.  Tales of geniuses making astounding breakthroughs will not encourage kids into mathematics any more than Olympic gold will inspire sedentary Britons to take moderate exercise.  What we need are images of middling intellects getting something valuable out of mathematics.  This is especially important because in our assessment-driven system, children know from early on where they stand in the intellectual league tables.  The great majority know themselves to be middling intellects long before they make decisions about what to study.  We need stories about mathematics and illustrations of its value that speak to children thus informed.


Mathematical Cultures

The UK Arts and Humanities Research Council has agreed to fund a research network on mathematical cultures.  Here, I describe this project and what we hope to learn from it.

Why study mathematical cultures?  Why now?

Mathematics has universal standards of validity.  Nevertheless, there are local styles in mathematics.  These may be the legacy of a dominant individual (e.g. the Newtonianism of 18th century British mathematics).  Or, there may be social or economic reasons (such as the practical bent of early modern Dutch mathematics).

These local mathematical cultures are scientifically important because they can affect the direction of mathematical research.  They also matter because of the cultural importance of mathematics.  Mathematics enjoys enormous intellectual prestige, and has seen a growth of popular publishing, films about mathematicians, at least one novel and plays.  However, this same intellectual prestige encourages a disengagement from mathematics.  Ignorance of even rudimentary mathematics remains socially acceptable.  Policy initiatives to encourage the study of mathematics usually emphasise the economic utility of mathematics (for example the 2006 STEM Programme Report).  Appeals of this sort rarely succeed with students unless there is a specific promise of employment or higher remuneration.
What these political anxieties call for is a re-presentation of mathematics as a human activity, which means, among other things, that it is part of culture.  The tools and knowledge necessary for this have been developing in recent years.  Historians of mathematics have begun to consider mathematics in its social, political and cultural contexts.  There is now an established sociology of science and technology, published in journals such as Science as Culture and the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics.  Mathematics educationalists have begun to draw on some of these developments (particularly historical research).

Continue reading

Cultures of Mathematics and Logic (China)

9-12 November 2012
Institute for Logic and Cognition
Sun Yat-Sen University
Guangzhou, China

All researchers working on various aspects of “Cultures of Mathematics and Logic”, including, but certainly not limited to, philosophers, sociologists, historians of mathematics, mathematicians, and researchers in mathematics education, are cordially invited to submit their one page abstracts by the submission deadline of 30 June 2012 (see below for details).

DESCRIPTION OF THE CONFERENCE. Mathematics and formal reasoning are fundamental building blocks of knowledge, essential for science, technology, policy-making and risk-management. Mathematical practice is a rich phenomenon of human activity, with subtle differences between various cultures: here, the word culture can refer to national cultures, but also cultural differences in different historical periods, in different strata of a given society, in different social settings.

And yet, the public perception of mathematics is of an apersonal subject with little or no human interaction, based on a false picture of a science of pure thought and deduction, with almost no interaction or visible activity.

In a move away from these traditionalist positions, philosophers and social scientists have recently become more interested in studying mathematical and logical practice, or, to be precise, different mathematical and logical practices. Our conference will focus on this plurality of viewpoints, studying the various cultures of mathematics and logic, and involve several disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, cognitive science, history of mathematics, mathematics education, and linguistics.


* Andrea Bender. Universität Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.
* Karine Chemla. Equipe Recherches Epistémologiques et Historiques sur les Sciences Exactes et les Institutions Scientifiques (REHSEIS), Paris, France.
* Christian Greiffenhagen. University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.
* Shirong Guo. Inner Mongolia Normal University, Hohhot, China.
* Juan Pablo Mejía Ramos. Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ, United States of America.
* Reviel Netz. Stanford University, Stanford CA, United States of America.
* Zhaoshi Zeng. Sun Yat-Sen University. Guangzhou, China.


Abstract submission deadline: 30 June 2012
Notification of authors: 30 July 2012
Conference: 9-12 November 2012

ABSTRACT SUBMISSION. All researchers are encouraged and invited to submit their abstracts until the deadline of 30 June 2012 via the easychair submission page at


Please submit the abstract either in the “abstract” field of the easychair submission site or as a one-page PDF submission.

POST-CONFERENCE PUBLICATION. All authors of papers presented at the conference will be encouraged to submit a full version to a post-conference publication volume. The deadline for submission of full papers will be in early 2013. All papers submitted to the post-conference proceedings will be refereed to high journal standards, and acceptance as a presentation is no guarantee that the post-conference paper will be published.

PROGRAMME COMMITTEE. Mihir Chakraborty, Jadavpur University, India; Shuchun Guo, Chinese Academy of Science, China; Joachim Kurtz, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Germany; Brendan Larvor, University of Hartfordshire, United Kingdom; Benedikt Löwe, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Martina Merz, Universität Luzern, Switzerland; Dirk Schlimm, McGill University, Canada; Ju Shier, Sun Yat-sen University, China

LOCAL INFORMATION. Guangzhou, known historically as Canton, is located in southern China on the Pearl River, about 120 km north-northwest of Hong Kong. With over 12 million inhabitants, it is the third largest city in China (after Shanghai and Beijing) and the largest city of southern China.
In the month of November, expected temperatures are between 15 and 24 degrees. Baiyun International Airport is a major transportation hub with many national and international airlines (for instance, Air France, China Southern Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, etc.). In addition, Guangzhou is easy to reach from Hong Kong with its international airport.

Mathematical Cultures

Mathematics has universal standards of validity.  Nevertheless, there are local styles that result from national policies, charismatic individuals, historical circumstances, intellectual contexts and practical needs.  These differences matter, not least because they can affect the pace and direction of mathematical research.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has made available funds to explore these mathematical cultures under its Science in Culture highlight notice.  This project will span three symposia, to take place at De Morgan House.

Project Website