Images of mathematics in popular culture/adults' lives: a study of advertisements in the UK press

Evans, Jeff and Tsatsaroni, Anna and Staub, Natalie (2007) Images of mathematics in popular culture/adults' lives: a study of advertisements in the UK press. Adults Learning Mathematics: An International Journal, 2 (2). pp. 33-53. ISSN 1744-1803

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Abstract

The success of policies to attract adults back to the learning of mathematics, at various levels, is often linked to questions of motivation. However, motivations depend on relevant beliefs, attitudes and emotions about mathematics - which themselves reflect, together with experiences with maths in school and in the home, wider cultural discourses on mathematics. The work presented here is part of a larger study examining the complex relations between popular cultural products such as advertisements and films, the way that knowledge is portrayed by them, and possible consequences for people’s affective responses. The initial phase of the project (Evans, 2003, 2004) analysed small ‘opportunistic’ samples of advertisements and films. The advertisements portrayed mathematics as generally negative, whereas the films were more ambivalent. In the next phase, we produced larger samples of both advertisements and films. In this paper, we report on our search through a systematic sample of issues of UK daily newspapers for ‘mathematical’ advertisements. A notable finding was the very small number of advertisements containing images of mathematics. Those few advertisements we found were most frequently for cars, or for services to businesses. Using a discourse theoretical perspective and a hybrid methodology, we categorise advertisements according to features such as their ‘appeal’ to potential consumers - and we also produce semiotic readings of a sub-sample of advertisements, as to their ‘message’, in particular their images of mathematics, and of people doing, using, or teaching mathematics. Here we find these images to be much more varied and subtle than in the initial phase. We end by discussing some of the consequences of our analysis for perceptions, teaching and use of mathematics in today’s market economy societies.

Item Type:Article
Research Areas:School of Science and Technology > Design Engineering and Mathematics
Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations
School of Health and Education > Education
ID Code:174
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Deposited On:24 Oct 2008 13:21
Last Modified:13 May 2014 15:47

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