Background
Mass media is an important site where citizens are exposed to representations of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It follows that the images of STEM citizens witness via engagement with mass media are likely to (at least partly) influence how they subsequently perceive these subjects. Witnessing the relative (in)visibility of women working in STEM in mass mediated accounts may therefore lead to perceptions of STEM as a gendered (read male dominated) profession.

Objective
The session investigates the (re)construction of gendered portrayals of STEM in mass media representations, how receivers make sense of this imagery, & whether it influences how they perceive STEM.

Methods
We start from the methodological premise that three elements of mass communication— production, content and reception— are inextricably linked in a dynamic, organic and continuous cycle. For the purpose of media research these elements can be delineated and subjected to systematic analysis. In this session the papers will examine these elements, involving:

• A systematic analysis of a wide range of STEM television programmes. Working with annotated transcripts we investigated the gender distribution of speaking actors, also they roles they play.

• A reception study involving children and young people. We worked with two age groups (8 to 15 years of age), engaging participants in a range of productive activities including: “Draw-a-Scientist” (DAS), producing a storyboard & a reflective writing activity.

Once collected, these data were analysed following established quantitative & qualitative techniques.

Results
In this session we will present three linked papers:

Elizabeth Whitelegg (e.l.whitelegg@open.ac.uk) will document evidence from the reception study conducted as part of the (In)visible Witnesses project. As with earlier draw-a-scientist implementations, most images were of male scientists, but also there was some evidence of more diverse images emerging. The use of the reflective writing activity allowed a richer picture of children’s perceptions of scientists to be revealed.

Jenni Carr (j.g.carr@open.ac.uk) will present analysis of the process and products of the storyboard activity. The results show that many participants were interested in creating STEM programmes in a game show format that emphasised participation and competition. This suggests that children may be more engaged by STEM programmes that are presented in this way. This was particularly true for the older children.

Richard Holliman (r.m.holliman@open.ac.uk) will document findings from an analysis of media content. He will show that STEM was broadcast in a range of genres, the emphasis being on science. A more complex gender distribution of spoken actors can be identified, however, by investigating the differences between genres. This paper will focus on the genre of cartoons & animations to investigate these issues in more detail.

Conclusions
The results discussed in this symposium suggest that TV programmes have some influence on children & young people’s images of STEM; also that participants were sophisticated consumers of television portrayals. Women scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians are not invisible on TV in the UK, but the issue remains as to whether they are visible enough, particularly in terms of the diverse, authentic representations that could make a real difference to perceptions of STEM. The role and influence of science communication professionals needs to be considered in the quest to facilitate these more diverse portrayals. In conclusion, we propose some avenues for further exploration with a view to informing debates about the influence of popular culture on course choice and uptake of STEM careers by girls (& boys) and women (& men).

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Investigating gendered media representations of science, technology, engineering & mathematics

Elizabeth Whitelegg  

Jenni Carr  

Richard Holliman  

Background
Mass media is an important site where citizens are exposed to representations of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It follows that the images of STEM citizens witness via engagement with mass media are likely to (at least partly) influence how they subsequently perceive these subjects. Witnessing the relative (in)visibility of women working in STEM in mass mediated accounts may therefore lead to perceptions of STEM as a gendered (read male dominated) profession.

Objective
The session investigates the (re)construction of gendered portrayals of STEM in mass media representations, how receivers make sense of this imagery, & whether it influences how they perceive STEM.

Methods
We start from the methodological premise that three elements of mass communication— production, content and reception— are inextricably linked in a dynamic, organic and continuous cycle. For the purpose of media research these elements can be delineated and subjected to systematic analysis. In this session the papers will examine these elements, involving:

• A systematic analysis of a wide range of STEM television programmes. Working with annotated transcripts we investigated the gender distribution of speaking actors, also they roles they play.

• A reception study involving children and young people. We worked with two age groups (8 to 15 years of age), engaging participants in a range of productive activities including: “Draw-a-Scientist” (DAS), producing a storyboard & a reflective writing activity.

Once collected, these data were analysed following established quantitative & qualitative techniques.

Results
In this session we will present three linked papers:

Elizabeth Whitelegg (e.l.whitelegg@open.ac.uk) will document evidence from the reception study conducted as part of the (In)visible Witnesses project. As with earlier draw-a-scientist implementations, most images were of male scientists, but also there was some evidence of more diverse images emerging. The use of the reflective writing activity allowed a richer picture of children’s perceptions of scientists to be revealed.

Jenni Carr (j.g.carr@open.ac.uk) will present analysis of the process and products of the storyboard activity. The results show that many participants were interested in creating STEM programmes in a game show format that emphasised participation and competition. This suggests that children may be more engaged by STEM programmes that are presented in this way. This was particularly true for the older children.

Richard Holliman (r.m.holliman@open.ac.uk) will document findings from an analysis of media content. He will show that STEM was broadcast in a range of genres, the emphasis being on science. A more complex gender distribution of spoken actors can be identified, however, by investigating the differences between genres. This paper will focus on the genre of cartoons & animations to investigate these issues in more detail.

Conclusions
The results discussed in this symposium suggest that TV programmes have some influence on children & young people’s images of STEM; also that participants were sophisticated consumers of television portrayals. Women scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians are not invisible on TV in the UK, but the issue remains as to whether they are visible enough, particularly in terms of the diverse, authentic representations that could make a real difference to perceptions of STEM. The role and influence of science communication professionals needs to be considered in the quest to facilitate these more diverse portrayals. In conclusion, we propose some avenues for further exploration with a view to informing debates about the influence of popular culture on course choice and uptake of STEM careers by girls (& boys) and women (& men).

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

BACK TO TOP