Education Mathematics Identity
Stephen L. Caviness, Charlotte Sharpe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0300


Consider a time when you have spoken with a friend, colleague, or family member who does not particularly like mathematics. When mathematics enters a conversation, they may change their posture, take a step back, and assert that they are “not a math person,” or that they “do not get along” with mathematics. Statements like this can provide a glimpse of someone’s mathematics identity. Defining the construct of mathematics identity has been a focus of theory and research, and yet there remains no single definition of mathematics identity. Still, over the last several decades, research on mathematics identity has developed considerably both in quantity of research and depth of understanding within the field. Researchers view mathematics identity more broadly than a feeling, belief, or attitude toward mathematics—though many do see this as part of the construct. Mathematics identity may also include whether one is recognized by others as competent in mathematics, the stories one tells about their personal history with mathematics, and the performative actions one makes when doing mathematics. We have organized this article into six sections. We begin with a collection of General Overviews, including literature reviews, encyclopedia entries, and books on mathematics identity. Our second section highlights the Theoretical Underpinnings used to guide researchers in the field. As research has developed, subtopics of learner and teacher identity have emerged. Therefore, the third section covers Mathematics Learner Identity, while the fourth covers Mathematics-Related Teacher Identity. This is followed by a fifth section on Intersectionality, highlighting the complexities of mathematics identity and its interrelatedness with other constructs. Lastly, we share some Journals that frequently house the research on mathematics identity.

General Overviews

In this section we have collected reviews of and commentaries on the literature on mathematics identity. Darragh 2016 reviews journals from what some consider the infancy of mathematics identity research up until 2014. Graven and Heyd-Metzuyanim 2019 continues this work and reviews literature from 2014 to 2019. We have also included several additional literature reviews that focus on specific categories. For example, Radovic, et al. 2018 reviews research solely focused on mathematics learner identity; Lutovac and Kaasila 2018 discusses mathematics-related teacher identity, and Lutovac and Kaasila 2019 specifically reviews the methodologies used in mathematics-related teacher identity research. Other works include Aguirre, et al. 2013, a book intended for mathematics education practitioners, and Darragh and Radovic 2020, an encyclopedia entry that provides a universal definition of mathematics identity.

  • Aguirre, J., K. Mayfield-Ingram, and D. Martin. 2013. The impact of identity in K-8 mathematics: Rethinking equity-based practices. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

    This practitioner-oriented book gives an overview of mathematics identity with a particular focus on students’ experience in mathematics class. The vignettes and implications for teaching practice make this a helpful guide for teachers interested in equity-based practices.

  • Darragh, L. 2016. Identity research in mathematics education. Educational Studies in Mathematics 93.1: 19–33.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10649-016-9696-5

    In this literature review, Darragh’s search criteria included journal articles related to mathematics identity from 1997 to 2014. After providing an overview of patterns seen across mathematics identity research, this review discusses discontinuity and/or lack of clarity in the many ways researchers have defined mathematics identity and applied different theoretical frameworks.

  • Darragh, L., and D. Radovic. 2020. Mathematics learner identity. In Encyclopedia of mathematics education. Edited by Stephen Lerman, 582–585. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-15789-0_100017

    Appearing in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of Mathematics Education, Darragh and Radovic’s entry offers a definition for mathematical learner identity that researchers from many theoretical perspectives can use.

  • Graven, M., and E. Heyd-Metzuyanim. 2019. Mathematics identity research: The state of the art and future directions. ZDM 51.3: 361–377.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11858-019-01050-y

    This literature review continues the work of Darragh 2016 by focusing specifically on mathematics identity research from 2014 to 2018. The authors provide a detailed look at current trends in the field and highlight several directions for future research based on gaps in the literature.

  • Lutovac, S., and R. Kaasila. 2018. Future directions in research on mathematics-related teacher identity. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education 16.4: 759–776.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10763-017-9796-4

    This review focuses specifically on mathematics teacher identity research from 2000 to 2015. The authors discuss commonalities across the literature reviewed, issues of conceptual discontinuity, and suggestions for future research in the field.

  • Lutovac, S., and R. Kaasila. 2019. Methodological landscape in research on teacher identity in mathematics education: A review. ZDM 51.3: 505–515.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11858-018-1009-2

    While many literature reviews have sections on methodologies, they are often short in length and serve to support a broader argument the author is making. By contrast, this review focuses exclusively on the methodological approaches used to study mathematics-related teacher identity in research from 2000 to 2017.

  • Radovic, D., L. Black, J. Williams, and C. E. Salas. 2018. Towards conceptual coherence in the research on mathematics learner identity: A systematic review of the literature. Educational Studies in Mathematics 99.1: 21–42.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10649-018-9819-2

    Radovic and colleagues review empirical studies of mathematics identity learners with the goal of providing conceptual clarity across the literature covering this construct. This work divides research into three dimensions of how researchers define mathematics identity as well as five categories for how researchers operationalize identity.

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