Katie McCallum

Situating Mathematical Communication: an Artist’s Communicative Ethnography of Research Mathematics

The aim of this research is to build up a multimedia picture of mathematics as a field of study that, however abstracted, is nonetheless enacted in dialogue with material and cultural resources. Its basis is a study of communication among research mathematicians using art practice research methods in combination with linguistic pragmatic analysis. The aim is to create an artist’s ethnography of the field, taking into account the indispensable roles played by interpersonal relationships and physical materials in the communication of cutting-edge mathematics.

Practitioners and laypersons alike tend to draw a divide between ‘mathematics’ as an ideal, and the everyday practices and processes that characterise its place in human lives. My intention for this research is to build up an ethnography of communication in mathematical research that not only considers and takes seriously these under-discussed situated and material aspects but also itself operates across different modes, in recording, analysis and presentation. A question at the heart of this research is to what extent knowledge can be divorced from its settings and the persons involved in its production.

This exhibition is divided into four stations which reflect four observable aspects of mathematical work, and a particular medium associated with each.

  • Written work and notes—pen and paper
  • Collaboration—dialogue and interaction
  • Publication—the standard structure of a mathematical paper
  • Presentation—chalk and blackboard.

For each, I present the two modes of my creative practice research: experiment, and model. The experiments are a mode of testing the boundaries and possibilities of a particular medium, exploring and making tangible its affordances and limitations. The models put forward a physical representation of the structure and functioning of a mode of work or communication, an invitation to explore that understanding in the manipulative imagination.