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What is a Mathematical Concept?


Michael J. Barany, Reviel Netz, Juliette Kennedy, Elizabeth de Freitas, Nathalie Sinclair, Arkady Plotnitsky, Simon Duffy, David Corfield, Michael Harris, Heather Mendick, Richard Barwell, Yasmine Abtahi, Tony Brown, Alf Coles, Wolff-Michael Roth, Brent Davis, Ricardo Nemirovsky, David Pimm
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  • Date Published: June 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107134638

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About the Authors
  • Responding to widespread interest within cultural studies and social inquiry, this book addresses the question 'what is a mathematical concept?' using a variety of vanguard theories in the humanities and posthumanities. Tapping historical, philosophical, sociological and psychological perspectives, each chapter explores the question of how mathematics comes to matter. Of interest to scholars across the usual disciplinary divides, this book tracks mathematics as a cultural activity, drawing connections with empirical practice. Unlike other books in this area, it is highly interdisciplinary, devoted to exploring the ontology of mathematics as it plays out in different contexts. This book will appeal to scholars who are interested in particular mathematical habits - creative diagramming, structural mappings, material agency, interdisciplinary coverings - that shed light on both mathematics and other disciplines. Chapters are also relevant to social sciences and humanities scholars, as each offers philosophical insight into mathematics and how we might live mathematically.

    • Offers a range of new perspectives on what a mathematical concept is
    • The book takes an interdisciplinary approach, with chapters authored by mathematicians, philosophers and educators
    • Chapter authors are leaders in their respective fields
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'How splendid it is that this volume is devoted to so fundamental, and so grand, a question: What is a mathematical concept? And how wide a range of concepts are featured: from 'function machines' and 'the act of doubling' in their role in early education, to 'the act of halving' as it might reveal aspects of the currently developing foundations offered by homotopy type theory; from the jewels of geometry such as the stellated octahedron, to the extraordinary role that the newly fashioned concept of perfectoid spaces plays in resolving conjectures in arithmetic algebraic geometry and representation theory.' Barry Mazur, Gerhard Gade University Professor, Harvard University

    'Mathematics has far too often been a discipline reserved for specialists. Even philosophers have tended to limit their focus to the foundations of mathematics, rather than the productions of contemporary mathematics. This is a wonderful book that reverses this trend. It approaches mathematical concepts from a perspective that is broadly humanistic and interdisciplinary, drawing on disciplines as diverse as history, philosophy, sociology and psychology. Each of the essays is written in a non-technical yet rigorous manner that should be accessible even to the 'mathematically challenged', and taken together they present a richly innovative approach to the ontology of mathematics. This is a timely and user-friendly collection that should help restore mathematics to its rightful place as a central discipline in the humanities.' Daniel Smith, Purdue University, Indiana

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2017
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107134638
    • dimensions: 237 x 160 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.59kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I:
    1. Of polyhedra and pyjamas: platonism and induction in meaning-finitist mathematics Michael J. Barany
    2. Mathematical concepts? The view from ancient history Reviel Netz
    Part II:
    3. On treating mathematical drawings as artworks Juliette Kennedy
    4. Concepts as generative devices Elizabeth de Freitas and Nathalie Sinclair
    Part III:
    5. Bernhard Riemann's conceptual mathematics and pedagogy of mathematical concepts Arkady Plotnitsky
    6. Deleuze and the conceptualizable character of mathematical theories Simon Duffy
    Part IV:
    7. The vertical unity of the concept of space David Corfield
    8. The perfectoid concept: test case for an absent theory Michael Harris
    Part V:
    9. Queering mathematical concepts Heather Mendick
    10. Mathematics concepts in the news Richard Barwell and Yasmine Abtahi
    11. Concepts and commodities in mathematical learning Tony Brown
    Part VI:
    12. A relational view of mathematical concepts Alf Coles
    13. Cultural concepts concretely Wolff-Michael Roth
    Part VII:
    14. Ideas as species Brent Davis
    15. Inhabiting mathematical concepts Ricardo Nemirovsky
    Afterword. Making a thing of it: some conceptual commentary David Pimm

  • Editors

    Elizabeth de Freitas, Manchester Metropolitan University
    Elizabeth de Freitas is a Professor in the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research focuses on philosophical investigations of mathematics, science and technology, pursuing the implications and applications of this work within cultural studies. She is co-author of the book Mathematics and the Body: Material Entanglements in the Classroom (with Nathalie Sinclair, Cambridge, 2014), associate editor of the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics, and has written more than fifty chapters and articles on diverse topics.

    Nathalie Sinclair, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
    Nathalie Sinclair is the Canada Research Chair in Tangible Mathematics Learning at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. She is the author of several books, including Mathematics and the Body: Material Entanglements in the Classroom (with Elizabeth de Freitas, Cambridge, 2014) and Mathematics and the Aesthetic: Modern Approaches to an Ancient Affinity (with William Higginson and David Pimm, 2006), and over fifty articles. She has also designed educational technologies, including the touchscreen App TouchCounts and dynamic geometry microworlds for young learners at She is the founding editor of the journal Digital Experiences in Mathematics Education.

    Alf Coles, University of Bristol
    Alf Coles' recently published Engaging in School Mathematics: Symbols and Experiences (2015) draws on more than twenty years of work as a teacher-researcher at both primary and secondary levels. He is on the executive committee of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics and is an active member of the Mathematics Education Special interest Group of the British Educational Research Association. His current interests include drawing his work in mathematics education into closer dialogue with issues of sustainability.


    Michael J. Barany, Reviel Netz, Juliette Kennedy, Elizabeth de Freitas, Nathalie Sinclair, Arkady Plotnitsky, Simon Duffy, David Corfield, Michael Harris, Heather Mendick, Richard Barwell, Yasmine Abtahi, Tony Brown, Alf Coles, Wolff-Michael Roth, Brent Davis, Ricardo Nemirovsky, David Pimm

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