Intermingling of identities: a Black student in a middle-school science class

Maria Varelas, Elizabeth Menig, Asif Wilson, Justine Kane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explored ways in which racial, academic, and science identities intermingle in contested classroom and school spaces where students’ personal histories meet institutional histories. Building on identity studies in science education, we aimed at developing nuanced understandings of Black youth’s negotiation among these three identities, which takes place in moment-to-moment interactions and as a personal narrative over time. The study answers the question: What constructs related to identity construction, and in what ways, are salient for Black youth in negotiating who they are and are becoming as Black people in science classrooms where their Black racial identities are affirmed and used as a resource for learning? Using a case study design focusing on one student, Serena, and multiple data sources, we paid attention to the space-time relationships that were part of Serena’s becoming in her science class. Four dimensions emerged as important in the configuration of Serena’s identities—competence, commitment, choice, and emotions. Serena’s performances and narrations related to each of these four dimensions were not only interrelated with those of the other dimensions, but were also inseparable from the various roles and positionings that Serena was performing and imagining for herself in the context of her science class and her science engagement and learning. The findings highlight the complex ways in which cognitive, social, and affective aspects of experience inform and shape students’ identities as they negotiate ways of being, thinking, performing, and interacting in contentious spaces where meanings of being Black, a good student, a scientist evolve over time shaped by the interaction among these three meanings and the students’ collective and individual experiences. The study’s implications include being explicit and purposeful in designing and enacting teaching that offers students multiple opportunities for dynamic identity laminations that could support their science learning, defined as construction of both knowledge and identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-722
Number of pages28
JournalCultural Studies of Science Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Black students
  • Identities
  • Identity narratives
  • Performed identities
  • Science class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies


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