Socially Conscious Math

Recently I’ve been thinking about moving the blog to my own space to I can redesign the site a little.  …widen the entry width- perhaps a new header image- better navigation…  Anyways, back to the point, during this self-reflection I was thinking more about the title.  I originally chose it to allude to the person to person interaction among mathematicians.  You can read my “about” page here.  I was hoping to shed some light on why mathematicians interact the way they do.  I also wrote about credit cards and shopping.   This was a great connection to my original intention because I wanted to discuss “How mathematics relates to the modern day world.”  But the Social Mathematics really should be much more than that.  I’m a socially conscious person; I’m worried about deforestation, minority rights, and mathematical illiteracy of our youth.  And these are areas that mathematicians have stayed away from talking about.  We use math frequently in these areas, but they are not active areas of mathematical inquiry.   What can mathematicians do to interact with these areas of life? Is there something Math can do to support areas of action? Why aren’t we more involved?  I’m going to try to extend my boundaries a little- as you may have seen in the latest post about climate change to include some mathematics on these social questions.  I’ll have to do more research before I write each article, but I hope to include more of these types of articles the coming months.  Thanks for your continued interest in my site!


About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
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3 Responses to Socially Conscious Math

  1. sarah-marie says:

    I think it is not true that socially conscious issues are not active areas of mathematical inquiry. They may not be high-profile, but they’re active. At the JMM last week, there was a panel discussion and one or two contributed paper sessions on mathematics and social justice. There were sessions on climate change.

    To address the three specific topics you listed above… I believe that some folks at AT&T are working on deforestation. I know for sure they’re working with habitats of endangered plant species; Aaron Archer has been involved ( though those papers aren’t listed on his website. Minority rights are addressed by the apportionment, gerrymandering, and voting theory work. There was a special session on gerrymandering last year, described on Slate ( In theory the slides from that session should be online, but I’m not sure they were ever posted. Duane Cooper ( has been working on voting methods for a couple of decades and gave a great survey talk at last week’s JMM on how different voting methods lead to better representation of minorities.
    There’s lots of work on equity issues in mathematics education, and that’s directly related to mathematics illiteracy of youth—generally techniques that help one specific group are also beneficial to everyone else as well.

    And bringing social justice into the math classroom… check out Radical Math ( for ideas for lower-level courses.

    Anyway, yes, I agree that mathematics as a whole could and should be more engaged with socially conscious stuff. But there are plenty of people working on that.

  2. Dan M says:

    A couple of links that might interest you on this… a while a go yofx had a post called Sustainable Math that pointed to the Facing the Future curriculum. I added a comment to that post pointing out a resource called Math that Matters.

  3. Tortuga says:

    I think anything and everything that moves math out of the dark depths of mystery and magic and into quotidian existence is helpful. I don’t know the solution, but a little story might elucidate the problem.

    The other day I was chatting with an anonymous person in World of Warcraft, an environment where 12-year-old boys and 60-year-old grandmas can meet as equals with neither knowing who is pre-adolescent and who is post-menopausal.

    I made the mistake of stating I was a math teacher and immediately, I was addressed as “sir.” I personally doubt the same instant transformation would have occurred if I’d said I was a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist.

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