Knowledge and Power

Michel Claessens
Michel Claessens
editor in chief

This issue looks at a problem that is undermining European research: the underrepresentation of women in the world of science in general and on its decision-making bodies in particular. Even though – and let this be made clear from the start – the gender issue might take different forms depending on sector and the country.

Yet behind the analyses and reports that, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, are brought together in these pages, one senses something else. What if, in this field as in many others, the crux of the matter lay elsewhere? Are not the reasons given most often to explain the difficulties women encounter in pursuing a full career in research, whether they be factors linked to private life (mater nity, family life, less mobility, etc.) or the labour market (male profiles, etc.), the proverbial trees that conceal the wood? I expressly set aside any arguments that draw on biology, as scientific literature supports the absence of a statistically significant difference between the sexes in the brain’s structure and its cognitive functioning.

The articles that follow remind us that many problems derive not simply from a bias at the selection stage but, more deeply, from cultural problems and social pressures that allocate different roles to different genders. Evidence of this lies in the studies on mathematical aptitude that have shown that the more the sociocultural environment is favourable to equality between men and women, the better the results obtained by girls. Or indeed, in studies that stress the influence of context by showing that self-esteem and the interiorising of gender stereo types play a key role in performances across a range of tests.

The functioning of various types of solidarity, the exercise of power and the existence of knowledge monopolies explain why exclusion mechanisms apply most often to women, and not only in research. Why would our society, one that is indeed so deeply inegalitarian, provide equal treatment for men and women in this field?