Remember the "Sokal Hoax"? That was the prank pulled by New York University physics professor Alan Sokal, who in 1996 got an article published in Duke University's postmodernist "cultural studies" journal Social Text arguing that the theory of  quantum gravity was no more than a social and linguistic construct. Sokal wanted to see whether the trendy postmodernists at Duke would fall for his "pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense"–and they did.

You might have thought that the "Sokal Hoax" was a rip-roaringly good joke. You'd be wrong.

It was a prophecy.

Sarah Hottinger, dean of arts and humanities and a professor of women's and gender studies at Keene State University in New Hampshire, has a new book, Inventing the Mathematician: Gender, Race, and Our Cultural Understanding of Mathematics, published by the State University of New York Press. Here is what the blurb at Amazon says about the book:

Sara N. Hottinger uses a cultural studies approach to address how our ideas about mathematics shape our individual and cultural relationship to the field….Hottinger examines how these discourses shape mathematical subjectivity by limiting the way some groups–including women and people of color–are able to see themselves as practitioners of math. Inventing the Mathematician provides a blueprint for how to engage in a deconstructive project, revealing the limited and problematic nature of the normative construction of mathematical subjectivity.

Here is what Hottinger told an interviewer for Inside Higher Education about her book:

Because mathematics is understood to be the ultimate manifestation of the human ability to reason, mathematical achievement is a clear marker in the construction of an ideal subjectivity. If these multiple associations — between reason, masculinity, subjectivity and mathematics — are teased apart, we can better understand why mathematical subjectivity and the ability to succeed in mathematics is so difficult to achieve for those in marginalized groups. For example, if mathematical subjectivity and the ability to reason is constructed within Western culture as masculine, then women will continue to find it difficult to see themselves as mathematical subjects. Women will have to choose between being good mathematicians or being "proper" women. A number of studies have shown that this is, indeed, the position that many girls and women in mathematics find themselves.

Here is how Hottinger would bust that "Western" cultural construct that women aren't as good at math as men:

Right now our histories of mathematics center around a narrative of discovery. Only those mathematicians who made a great mathematical discovery or advanced knowledge within the field are counted in those histories. Telling histories of mathematics in that way discounts the many, many women and men who advanced mathematics through excellent, innovative teaching, through translating complex mathematical texts, or through the kind of hard, daily mathematical labor we see represented in the movie. We need more varied stories in our culture of what it means to be successful as mathematical knowers and practitioners.

Here is what John. S. Rosenberg of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, writing in Minding the Campus, says about Hottinger's book: "[I]t’s often hard to tell the parodies from the real thing."