The professional ethos of mathematicians

The approach used in this analysis of mathematicians’ professional ethos runs counter to the relativist one of social constructivism. I begin by showing the contributions and limitations of various sociological approaches to studying mathematics as a specific scientific practice. It then becomes clear that while the ethos depends on other factors as well, it differs –in its esthetic and social dimensions much more than its epistemic one– by whether agents are attached to one or another pole of the partially institutionalized opposition in France between pure and applied mathematics. A salient trait of this ethos is its heavy elitism. The analysis is based primarily on data from an extensive internet survey I conducted in 2002-2003 of mathematicians and related science professionals (mechanics scientists, theoretical physicists, computer scientists and mathematics educators) working in France either in universities or public research laboratories. The representativeness of the sample of mathematicians who answered the questionnaire was checked and confirmed.