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Music and physics don’t mix!: What the humorous misuse of disciplinary-specific semiotic resources can tell us about disciplinary boundaries.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics. (Physics Education Research)
Umeå University. (Department of Science and Mathematics Education)
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Becoming part of an academic discipline has been described both in terms of becoming fluent in a disciplinary discourse (Airey 2009; Airey & Linder 2009; Northedge 2002) and achieving disciplinary literacy (Airey 2011, 2013; Geisler 1994). In this paper we investigate disciplinary boundaries by documenting the responses of academics to a semiotic disciplinary hybrid. The hybrid we use is the Physikalisches Lied, a bogus piece of sheet music into which disciplinary-specific semiotic resources from the realm of physics have been incorporated to humorous effect.


The piece is presented to three distinct disciplinary focus groups: physicists, musicians and a group of academics who have had little contact with either discipline. In order to elicit disciplinary responses that are free from researcher prompts, each focus group is first asked the simple, open-ended question What do you see here? Once discussion of this question is exhausted the focus groups are asked to identify as many puns as they can—essentially all the disciplinary items that they feel have been misappropriated—and to attempt to explain what this means from a disciplinary standpoint. The differences in the responses of the three groups are presented and analysed.


We argue that the semiotic resources focused on by each of the three groups and the nature of the explanation offered provide evidence of the degree of integration into the disciplines of physics and music. Our findings shed light on the process of becoming a disciplinary insider and the semiotic work involved in this process.


Airey, J. (2013). Disciplinary Literacy. In E. Lundqvist, L. Östman & R. Säljö (Eds.), Scientific literacy – teori och praktik (pp. 41-58): Gleerups.

Airey, J. (2011). The Disciplinary Literacy Discussion Matrix: A Heuristic Tool for Initiating Collaboration in Higher Education. Across the disciplines, 8(3).

Airey, J. (2009). Science, Language and Literacy. Case Studies of Learning in Swedish University Physics. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology 81. Uppsala  Retrieved 2009-04-27, from

Airey, J., & Linder, C. (2009). A disciplinary discourse perspective on university science learning: Achieving fluency in a critical constellation of modes. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(1), 27-49.

Geisler, C. (1994). Academic literacy and the nature of expertise: Reading, writing, and knowing in academic philosophy. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Northedge, A. (2002). Organizing excursions into specialist discourse communities: A sociocultural account of university teaching. In G. Wells & G. Claxton (Eds.), Learning for life in the 21st century. Sociocultural perspectives on the future of education (pp. 252-264). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Aarhus university, 2014. 21- p.
Keyword [en]
semiotics, disciplinary affordance, disciplinary literacy
National Category
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Physics Education
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-224426OAI: diva2:716699
The 5th International 360 Conference. Encompassing the multimodality of knowledge, May 8-10 2014, Aarhus University, Denmark
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2014-05-12 Created: 2014-05-12 Last updated: 2014-11-11Bibliographically approved

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