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Multimathemacy: Anthropology and Mathematics Education

Rik Pinxten
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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The author is an anthropologist with training in philosophy and the writing reflects his background, as stated on page xii of the preface. “Indeed, this book is not written by a mathematician, but rather by an anthropologist/philosopher. Hence, the lack of knowledge in pure or ‘academic’ mathematics is obvious from the start.”

The first two lines of the book in the foreword clearly states the author’s position and was a warning flag, indicating what is to come. “The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics, so told us Galileo in his famous treatise “The Assayer” (1623). What Multimathemacy makes absolutely clear is how specific, i. e. Eurocentric, this statement is.” After reading this book, no, it is not absolutely clear at all.

The final initial point that informs the reader of what is to come also appears on the first page of the foreword. In a lengthy paragraph, Pinxten puts down the metaphor used throughout the book.

The city show many buildings: one impressive skyscraper, a few semi-tall buildings and a huge amount of huts and small dwellings. The skyscraper is the building of AM (Academic Mathematics) with its own logical structure, its neatly designed separate rooms and a staff looking after the maintenance and eventual enlargement or rehabs of the building.

The other buildings in this metaphorical city represent the mathematics of Chinese, Indian and other traditions. Much of this is encapsulated in the phrase ethnomathematics (EM).

Pinxten is all over the map in his attempts to develop a better policy of mathematics education, citing cultural norms such as using body parts to count and weaving patterns as factors to incorporate. The different language structures used to refer to “mathematical” objects are also used as reference points. All of it is completely unconvincing and at times the reader is lost as what the attempted point is. AM takes hit after hit. The three quotes above summarize the direction and the content of the book: invalid premises argued using disjoint, irrelevant and unconvincing points.

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.