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The 2011 Hans Freudenthal Award


It is with great pleasure that the ICMI Awards Committee hereby announces that the Hans Freudenthal Medal for 2011 is given to Professor Luis Radford, Université Laurentienne, Canada, in recognition of the theoretically well-conceived and highly coherent research programme that he initiated and has brought to fruition over the past two decades, and which has had a significant impact on the community. His development of a semiotic-cultural theory of learning, rooted in his interest in the history of mathematics, has drawn on epistemology, semiotics, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy, and has been anchored in detailed observations of students’ algebraic activity in class. His research, which has already garnered several awards, has been documented extensively in a vast number of highly renowned scientific journals and specialized books and handbooks, as well as in numerous invited keynote presentations at international conferences. The impact of Luis Radford’s programme of research has been felt especially by the community of research in algebra teaching and learning where his theoretical and empirical work has led to significant new insights in this domain, and more broadly by the entire community of mathematics education research with his development of a groundbreaking, widely applicable theory of learning.

Further evidence of the impact of Luis Radford’s work can be found in the many mentoring workshops for graduate students he has been invited to give in several countries that include Italy, Spain, Denmark, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. As well, he has influenced teachers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, and representatives of ministries of education at the regional and national levels by his seminars on the implications of his research. His scholarly work has also led to prestigious invitations at the international level, such as his participation in the scientific programme of the Symposium for the ICMI Centennial “The First Century of the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (1908-2008): Reflecting and Shaping the World of Mathematics Education” in Rome in 2008. In addition, he has served as associate editor of For the Learning of Mathematics and is currently an associate editor of Educational Studies in Mathematics.

Luis Radford graduated from the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala in 1977 with a degree in Civil Engineering. He then taught at that university’s Engineering School in the Department of Mathematics from 1978 to 1980. This was followed by studies at Université Louis Pasteur I, Strasbourg, France, where Luis Radford obtained a Licence in Mathematics and Fundamental Applications in 1981, a Diplôme of Advanced Studies in Mathematical Didactics in 1983, and a Doctorat de troisième cycle in Mathematical Didactics in 1985. He then returned to Guatemala where he taught as an Associate Professor at the Universidad de San Carlos in the Humanities Faculty. In 1992, he moved to Canada where he obtained a position in the School of Education at Université Laurentienne, Sudbury, Ontario, at the rank of Full Professor.

The beginnings of Luis Radford’s research programme, and the theoretical depth that was to characterize all of his work, can be traced back to the early 1990s when he initiated a study that examined the role of historical-epistemological analyses of learning within a socio-cultural perspective, and which he described in “On psychology, historical epistemology, and the teaching of mathematics: Towards a socio-cultural history of mathematics” (1997, in For the Learning of Mathematics). His work continued to evolve during the late 1990s, when he drew upon the works of Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and Voloshinov to develop a semiotic-cultural framework, a framework that was used to investigate the ways in which students use signs and endow them with meaning in their initial encounters with algebraic generalization of patterns. The journal article that is his most highly cited thus far, and which described the results of that particular phase of his research programme, is “Gestures, speech, and the sprouting of signs: A semiotic-cultural approach to students’ types of generalization” (2003, in Mathematical Thinking and Learning). The further development of his semiotic-cultural theory of learning is revealed in more recent papers where, for example, he elaborated the notion that thinking is a sensuous and sign-mediated reflective activity embodied in the corporeality of actions, gestures, and artifacts (2010, in Research in Mathematics Education) and in a chapter in which he formulated learning as a process where knowing and being are mutually constitutive (2008, in Semiotics in Mathematics Education). Luis Radford’s more than 170 publications, many of them highly cited, attest not only to the prolific nature of his research activity but also to the international interest it has attracted.

Luis Radford’s research was awarded the Université Laurentienne 2004-05 Research Excellence award. He was also nominated for the prestigious Gold Medal of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in 2005. His research programme was ranked first in three consecutive competitions of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Education 1): 2004-2007, 2007-2010, and 2010-2013.

In summary, Luis Radford is an eminently worthy recipient of the Hans Freudenthal Medal 2011.