Developing a Sociological Imagination

February 8, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

One of the most difficult things for the new sociology student is to understand what on earth the “sociological imagination” or the “sociological perspective” is.  The idea of learning to relate, as C. Wright Mills puts it, your biography to your moment in history and realizing the ways in which that combination of factors influences how you view the world is challenging to say the least, and one of the major goals of any introductory sociology class.

Probably the easiest way to develop the muscles of your sociological imagination is to USE them; the only way to learn to think sociologically is to challenge yourself to DO SO.  This week, I asked my class to do just that – to think about how their own biography and history would impact their interpretation of a social phenomenon such as poverty, educational inequality, gender inequality, or the changing divorce rate.

As an example, we spoke about how my own biography and history might impact my interpretation of the childfree by choice movement.  In this growing social movement, individuals and couples of childbearing age are making the conscious decision to forego parenting for a variety of reasons.

Every individual would come to an analysis of this phenomenon based on their own experiences.  For me, a number of factors will impact how I look at the movement.  First off, I am a parent.  Not only that, I did not come by parenthood easily.  That personal experience naturally must shade my thoughts about people who would choose not to raise children.  I’m not just a product of my own relationship to parenting, though; my opinions are also influenced by the historical context in which I live.  In particular, I look at the idea of choosing a child free life through the lens of our growing knowledge of the impact that the growing human population is having on the planet.

Somewhere in the space between those considerations lies my sociological perspective on the childfree movement.  We all go through this same process, whether consciously or unconsciously, whenever we try to flex our sociological imaginations.  The challenge is to be aware of the process.

How do your own biography and history impact your sociological imagination?


  1. I also am a parent. I love being Mom. But I had children in my 20’s and if I were to have them now I believe I would go crazy. I have 2 grandchildren and they wear me out. One is 2 yrs old the othe is 3 months old. I live with the 3 month old, and her crying drives me crazy. I am just to old to handle this kind of lifestyle now.I have a sister that doesn’t want children. She and her husband has all the time in the world to do what she wants to do ,which is some thing I eveny . But it is her choice so I have to admire her for that.

    • How sad – the poor baby. Why is she crying? There is a reason. It is the responsibility of her parent or grandparent to give her the opportunity she deserves in life! Don’t be selfish- it breaks my heart to read what you wrote about your own granddaughter. Give of yourself- these children deserve more than this

  2. I’m a 23year old mother of two little ones. My mom is the same way. She doesn’t have the patience for crying babies like she use to. The baby is crying because thats what they do. haha. Doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Some babies have colic and thats all they do. Doesn’t mean you don’t love them or aren’t caring for them. I’m happy with my decision to have them young because I have the energy to keep up with them. I understand and see nothing wrong with that. I’m sure many grandparents feel the same way. 🙂 Crying can even be fusterating for parents. It’s get’s easier when they are walking and talking. You don’t have to love crying to be a good grandparent.

  3. I am a 50 year old man single. I have a 16 year old son,which I have played a part in his life other sending money. I regret that whole situation . Because I’ve always wanted that complete family unit. my parents divorced when I was very young and it had a negative effect on my life , until before I came to understand about relationships.

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