The Baby Matrix in College Coursework: An Interview with Kimya Dennis, Ph.D.

The Baby Matrix

Sociologist C. Wright Mills

Last year I had the pleasure of doing a Q&A with sociologist and criminologist, Kimya Dennis, Ph.D. (left), who was doing a study on childfree black women. I recently had another chance to talk with her. She is an Assistant Professor at Salem College, and is currently teaching a sociology course using The Baby Matrix as part of the curriculum. Here’s the Q&A:

What is the name of the class and what are your teaching goals for it?

It is a Sociology Special Topics course called “The Childfree.” The goals:

  • Discuss the attitudes, behavior, and institutions that historically and contemporarily shape reproductive rights, freedoms, and choices.
  • Discuss pronatalism and how it is shaped by social, economic, political, and cultural factors.
  • Discuss variations in reproductive rights, freedoms, and choices across demographic characteristics such as race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and gender.

    Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix
    Kimya Dennis

What are highlights of the course themes and the nature of the discussions?

Throughout the semester students use what Sociologist C. Wright Mills called the “sociological imagination” to connect personal experiences to historical and contemporary social issues and “make the familiar strange.”

Connecting personal experiences to historical and contemporary social issues also pertains to the impact of reproductive policies, laws, and practices on personal options and choices. Students increasingly challenge lifestyles and reproductive choices that are considered “normal” and “natural.”

Each week there are class discussions on the resources needed for people to think about reproduction and make conscious well-informed decisions based on proper information rather than misinformation and pressure from society, family, and friends. There are also class discussions on how pronatalism involves, even requires, hiding or downplaying the truths about pregnancy, child birth, childrearing, and parenthood. This is based on the tendency to opt out or delay having children when given resources and options such as birth control, adoption, and abortion. 

Students find it interesting that shifts in birth rates and age-of-first-child are correlated with shifts in resources and opinions regarding reproduction. With such shifts, societies and governments find ways to highlight the benefits of having children including commercializing reproduction, employee benefits, and tax incentives.

In addition, some students believe more people should adopt rather than bringing more children to an overpopulated world that already has children waiting for a good home. This has sparked interesting discussions about whether the wait time for adoption should be decreased to make adoption less difficult; and the pros and cons of making adoption “easier.” Another concern is differing views on adoption. Pronatalism stresses having biological children. Many adopted parents are not seen as doing a great benefit to the child, society, and themselves but instead are pressured to have a child of “their own.” 

What chapters of The Baby Matrix are being used and why?

Laura Carroll, The Baby MatrixStudents are reading the Introduction, Chapter 1: Awakening to Pronatalism, and Chapter 2: The Destiny Assumption.

The first thirty pages of The Baby Matrix provided a good introduction to the topic of pronatalism and provided illustrations. This was a supplement to the journal article readings and the foundation for well-informed and interesting class discussions.

The class discussions of the chapters of The Baby Matrix were very interesting and enlightening. Students found the chapters to be clear in terms of language and coverage of the material. The first chapters of the book sparked students’ curiosity of pronatalism and The Baby Matrix. Some students have either purchased the book or are planning to purchase the book.

Students found The Baby Matrix does an excellent job of illustrating class discussions and issues pertaining to reproduction. By putting “it all on the table” people can see pronatalism for what it is. The chapters of The Baby Matrix provided additional encouragement to question what is considered “normal” and “natural” in terms of lifestyle and reproductive choices. This highlights the purpose of the childfree course, not anti-natalism but, to make “the familiar strange” and question reproduction as the default.

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Thank you, Kimya, for sharing students’ learnings, and pioneering the teachings of pronatalism in the college classroom! This is so needed.

She is having students do an interesting final project, which I hope she will talk about as part of a Q&A Part II when the course is over…stay tuned!

Kimya Dennis, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Criminal Studies in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Studies at Salem College in North Carolina.

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