Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Biography

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is an American sociologist who examines the culture of schools, the patterns and structures of classroom life, socialization within families and communities, and the relationships between culture and learning styles. She has been a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education since the 1970s.


Lawrence-Lightfoot has pioneered portraiture, an approach to social science methodology that bridges the realms of aesthetics and empiricism, which she continues to use in her own work.

She has written eight books, including I've Known Rivers, which explores the development of creativity and wisdom using the lens of "human archaeology," The Art and Science of Portraiture, which documents her pioneering approach to social science methodology, and, her most recent, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50.


In 1984, Lawrence-Lightfoot was awarded the prestigious MacArthur prize fellowship, and in 1993, she was awarded Harvard's George Ledlie prize for research that makes the "most valuable contribution to science" and "the benefit of mankind."

In March 1998, she was the recipient of the Emily Hargroves Fisher endowed chair at Harvard University, which, upon her retirement, will become the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot endowed chair, making her the first African-American woman in Harvard's history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor. She also has an endowed professorship named in her honor at Swarthmore College.

Lawrence-Lightfoot was featured on the 2006 PBS television documentary African American Lives. In 2008, she was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, dating to 1743.