Life History Analysis: Interview Guidelines
Assessing the Current Status of the American Dream
In many respects, this assignment will culminate the reading, thinking, and discussing we will be doing throughout the semester. We will be work on parts of this assignment over the semester. You will be given more specific directions as your work progresses. In general, this assignment will challenge you to critically and thoughtfully evaluate the impact that recent social and economic trends have had on the well-being of American individuals and families. You are to take a stand and defend your position on whether or not the American Dream of each generation being able to achieve a level of success equal to or better than the previous generation can still be realized. This project has two main components. First, you will discuss the definition and measurement of well-being. Second, you will evaluate the well-being of Missouri residents using public data sources and you will assess the well-being of an individual aged 65 and older based on a personal interview.
As part of this assignment, you will conduct a Life History Analysis. The purpose of this part of the assignment is for you to gain historical perspective of how family lifestyles have changed in a couple of generations, and to gain an appreciation of the impact of economic and other environmental influences on personal/family decisions. You will interview a person aged 65 and older and analyze their life story using what you have learned regarding the family and economic trends of the 20th century. You will report on the way the person’s values influenced choices and outcomes at various major turning points of the person’s life. While many people choose to interview a grandparent or other older family member, you are not limited as to whom you interview.
Use these questions to guide the interview:
- What were macro economic conditions like when s/he was young and getting started; did it change throughout the person’s lifetime and how did it affect her/him?
- What determined whether the person was employed and the type of employment s/he had, whether s/he married and when, whether s/he had children and when, etc.
- What types of living arrangements and family structures did the person experience; where these a result of personal choice or unplanned events?
- What kinds of resources were available to the person and her/his family throughout their lifetime; were money and material resources scarce or abundant; how did the level of resources available influence what they determined to get out of life?
- What values were important throughout his/her lifetime—schooling, family, religion, etc.? What goals did s/he have? Has it changed now that they are older?
- What were the major turning points and major decisions in her/his life? If s/he could, would s/he do things differently?
- What advice does s/he have for young adults today who are just starting on life’s journey?
- Set a block of time for doing the interview. Most elderly like to talk, and you will probably find it interesting enough to spend 2-3 hours listening to her/him, especially if it is your own grandparent (just think of the stories you could hear about your parents from them!)
- Take a general conversational approach. You can sometimes learn more by just letting the conversation flow, rather than having a set of questions that you formally go though. Often you cannot know the right types of questions to ask before you know the kinds of experiences the person has had. (This does not mean, however, that you should go into the session cold, without thought about the types of things you want to talk about!)
- Be sensitive to topics that the person may not be comfortable talking about. Back off these topics, and perhaps approach them in a different way. (Certainly, do not make the person feel that your grade depends on her/him telling it all!) Also, the person does not have to be identified by name in the paper if they would prefer not to be. You can refer to them by a pseudonym or by their role in your life (e.g., my grandfather).