As a sociological textbooks states, during an interview, “you will ask people questions on the topics that you want to explore” (Henslin, Social Problems, page 19). For this assignment, you will do an unstructured interview (meaning that you will ask questions of the interviewee, but will allow that person to talk in-depth about his or her experiences). The textbook that I used to use had a very interesting and short article entitled “Studying Young People Who Became Old.” What that (no longer available) article covered was for you, the interviewer, to think of the older person not as someone “old” as that conjures up many of our culture’s negative stereotypes. Instead, try to focus on the individual, a young person (or someone your age), who happened to get older. When you talk to old people, they may say things like, “I don’t FEEL old.” Or they might say “I’m surprised at the older person in the mirror!” Remember, older people are just young people who grew old. They are humans. Not all older people are kind and sweet. But are all young people kind and sweet? Interview your person as an individual, as someone who was once your age, but who simply grew older over time (just like you will)! Try to let go of any preconceived notions about what it means to be old. Let the interviewee tell you about him or herself. Keep your mind as open as possible. For instance, if the person is grumpy don’t assume – oh all old people are grumpy! Think about why that person might be grumpy. Is she suffering from chronic pain? Is she lonely? Was she a grumpy 20 year old? You never know just from appearances!
Paper (3 – 4 pages, double-spaced; no larger than 12 point font, one inch margins)
1. An Introduction to the paper in which you discuss briefly what you see as your central finding/main theme/most interesting social problem about aging and the life course that emerged from your interview. The introduction should include a brief description of the older person to give an idea of who this person is. Like any introduction, yours should provide an overview of what you intend to discuss in the paper. If you’d like to write about more than one social problem/theme experienced by your interviewee, that is fine.
2. Analysis/Theory: Analysis of the data and incorporating a sociological theory will form most of this paper. You should describe and discuss your understanding of the person’s life using examples from your notes to illustrate the general findings or themes (also known as social problems). You should focus on a theme/social problem covered in class or in your text. Suggested themes/social problems include: changing family roles over the life course (problems/struggles with transitions to retirement); experience with racism or sexism, changing social supports and social interaction (or lack of it); problems with gender roles and gender-role socialization/discrimination; experience with social inequality, alcoholism/drug addiction, experience with violence (or fear of violence), issues with medical care, experience with feelings of being marginalized as an older person/woman/minority, experience with ageism, perceptions of the aging process. You will then choose one (or more) of the three main sociological theories to explain your interviewee (your subject’s) experiences and perceptions of the social problem(s)/theme(s). Make sure to cite your sources (your textbook and notes will be invaluable to you for this portion).
3. Ideas to Reduce/Eliminate the Problem: The next portion is the Policy Change component. Now that you’ve identified your theme /social problem, what do you believe can be done to lessen or eliminate the problem on a societal level? Come up with two policy changes/ideas. Remember, if you decide that it requires some sort of publicly funded program, you’ll need to identify another program that can be cut or identify where/how money can be raised for your program (i.e., taxation, etc.). You’ll need to justify your decision.
4. The Conclusion should very briefly summarize your interview experience. Focus this summary around evaluative questions. Answer the following questions: Do you feel this person is aging successfully? Why or why not? How has the interview experience affected your ideas and attitudes about aging? What might you differently if you were to complete another interview?
Click on the chart below to see what is meant by “aging successfully.”
Chart Successful Aging.pdfPreview the document
Whom will you interview?
Select an older person (65+ years of age) for the interview.
You may select someone you know, if you wish, but be careful about selecting someone you know “too well” who may be tempted to say “you already know about that” when you ask a question. A family member who is too close to you may also find it difficult to be fully open about some of their experiences and attitudes. They may feel shy about telling you certain things.
On the other hand, if you think you can conduct a thorough and probing interview with such a person, the process may open a new and exciting chapter in your relationship. You need to decide what works for you.
Your interview should focus on issues like the person’s changing role within the family, the changing network of their social supports, experience with work and retirement, and how this person views the aging experience. We are also VERY interested in learning from this person’s experience with social inequalities.
You need to develop a list of probing questions that will prompt the older person you interview to share insights related to the themes, concepts, and issues we are exploring in class.
Basic Principles to Keep in Mind
1. Be very careful about the ethical issues that arise when you are studying other human beings. Respect the privacy of the person you interview. Use a fake name or a first name only when writing your paper, unless the person has given you permission.
2. Explain honestly what you are doing and why, and to what use your work will be put. Explain that the interview is part of a class project in the sociology of aging that is aimed at gaining insight into the lives of older people and the aging process.
3. Select a person who seems interesting to you and with whom you can feel comfortable.
Technical Guidelines for the Interview Process
1. Set up specific appointments for the interview, preferably at times when no one else is around. Their presence may be distracting or inhibiting.
2. In general, you should expect the focused interview not to exceed one hour, but allow time for informal interaction to establish a comfortable atmosphere.
3. If your interviewee agrees, it is a good idea to tape the interviews so you can listen to them which will be helpful when writing your paper. If the person does not agree to be recorded, take quick notes during the interview, using where you can the words of the interviewee, and then write up your notes about the interview as soon as possible after your meeting.
4. When you write up your notes, include both the responses of the interviewee and your thoughts and interpretations, including comparisons and contrasts with concepts and themes we have discussed in class. Be sure, however, that you distinguish these comments and reflections from what your interviewee has actually told you. These notes will help you when you construct your paper.
5. Review your notes carefully after the interview and jot down any notes, thoughts, etc. What questions did you WISH you had asked?
6. Being nervous, tense, and excited are normal feelings for both you and the person you interview. Try to relax and enjoy the process. Your feelings and reactions during the interview process are also an important source of information. Sharing these reactions with the interviewee, when you feel it appropriate, may also move the interview in interesting directions. Give the person time to think about a question without too quickly jumping in with another question. Allow comfortable silences to exist in the interview. Don’t exhaust your interviewee. Take a break when you feel it is needed.
Interview Guide—Suggested Questions
These are simply some suggested questions. Choose what you think will work for you, adding and deleting as appropriate.
Be prepared to probe and explore further, based on the responses from your interviewee and your own curiosity and interest. Think about the themes you’d like to explore. You should begin the process with what you feel will be a comprehensive set of questions, but you will undoubtedly modify this list as the process progresses. Because this is only an hour interview, you may need to modify/delete questions as you see fit.
1. When and where were you born?
2. Tell me about your childhood: How big was your family? Did you have brothers and sisters?
3. What was your relationship like with your siblings? What was your relationship like with your parents? What was your relationship like with your grandparents?
4. Can you remember your grandparents very well? Were they treated the same way then in the family as you are treated today?
5. What chores were you expected to do around the house? Were tasks divided on the basis of gender? Were there certain expectations in your family because you were male or female? Were people generally expected to do certain things or behave in certain ways because they were male or female? Explain.
6. Tell me about your educational experience? How much education were you expected to get? Was this different for men and for women? Was education valued in your family?
7. Were you ever married? What did you expect marriage to be like? Was your marriage as you expected it to be?
8. Did you have any children? How many? What was it like for you being a parent? What were your concerns then? Did becoming a parent give you a different sense of family?
9. Are you a grandparent? What did it feel like to become a grandparent?
10. Tell me about your work life? Did you consider your paid work life a “career”? If so, how important was your career to you? Can you describe aspects of your working life that were not in the paid labor force? What were your concerns then?
11. How do you feel about retirement?
12. How would you describe your social class? Has your social class stayed the same throughout your life, or have you experienced major changes in your social and economic status?
13. If a young person came to you to ask what is the most important thing in living a good life, what would you say?
14. Considering all the changes you have been through in your life, what are a few of the things you have learned?
15. Do you rely on your family a lot now for support? Explain. Do you see your friends often?
16. How would you describe your health now? Has your health been a major factor in your life experience?
17. What does the word “old” or “aging” bring to mind? Do you consider yourself “old”?
18. How can one prepare for old age?
19. Did you have any expectations at various points in your life about what growing older would be like for you?
20. How do you feel about growing old now?
21. What is the hardest thing about growing older? What is the best thing?
22. What are your concerns for the future?
23. What do you look forward to now?
24. What do you feel is necessary for someone to age successfully? Do you feel you have aged successfully? Why or why not?
25. What do you feel are the most important things that someone should know about you and why?