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Life history refers to a variety of methods and techniques that are used for conducting qualitative interviews. The following are two of the most common types:

  • Medical interview. This technique is used for general health assessment and for gathering a standard medical history. The interviewer seeks to identify health patterns. In order to see such patterns, the interviewer may have to conduct a thorough interview. This form of interview can be utilized to find various kinds of sources for effects on the body and general health.
  • Anthropological interview. This technique is used in socialological fieldwork to form an overall picture of the informant's or interviewee's life. The purpose of the interview is to be able to describe what is it like to be this particular person, that is, the one being interviewed.

In both cases, the one doing the interview should be careful not to ask "yes or no"-questions, but to get the subject to tell "the story of his or her life", in his or her own words. It is common practice to begin the interview with the subject's early childhood and to proceed chronologically to the present.


The method was first used when interviewing indigenous peoples of the Americas. The subjects were native American leaders. One interviewed them, and the subjects were asked to describe their lives as such, what it was like to be that particular person. The purpose of the interview was to capture a living picture of a disappearing (as such) people/way of life.

Later the method was used to interview criminals and prostitutes in Chicago. The subjects were asked to tell about their lives. The interviewers also looked at social- and police-records, and the society in general in which the subject lived. The result was a report in which one could read about (i) Chicago at that particular time; (ii) how the subject viewed his own life (i.e. `how it was like to be this particular person') and (iii) how society looked upon the subject what the consequence of this was for that particular person -- i.e. `social work'/-help, incarceration etc.

Life history theory

Life history theory is an analytic method of sociobiology for understanding reproductive behaviors in animals and people.

See also

  • Biological life cycle, a period involving all different generations of a species succeeding each other through means of reproduction
  • Evolutionary history of life, the processes by which living and fossil organisms evolved
  • Life history (sociology), the overall picture of an informant's or interviewee's life
  • Life history theory in ecology, which states that the timing of key events in an organism's lifetime are shaped by natural selection.
  • Life review
  • Life span
  • Medical life history, information gained by a physician by asking specific questions of a patient
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