Your task consists of three steps:
(1) selecting a subject and conducting an in-depth interview with them;
(2) analyzing the interview results in light of theoretical perspectives presented in class and identifying a theory or set of theories that best explains the interview findings; and
(3) writing up the results in a fivepage paper.
Select an Interview Subject and Conduct a One-Hour Interview
You may select anyone for the interview, including a roommate, friend, acquaintance, family member, etc. The interview is probably best done face-to-face, but a phone interview is allowed. When you approach the subject, emphasize that the interview is strictly for a class assignment, is entirely anonymous, and will entail questions about crime and deviance, as well as life course events. Also emphasize that the subject may refuse to answer any question that he or she feels uncomfortable answering, and may end the interview at any time. Once they agree set up a time to conduct the interview in a semi-private location. You should take careful notes during the interview.
You may audio record the interview—with the subject’s permission—so you can go back to fill in specifics that you may have missed in your notes. Note that a subject’s narrative (story) about a key deviant act or role transition can be a rich source of data. The purpose of the interview is to elicit information about (1) offending histories, (2) life course transitions, and (3) potential causal mechanisms explaining the effect (or lack of effect) of life course transitions on offending trajectories (such as turning points). Information on offending histories would include one-time acts, as well as continuous deviant acts with starting and stopping points. If the subject appears to have refrained from crimes throughout the life course, you may either focus on why they refrained from crime, or ask about minor forms of deviance, such as telling white lies, smoking, etc. The important point is to obtain an overall portrait of the pattern of offending over the subject’s life course. Information on life course transitions may begin with information on early childhood experiences with the family and school, which help shape the likelihood of future role transitions. Other role transitions include changing peer groups, roles in school, graduation, work and careers, romantic relationships, marriage, parenting, and military service. Consult the life course calendar for examples. Information on causal mechanisms derive from theories of crime and desistance, including attachment and commitment to roles, learning definitions favorable and unfavorable to crime, learning through reinforcement and modeling, utility maximization, cognitive transformations and hooks for change, role-taking and decision-making, changes in reference groups, and formation of habits. Here are some tips on eliciting information on potential turning points and causal mechanisms.
• Criminal Opportunities. One possible way of getting at decision points would be to ask the subject whether they have opportunities to commit certain crimes. Then ask why they would take advantage of such opportunities at some times but not others.
• Timing of Crime. A potentially useful question for subjects who admit to committing a crime, would be about timing: why then and not earlier? When a subject initiates a crime, ask about the subject’s life circumstances at that time, particularly any changes in circumstances. Similarly, when a subject desists from crime or deviance, ask about changes in life circumstances at this time.
• Timing of Life Course Roles. When a subject reports making a major life course transition, for example out of a delinquent gang, or into college, ask if it changed their lives in a major way. Did it change their everyday routines (which may be related to criminal opportunities)?
• Subjective Perspectivse. Try to get at the subject’s thought process at the time of initiating deviance, or passing up an opportunity to deviate, or making a decision to continue to deviate. What were they thinking at the time? Were they thinking rationally? Were they considering consequences, including short-term and long term. What did the deviant act mean to them at the time? Did it remain that way in the future?
• Friends, Siblings, Colleagues, coworkers. You might ask the subject whether his or her friends or siblings have engaged in deviance, whether they followed, and if not, why not. Also, what was said that may have influenced a decision to join or refrain from deviance?
• Subjective Account of Why they did it. Although you don’t want to put words in the subject’s mouth, as a last resort you might ask them why they engaged in the crime or refrained from a criminal opportunity. What motivated them? Why at this time and not another time?