1500 Stories Question Bank

Here is a suggested list and order of questions you might use for a 45-60 minute long interview for the 1500 Stories project.  Below this suggested list is a much longer question bank that you could draw questions from if you would rather focus on other issues or topics.  Remember that the goal of each interview is to have a real connection with another human being, to give that person the gift of your focused attention and curiosity about their thoughts and experiences.  The goal of the interview is to elicit stories rather than information.  Each interview will and should be different because your own curiosity will shape the follow up questions you ask to learn more about the things your interviewee shares.


Suggested Interview Guide

Make sure each person clearly states and spells their first name at the start of the interview.  Make sure they understand that they can refuse to answer any question or end the interview at any time.  Be sure to discuss the release form *before* conducting the interview and ask them to sign it before you begin.

Questions about childhood:

Tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like.

Tell me the story of when you first realized as a kid that there were families that had more than (or less than) yours.

What did your parents {or caregivers} do for pay?

What was the dynamic around money in the household you grew up in?

Did you have a sense when you were growing up about how much money your parents made?  {Tell me more about that…}

What kinds of messages did you get from your parents about work?

What kinds of messages did you get from your parents about money?

What kinds of messages did you get from your parents about school?  About college?

What was life like in the neighborhood you grew up in?

How would you define the class position of the household you grew up in?  How come?

Tell me the story of when you first came to understand the meaning of social class differences.

Questions about work:

Tell me the story of your first job.

I’d like to hear about the jobs you have done.  Walk me through the timeline of your work life.

For each job:

Tell me the story of how you came to be in ____ job.

What did you find most meaningful about it?

What did you find most challenging?

What did you find most frustrating?

What did you learn about economic status or economic inequality in the U.S. from being a ……?

What do you think people would be most surprised to learn about what it’s like to be a _____?

How do you think that being (race/gender/ethnicity/immigration status/sexual orientation) influenced your experiences as a ….

Describe a typical work day for you.

How do you feel about the job you do for a living?

Questions about current economic position/class identity:

What is your life like now?

What are your biggest struggles, economically?

What is your relationship to money?  How do you think about money?

Have you ever had conflicts or tension with friends or loved ones around money? Talk about that.

Do you find it hard to make ends meet? {Tell me about that…}

How do you feel about debt, about being in debt? How come? Do you carry any debt? How much? How come?

In terms of where you are economically right now, is it where you had expected to be when you were growing up?  {Tell me about that…}

When you hear the word “class,” as in economic class, what does it mean to you?

Do you think of yourself in class terms?  Do you have a class identity?

Do you think people in the United States can move up the class ladder relatively freely? Why or why not?

When asked, many people in the U.S. describe themselves as “middle class.”  Why do you think this is so? Does that seem correct to you?

What do you think it means to be “wealthy”?

What do you see as the difference between the middle class and the working class?

What do you see as the difference between being poor and being working class?

What do you see as the difference between the middle class and the upper class?

When do you find yourself engaging with people in very different class positions as you?  What is that like?

What do you, personally, think it means to have “made it”?

What are your hopes for the future?

If the person you are interviewing has kids, could ask these questions:

What kinds of messages do you want to pass on to your children about work?

What kinds of messages do you want to pass on to your children about money?

What kinds of messages do you want to pass on to your children about school?  About college?

Do you worry about your children’s financial futures? Why or why not?

Do you imagine that your children’s class positions will shift as they get older? Why or why not?

Essential demographic questions:

(You absolutely must ask these things.  However, you can remind them that they are free not to answer any of the questions.  And these should be saved until the very end of the interview, because it is very awkward to start an interview with them.)

Where do you live? (city/town/neighborhood, etc.)

How old are you?

What is your racial and ethnic identity?

What is your gender?

What is your sexual orientation?

What is your marital status?

What is your annual income personally?  What is the total annual income for your household?

Good question to wrap up with:

Is there anything else you wished I had asked you about or that you would like to talk about?

Intersections of Class with other forms of inequality such as race, culture, gender, etc.:

As follow up to any of the above questions:
How do you think your racial identity affects…{insert question here}
How do you think your gender identity affects…
How do you think your sexual orientation affects…
How do you think your ethnic identity affects….
How do you think your religious affiliation affects…
How do you think your immigration/citizenship status affects…
Examples: How do you think your racial identity affects your ability to move up the class ladder freely? How do you think your ethnic identity affected the family dynamics around money in your household growing up?


1500 Stories Question Bank

This is a longer list of possible questions anyone might ask in an interview with someone about their lived experience of class. It is not intended as a list to follow in order. Rather, it is a list of ideas from which participants in the 1500 Stories project might choose in order to interview someone else or else to write or record their own story. Depending on what most interests you, and what subjects you think flow best from one to another, you might choose a subset of questions to ask. If you have ideas for other questions not listed here that you think would be useful, please use them. And send them to jennifermyhre@1500stories.org to be added to the question bank. 🙂 Remember that your goal is this interview is not to get information, but to gather stories.

Make sure each person clearly states and spells their first name at the start of the interview.

Essential Demographic Information
(You absolutely must ask these things. However, it can be awkward to start out an interview like this. If you are very good at putting people at ease, you can do it. If not, consider saving these questions for the very end.)
Where do you live? (city/town/neighborhood, etc.)
How old are you?
What is your racial and ethnic identity?
What is your gender?
What is your sexual orientation?
What is your marital status?
What is your annual income personally? What is the total annual income for your household?
What is your educational background?

Class Identity

In terms of where you are economically right now, is it where you had expected to be when you were growing up? {Tell me about that…}

People talk about social classes such as the poor, the working class, the middle class, the upper middle class, and the upper class. Which of these classes would you say you belong to? (Jackman, 1979) {Tell me about that…}

Do you think of yourself in these terms? (Savage, Bagnall, & Longhurts, 2001)

What economic class do you think you belong to? (Payne & Grew, 2005) {How come?}

How would you define your current class position? (Grella, 1990)

How would you describe yourself, in terms of class? (Savage, Bagnall, & Longhurts, 2001)

If someone were looking at your life from the outside, what class do you think they would say you belong to? How come?

Does how you see yourself in terms of class match up with how others see you in terms of class? {Tell me more about that…}

How important is it to you to appear in a certain economic or class position to others you interact with? How come?

Do you know personally any people who are much richer than you? (Frazer, 1988) {What are those relationships like…}

Do you know personally any people who are much poorer than you? {What are those relationships like…}

Do you think of yourself as belonging to a particular class? (Savage, Bagnall, & Longhurts, 2001) {Tell me more about that…}

Is class something that matters to you? (Savage, Bagnall, & Longhurts, 2001) {Tell me about that…}

What do you, personally, think it means to have “made it”? (Foster 2015)

Money

What is your relationship to money?

What is the dynamic in your family around money?

Does the topic of money come up in your household? In what ways?

Do you worry about money? {Tell me more about that…}

Have you ever had conflicts or tension with friends or loved ones around money? Talk about that.

How much money do you think it takes to live comfortably? How come? To live well? How come? (Foster 2015)

What do you think your money buys you? What do you wish it could buy you? (Foster 2015)

Class Position/Lifestyle

What do you do for a living?

Describe a typical work day for you.

How do you feel about the job you do for a living?

Is there other work that you do that you don’t get paid for? {Tell me about that…}

Do you find it hard to make ends meet? {Tell me about that…}

How do you feel about debt, about being in debt? How come? Do you carry any debt? How much? How come?

Do you go on vacations? What are these like?

What is your educational background?

Did you go to college? What did going to college mean to you? (Foster 2015)

Where do you live? {Do you rent? Own? Does anyone else live with you?}

What is life like in your neighborhood? (Moore, 2008)

How did you come to live in your neighborhood? (Moore, 2008)

What kinds of things do you do for fun?

What kinds of things do you do in your free time?

Describe what you do on a typical weekend.

Describe what you eat on a typical day.

What kinds of food do you eat?

Have you ever had to sell any personal items to make ends meet? (Bob Miri 2015, @whybobwhy) {What happened?}

What kinds of assets, if any, do you have now? (Foster 2015)

Do you pay people to do household, family, or personal services? Can you discuss an example? (Foster 2015)

Do you have an accountant? Lawyer? Financial planner? What does this person do for you? (Foster 2015)

Can you tell me about the ways in which you see the government/state affecting your life directly? Indirectly? (Foster 2015)

What, if any, kinds of support do you regularly offer your neighbors? Why? How about to the larger community? Why? (Foster 2015)

When do you find yourself engaging with people in very different class positions as you? What is that like? (Foster 2015)

If you have kids, do you pay for their schooling? What kinds of sacrifices, if any, have you found yourself making to afford your kids a quality education? (Foster 2015)

If you have kids, do you want them to go to college? If so, what will it mean to you for them to be college graduates? (Foster 2015)

If you have kids, do you imagine their class positions will shift as they get older? Why or why not? (Foster 2015)

If you have kids, do you worry about their financial futures? Why or why not? (Foster 2015)

What would be your ideal series of meals in a typical day? How does that compare to your actual meals on most days—what you actually eat?

Childhood Class Position

How would you define the class position of the household you grew up in?

What was the dynamic around money in the household you grew up in?

Did the topic of money come up in the household you grew up in? In what ways?

How about property? Was that a subject that came up in the household you grew up in? (Foster 2015)

When did you first start working for pay? {Why?}

What did your parents {or caregivers} do for pay?

Did you have a sense when you were growing up about how much money your parents made? {Tell me more about that…}

Describe a typical weekend in the household you grew up in.

Did your family go on vacations? Where to? {Tell me about some typical vacations.} (Foster 2015)

How much education did your parents {or caregivers} receive?

What was life like in the neighborhood you grew up in?

What kinds of food did you eat in the household you grew up in?

What kinds of messages did your parents/caregivers give you about what you could or might grow up to be?

What kinds of messages did your parents/caregivers give you about college?

What kinds of assets, if any, might you inherit from your parents? (Foster 2015)

Tell me the story of when you first came to understand the meaning of social class differences. (Foster 2015)

Did anyone in your family personally teach you about finances? What did they teach you? When? (Foster 2015)

Beliefs about Class

When you hear the word “class,” as in economic class, what does it mean to you?

What do you think it means to be “wealthy”? (Foster 2015)

What do you see as the difference between the middle class and the working class? (Frazer, 1988)

What do you see as the difference between being poor and being working class?

What do you see as the difference between the middle class and the upper class?

Draw a diagram of the class structure of our society. Tell me about this diagram. What do you think are the main classes? What determines what class someone belongs to? Where do you think you are? (Frazer, 1988)

Describe what you think life is like for members of the 1%? How about for members of the “underclass”? (Foster 2015)

How do you think people at the top of the wealth pyramid got there? How about those closer to the “first floor”? (Foster 2015)

Do you think people in the United States can move up the class ladder relatively freely? Why or why not? (Foster 2015)

When asked, many people in the U.S. describe themselves as “middle class.” Why do you think this is so? Does that seem correct to you? (Foster 2015)

If You Want to Focus on their Beliefs and Attitudes about Class in General:
You could begin by asking the respondent to…
Describe social class in general
Identify the categories of social class
Discuss how they believe wealth is distributed in the U.S. and the world…
Consider if class is something that matters to them…
Identify themselves in terms of class
Describe why they believe they fit here…

Intersections of Class with other forms of inequality such as race, culture, gender, etc.:

As follow up to any of the above questions:
How do you think your racial identity affects…{insert question here}
How do you think your gender identity affects…
How do you think your sexual orientation affects…
How do you think your ethnic identity affects….
How do you think your religious affiliation affects…
How do you think your immigration/citizenship status affects…
Examples: How do you think your racial identity affects your ability to move up the class ladder freely? How do you think your ethnic identity affected the family dynamics around money in your household growing up?

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