Life history

Life history

The term "life history" has been given many meanings in several scientific fields. It can refer to a variety of methods and techniques that are used for conducting qualitative interviews, especially in the fields of sociology and anthropology.


In biology the life history of an organism is sometimes used to refer to the reproductive cycle of animals and plants.cite book | last =Smith| first =Robert Leo| authorlink =Robert Leo Smith| coauthors=Thomas M. Smith|title=Elements of Ecology | publisher =Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.| edition = Fourth Edition | date =2002 | location =Singapore | pages =567pp | url = | doi = | id = ISBN 981-4119-31-8 ] However, many biologists strongly prefer the term "life cycle" for such events and reserve the term life history strictly for the study of "life history evolution," the co-evolution of the traits of age-specific survivorship probability, age at first reproduction, clutch/litter size, and reproductive frequency.

Some use the term "alternation of generations" when referring to algae, however as there are in many cases, especially the Rhodophyta, three stages the term "alternation" is not appropriate.


In medicine, a life history may refer to a general health assessment or standard medical history. In seeking to identify certain health patterns, the interviewer may 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.


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


In sociological and anthropological research, a life history refers to the overall picture of the informant's or interviewee's life. The purpose of the interview is to be able to describe what it is like to be this particular person, that is, the one being interviewed.


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.


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.





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  • life history — life histories N COUNT The life history of a person is all the things that happen to them during their life. Some people give you their life history without much prompting …   English dictionary

  • life history — n 1 a) a history of the changes through which an organism passes in its development from the primary stage to its natural death b) one series of the changes in a life history 2) the history of an individual s development in his or her social… …   Medical dictionary

  • life history — n. 1. the history of the changes undergone by an organism in development from the egg, spore, etc. to its death in maturity 2. one series of such changes 3. the story of a person s life …   English World dictionary

  • life history — noun count all the things that happen to someone during their life a. a description of the things that have happened in someone s life …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • life history — n all the events and changes that happen during the life of a living thing …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • life history — noun 1. an account of the series of events making up a person s life (Freq. 3) • Syn: ↑biography, ↑life, ↑life story • Derivationally related forms: ↑biographical (for: ↑biography) …   Useful english dictionary

  • life-history — An ideographic approach which provides an intensive account of a life, usually gathered through unstructured interviewing , but often also involving the analysis of personal documents such as letters, photographs, and diaries. The approach is… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • life history — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms life history : singular life history plural life histories a) all the things that happen to someone during their life b) a description of the things that have happened in someone s life …   English dictionary

  • life history — noun a) an investigation into the details and activities of a person during his/her lifetime; ones background. His life history shows that he frequently moves from town to town, moving from one job to the next. b) Information concerning a persons …   Wiktionary

  • Life history theory — is an analytical framework widely used in animal and human biology, psychology, and evolutionary anthropology which postulates that many of the physiological traits and behaviors of individuals may be best understood in terms of the key… …   Wikipedia

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