The Natural History of a Delinquent Career

The Natural History of a Delinquent Career

The Natural History of a Delinquent Career

The Natural History of a Delinquent Career

Excerpt

The life-history record is a relatively new instrument for the study of human behavior. As such it should be used with full consciousness of its values, limitations, and possible shortcomings.

No one will question the value of the life-history as a human document when written freely and frankly. It admits the reader into the inner experience of other men, men apparently widely different from himself: criminals, hobos, and other adventurers. Through the life-history he becomes acquainted with those far removed from the sheltered routine of his own existence in much the same intimate way that he knows himself or a friend. As he lives, for the time being, their careers and participates in their memories and mistakes, aspirations and failures he comes to realize the basic likeness of all human beings despite the differ- ences, real as they are, of biological endowment and social ex- perience.

Granted that the life-history possesses this unique human value, what if any is its function as an instrument of scientific inquiry? Is the writer of the documents telling the truth? Is he not influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by his conception of his audience? Does any person know sufficiently well the causes of his own behavior for his statement, sincere though it may be, to be given full credence?

These and other questions must be squarely faced before any final decision may be made upon the merits of the life-history as an instrument of scientific research. No attempt will be made to give an answer here. But attention should be called to the care and discrimination used in the securing and checking of the documents in this volume and the other life-histories in preparation for this series. First of all the person is asked to write the history of his experience in his own way uninfluenced by a series of detailed guide questions. The events of the history are then checked . . .

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