by Stefanie Bachtin
Within our research project, we wanted to investigate the influence of the construction of the Tesla Gigafactory on the perceived quality of life of young people in Grünheide, whether the Tesla factory influences the attraction of living in Grünheide as a place of residence for young people and whether any future plans on the part of young people are influenced by it by means of a guided interview. In our research group, we assumed based on our own experiences of growing up in a village or small town, that Grünheide was unattractive as a place to live for young people and that the new Tesla factory would therefore have a positive effect on their quality of life. Contrary to our assumptions, the young people we interviewed are very happy to live in Grünheide, and many intend to stay there regardless of the tesla factory, that is if they can afford the rising cost of land. We also partly assumed too much awareness regarding future career plan: most of the young people we interviewed had only vague ideas about what they would like to do after school and whether the new Tesla factory would play a role in this. In addition, we considered that the name tesla could exert a certain fascination on the young people as a leading international automobile company, but the view of tesla remained rather neutral and considerat of pros and cons.
Anyone interested in current daily affairs can hardly get past the name Elon Musk. Whether it’s his space company SpaceX, the microblogging service X (formerly twitter) or bizarre news from his private life, such as the unusual name of his child X Æ A-12, the presence of the letter X is striking in all of this. In mathematics, X stands for an unknown variable, but that’s of little interest to us as social scientists for now. What was interesting for us, however, was the opening of the Tesla factory in Grünheide near Berlin, or more precisely its impact on the local population: to what extent does the construction of the Tesla Gigafactory influence the livability of Grünheide as a place in the german countryside? We were particularly interested in the perspective of the youth living there, especially those who are about to graduate from school and are possibly in the process of thinking about their future career. Together with the young people we would like to reflect: What current and expected changes do they observe? What concerns, conflicts and hopes are associated with them? In short, our research project aims to investigate the impact of the Tesla Gigafactory on the perceived quality of life of young people in Grünheide. Our specific research question is: Does the Tesla factory influence the livability of Grünheide as a place to stay for young people?
We – these are six students of the Humboldt University of Berlin who took the course on qualitative methods with Prof. Magdalena Nowicka in the summer semester of 2023 and came together to form a research group. Ms. Nowicka not only teaches at HU, but also happens to be the prinicipal investigator leading VISION project. Leaning on the projects‘ focus on the living conditions in regions of Europe that face particular challenges related to ageing, outgoing migration or economic decline, we chose a research topic with its questions about living conditions for the youth in german countryside facing significant economic change in their environment.
Personally, what made me curious was the aspect of what happens when such a controversially discussed company moves into a compact, long-established community. The mood that I was able to perceive in the short period of time, which is therefore purely subjective, reminded me of Dürrenmatt’s “The Visit of the Old Lady”; I perceived the atmosphere around the topic of the Tesla factory as seemingly calm, but sublte surpressing. Thus there was noticeable mistrust and reservations when contact was made, also because there had already been negative media experiences. Uncertainties about anonymization and publication were expressed, which we were able to meet with our informational documents. In retrospect, it might have helped to schedule more time for the interview phase in order to build up a relationship of trust. Thus, young people shortly before graduation were still a relatively thankful sample, since for example, due to confidentiality clauses or basic fears, an interview with Tesla employees would have hardly been possible.
The preparation of the required documents as well as the compilation of the questions for the open guideline interview was not strictly divided in our group, instead we used google drive and miro to compile our results. Based on the pre-existing theoretical assumptions and the epistemological interest, questions were formulated in a brainstorming session and then examined for their relevance and selected accordingly. Therefore the preparation phase was quite chaotic, but still productive, as countless messages and drafts were finally combined into a decent final version. While some people moved the process forward with templates, there were others who took care of the refining. Different personal qualities came together that made especially the beginning of the methodical work much easier for me
personally. Our assumptions were that the construction of the Tesla factory in Grünheide would have a positive effect on the perceived quality of life for the young people and that Grünheide would become more attractive as a place to live. However, the interviews revealed that the young people generally like living in Grünheide, and many intend to stay after finishing school. The view of the Tesla factory was critical and well differentiated, illustrated in the water topic: there be structural issues, as the interviewee say, since the local water company have given incorrect figures. An apprenticeship at Tesla is only vaguely considered, as there are already good contacts with the local institutions. That is, if the young people already had concrete plans for the future at all.
At the beginning of the interview, I offered the adolescents the first name to minimize the power relationship interviewer – interviewee. In addition, I used the framing “questioning” or “test interview” to accommodate the shy and reserved nature of the young people when answering, and to establish the connection of a similar position that corresponds to pupil – student. The core element of the interview was the guiding questionnaire. This serves as an aid to memorize and to check whether all important topics were addressed, but the questionnaire is not to be understood as a strict ranking in the course of the interview. Thus, questions can deviate during the interview situation, be asked in a different order, be supplemented or shortened. The focus here is on the high demands of the interview situation and a special focus on maintaining as natural an interview situation as possible. In retrospect, I personally oriented myself very much to the guiding questionnaire, and think that I could have gained more insights with more flexibility for deviations. Nonetheless, I was able to gain many important insights in the short time of the 15 minute interview, which makes me intrigued to use the explorative character of the qualitative research method in future research projects.
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