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Focus-group analysis and interpretation Maintaining rigour is salient to all research and is no less important in studies using qualitative approaches. Analytic strategies Team members varied in their use of analytic strategies and in relation to the particular topic being analysed. Some team members have treated the transcripts more holistically, notably the social anthropologist among us. For the purposes of producing the initial report for dissemination to different stakeholders the action-research component of the work , much of the analysis was thematic, based on a grounded-theory approach Glaser and Strauss, Topics or areas were typically shared out, with two team members working on a particular area of analysis.

In many cases team members followed a similar strategy. Each transcript was examined for particular themes and in relation to the questions which the participants were asked, for example, entitlement to 20 Janet Smithson and Julia Brannen support if and when young people became parents while retaining their status in employment.

Each of us has examined our own national data set while several of us have analysed the data from other countries on particular issues. However, while carrying out a similar analytic strategy, the whole study drew upon an overarching life-course perspective Chapter 3 and Chapter 9. But we have also drawn upon our own theoretical starting-points, for example in terms of a feminist perspective or a work—family framework. In different chapters we have applied or criticised a particular body of theory. In Chapter 4 we have examined theory concerning time, while in Chapter 3 we have subjected to a critical eye the theories of individualisation which is so prevalent in the study of youth.

In Chapter 6 we have drawn on feminist theory concerning the recognition or not by young people of equality and difference and in Chapter 8 we have applied ideas concerning social justice and sense of entitlement. In writing this book some issues have subsequently been analysed with greater attention to the social construction of discourse, notably to take account of the way themes arose and were discussed in the focus-group situation, the group dynamics and the context of the research method for the generation of meaning.

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In this approach particular attention was paid to the ordering of contributions made by young people to the discussion, during which process new nuances and meanings were added as the different concepts of being young, family life and employment are elaborated. From a discourse analytic perspective, language is viewed not as a neutral conveyor of information, but as functional and constructive, as a medium which people use to achieve a variety of actions Potter and Wetherell, In Chapter 7, for example, we examined the different modalities in the focus groups including the framing of the questions by the focus-group moderators whereby young people construct their discussions of the future, moving between general normative statements to accounts of personal past experience, to accounts of the current practicalities which face them in their everyday lives.

Sensitivity on the part of the analyst of the data was necessary to understand the role played by the focus-group moderator in framing and regulating the discussion and in the construction of meaning. In contextualising the interpretation of the material, we paid attention to the embedding of the concepts of both the researcher and the researched within the focus-group discussion and included the values, qualities and emotions attached to them.

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Each of these strategies involves moving among different analyses — discussions, groups, countries. Since the focus-group moderator was not necessarily one of the members of the research team, this has implications for analysis. The research team members who did moderate their own groups found it much easier to analyse the data. The focus-group method is not merely, as is sometimes argued Vaughn et al. From this perspective, language is viewed not as a neutral purveyor of information, but as functional and constructive, as a medium through which people achieve a variety of actions Potter and Wetherell, An important characteristic of focus groups is that groups, rather than individuals within groups, constitute the main unit of analysis Morgan, ; Kreuger, Another important but little-discussed question concerns the purposes for which participants use the focus groups.

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Alternatively, the issues may be viewed as an integral part of the analysis of the material and the procedures of analysis, although the distinction between data collection and analysis is not clear-cut Silverman, ; Potter, This is the situation in which a particular voice emerges and dominates the discussion.

Members of minority ethnic groups did not raise issues of 22 Janet Smithson and Julia Brannen race or ethnicity except when their group was in the majority. Of course, the moderator can encourage different group members to speak. On the other hand, it can be argued that remaining silent need not be viewed as a problem. Moreover, the interviews provided a different context in which to take up such issues. In their analytic approaches the researchers aimed to be sensitive to group dynamics and the context of the research encounter.

One issue here concerns the generation of public opinions — the extent to which they are already established and convincingly held or constitute a product of the focus-group interaction. The discourse analysis approach aims to take account of these phenomena. The moderators of the focus groups in the study were, with one exception, white women and they were all occupationally middle class.

To moderate the British-Asian focus groups, we recruited a young British-Asian woman, although she expressed some discomfort in conducting a focus group with young British-Asian men, with whose opinions she did not identify. On the other hand, having the same moderator throughout is also useful in ensuring that the same issues are addressed in all groups. Importantly, it adds reliability to data collection.

The Ambivalence of Social Change in Post-Communist Societies. The Case of Poland

For example, the Asian women in one UK group all second- or third-generation British Asians from Sikh or Hindu backgrounds compared their views on marriage with those of their mothers. With the initial impetus coming from the moderator, the discussion returned many times to the issues the women felt were most relevant — arranged marriages versus love marriages and the problems of living with in-laws. So much. Qualitative methodology in cross-national research Purba: Mira:?

We can stand on our own two feet. Assumptions about homosexuality are one such example in our study of an assumed dominant discourse. It is unlikely that everyone in the study was heterosexual; however, no one positioned themselves as lesbian or homosexual in any of the discussions. See Stokoe and Smithson, forthcoming, for a discussion of heterosexual assumptions in the UK focus groups.

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This was particularly noticeable as some participants chose to disclose other personal details about their living arrangements, relationships and hopes for future relationships, and their expectations of future family life. Moreover, the issue is not simply related to the moderator but to the assumptions and dynamics of the group, for example fear of peer-group disapproval. In retrospect, we would wish to include focus groups with young lesbians and gay men in order to understand their orientations to work and family life.

As discussed earlier, accounts need to be analysed in relation to their contexts, which includes the research encounter itself. A moderator has the option to use the terms which the group uses, in this case assuming heterosexuality, or to use more inclusive terms which risk alienating the group. Some people did express their views on this subject, but the issue was always positioned from a heterosexual point of view. The following are the views of year-old female secretarial students: Focus-group moderator: What do you think about lesbian couples, homosexual couples having children, do any of you know any people in that position?

While focus groups may tend towards the reproduction of normative discourses, this was not universally the case see Chapter 7. Moreover, the range of argumentative behaviours exhibited by participants results in a depth of dialogue not often found in individual interviews.

Opinions need to be treated as dynamic and as being constructed and reconstructed in the course of the focusgroup situation.

However, focus groups are not simply performances in which the participants jointly produce accounts about proposed topics in a socially organised situation. In conclusion A typical problem in the analysis of qualitative data is how to manage the large quantity of material. However, it is also compounded by a number of other issues which we have discussed in this chapter.

We have highlighted issues which arise in using focus groups as a main source of data collection, for example issues of sampling and recruitment. We have also discussed the nature of focus-group data and the claims that can be made in terms of extrapolation. We emphasise the interactive nature of focus groups and the importance of interpreting the discussions generated in terms of the structural character of the groups, and the dynamics and processes which frame the performance and creation of discourse.


Thus we drew attention to the structural composition of the group and the characteristics of the moderator in relation to the other group members. Structural composition and resources of power shape the framing of discourses, but discussions also have their own dynamic, notably those relating to taken-for-granted assumptions concerning dominant discourses.

Many of the issues we have discussed are essentially to do with meaning and interpretation.

First, the data had to be transcribed from tape. In the EU and in the UK in particular, the emphasis upon dissemination to the wider world has grown in recent decades. The social sciences constitute horizontal knowledge structures which have weak grammars; these may be contrasted with the hierarchically organised knowledge structures of economics and the hard sciences whose grammars are stronger Bernstein, These processes have resulted in a reduction in the status of theory, especially in funded research.

They have further weakened the grammars of the languages which social scientists speak. A parallel argument might be mounted for the increasing colonisation of the English language over other languages, a situation with particular relevance for a transnational study in which English is the currency of communication. Communication and interpretation offer particular challenges to a cross-national team.

We employed translation services to translate the focus groups and interviews into English, a task which was further complicated by the fact that it was done by others. All this means that our attempts at writing the book as a collective rather than as a group of individuals we sought to co-author each chapter has been an immense task.

European Societies: Fusion or Fission? - Research Portal | Lancaster University

A brave attempt has been made and we hope that the result has at least partially overcome the many constraints. We hope we have gone some way to making transparent the theoretical frameworks and methods used in our research. In suggesting the limitations and issues these raise, we would want nonetheless to suggest that doing qualitative, theoretically based research in a cross-national context is worth the effort. All of us have learned a tremendous amount from the experience, which we recommend to others who have the time and energy needed to attempt this challenging task.

Qualitative methodology in cross-national research 27 Notes 1 The individual interview participants were chosen according to the same broad framework as the focus groups. There were two reasons for using individual interviews as well as focus groups.