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Displaying opinions: Topics and disagreement in focus groups

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2012

Greg Myers
Department of Linguistics and Modern English Language, Lancaster University, Lancaster LAI 4YT,
E-mail address:


Focus group discussions are now widely used for gathering data, in social science as well as in commercial marketing and public opinion research. One appeal of focus groups is that in some ways they seem like everyday talk, but their effectiveness depends on a tension between the moderator's constraints and participants' interaction. The moderator introduces and defines topics, but participants can shift, close, and interpret them. The moderator elicits disagreement in a way specific to focus groups, but participants manage their disagreement. Thus we see not simple control by the moderator, but a complex collaborative project operating under the shared assumption that the purpose of the discussion is to display opinions to the moderator. These findings extend the analysis of conversation in institutional settings and contribute to a methodological critique of the reification of attitudes and opinions in some social science research. (Focus group techniques, conversation, discourse analysis, interaction, agreement, topic, laughter, environment.)

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998

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