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date: 24 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay is both historical and conceptual, first highlighting the origins, tensions, and continuities/discontinuities of focus group research, then arguing for how such research embodies three primary, related functions: inquiry, pedagogy, and political. The quasi-unique potentials or affordances of focus group work are explored, including mitigating the researcher’s authority; disclosing the constitutive power of discourse; approximating the natural; filling in knowledge gaps and saturating understanding; drawing out complexity, nuance, and contradiction; disclosing eclipsed connections; and creating opportunities for political activism. Contemporary threats to focus group work are described, and new research frontiers are proposed, especially in relation to new information technologies. The essay integrates historical, conceptual, and practical perspectives to fully explain the potentials of focus group research, with the goal of advancing a set of understandings about focus group work that attends to its relatively unique potentials for conducting qualitative inquiry across a wide range of topics and disciplinary contexts.

Keywords: dialogic interviewing, collective conversations, communitarian ethics, researcher positioning, focus group functions, focus groups, praxis-oriented research, innovative research practices, virtual worlds

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