Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Focus Groups vs. Textual Analysis

In reading about focus groups for this week, I've been thinking about how my intended research method – textual analysis – relates to in-person qualitative research. Textual analysis is obviously different from in-person research in that it involves analyzing written texts rather than people's speech. But as Lunt and Livingstone point out, the two are not that different. Analyzing focus group research involves making sense of written texts too, something that Lunt and Livingstone point out can be almost identical to research in humanities fields like literature (p. 94). Whether the researchers use the kind of critical analysis common to the study of literature or the method of systematically coding the transcripts for different types of content, they are engaged in what seems the same thing as textual analysis.

As a result, the only differences are those that emerge from how the text is generated – in a focus group the researcher generates the text under specific circumstances, whereas usually in textual analysis the texts already exist and are chosen by the researcher. So what concerns emerge? Lunt and Livingstone talk at length about communication – the interactions between people in the group. The group dynamics of a focus group are certainly one of its unique benefits and not something that can be replicated in textual analysis. I do think it makes sense to talk about communication in terms of texts, though. Different texts can be seen as part of the same broader discussion or discourse. They may not speak directly to each other (although sometimes they do), but they're still involved in communication. In studying texts, we do miss out on the specific interactions and direct responses of a focus group, but we can gain a broader sense of how topics are discussed.

Lunt, P. and Livingstone, S. (1996). Rethinking the focus group in media and communications research. Journal of Communication, 46(2), 79-98.

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