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Focus Groups: Examples in Anthropology

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Anthropologists use many different types of research methods, and one of those is focus groups. In the last post, I discussed the uses of focus groups in general. In this post, I will be discussing some examples of the uses of focus groups in Anthropology specifically. Trigger warning: this post mentions racism, sexual abuse, and poverty.

There are many examples of research using focus groups published in Anthropology journals. I’m just going to describe three of them so you can see the range of uses.


focus groups example Anthropology. Image of 4 arms with different skin colors.

Study #1: How Youth Talk About Race

The first study is called, “Flipping the Script: Analyzing Youth Talk About Race and Racism.” It was published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly in 2008.

What the study was about

In this study, researchers were interested in how youth talk about race. So they decided to study urban youth in a New York City high school that was composed of mostly minority students. These students were being taught a section on race.

What methods were used

This study used focus groups with students, along with classroom observations and interviews with teachers, to try to understand how students talk about race.

What was learned

These students talked about racial experiences that they had, such as being pushed out of certain parts of the city. Some said they learned enough about slavery and Martin Luther King, but not enough about what is going on today. Also, they wanted to learn more about the contributions of other people of color.


focus groups examples Anthropology. Image of a woman soldier giving a toy to a young child.

Study #2: Women Veterans and Homelessness

The second study is called, “Gendered Social Roots of Homelessness Among Women Veterans.” It was published in the Annals of Anthropological Practice in 2014.

What the study was about

In this study, researchers were interested in women veterans and homelessness. Hardly any research has been done on how women become homeless, so these researchers wanted to find out more. So they decided to study homeless women veterans and find out why they became homeless.

What methods were used

Researchers conducted focus groups with women veterans who were homeless. The women discussed why they entered the military, their experiences while in the military, and why they became homeless.

What was learned

The women talked about joining the military for a few different reasons. Some wanted to be a part of something or have a career. But some joined the military because they wanted to escape violence and abuse in their lives.

The women also talked about their experiences in the military. Many of them experienced feeling unwanted by the other (male) troop members. Several experienced sexual harassment and rape. Many women said that their experiences of MST (Military Sexual Trauma) were related to their homelessness.


focus groups examples anthropology. Image of a mother's hands holding her baby's feet.

Study #3: The WIC Program

The third study is called, “A Social Marketing Approach to Increasing Enrollment in a Public Health Program: A Case Study of the Texas WIC Program.” It was published in Human Organization in 2001.

What the study was about

In this study, researchers were interested in participation in the WIC program in the United States. WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children. The program offers checks for free food and baby formula, along with nutritional education and medical referrals for poor families. Lots of research had shown that the WIC program had a positive effect on these families, but many families who were eligible were not participating. So, Anthropologists were hired to find out why.

What methods were used

This study used surveys, focus groups, telephone interviews, and participant observation. Anthropologists observed the whole WIC process, from the waiting area and registration and check-in procedures to the assessments and nutrition education activities. They even observed the process used to redeem food vouchers in stores.

What was learned

The research showed that there was some misunderstanding surrounding the WIC program. For example, many people assumed they weren’t eligible, but they really were. As another example, people didn’t realize the extent of the free food– it was given while pregnant, and after birth until the child was 5 years old. In response, the research findings were used to create a social marketing plan to encourage more people to sign up for the program.


Learn More

So, as you can see from the three examples discussed here, focus groups are used in a variety of research projects in Anthropology. If you want to learn more about focus groups, take Anthropology 4U’s online Udemy course, “Exploring Focus Groups in Anthropology Research.”

Thanks for reading!