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Research Methods in Anthropology: Focus Groups

6 people sitting around a round table
This post is about research methods in Anthropology, specifically focus groups. When people think of Anthropology, many envision a researcher visiting a remote village and learning the culture by living among the people. This is participant observation and is probably the most well-known research method in Anthropology. But Anthropologists often use a mixture of research methods when conducting their research, and this can include focus groups!

What is a Focus Group?

But what exactly is a focus group? A focus group is when a group of people is asked to have a discussion about a specific topic for about an hour or two. In most focus groups, the people don’t know each other, but they all have some sort of experience with the topic discussed. Since the group discussion is focused on a certain topic, they are called focus groups.
The group discussion is led by a person called a moderator or facilitator. This person asks open-ended questions that the group then discusses. This discussion produces qualitative data about the topic, which then can be analyzed by the researcher.
Anthropology focus groups. Image of a long brown table with black chairs around it and a large window overlooking the city.


Examples of Focus Groups

Here are some examples of focus groups:
  • A group of 8 single young men in their 20s sitting around a table discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a certain dating app, under the guidance of a moderator
  • A group of 10 married women in their 30s sitting around a table discussing birth control options, under the guidance of a moderator
  • A group of 6 patients at a new health clinic sitting around a table discussing what they like and don’t like about the clinic, under the guidance of a moderator
The point of a focus group is not to get everyone to agree on the topic, but to explore all the possible different opinions and experiences. Usually, multiple focus groups are held with different people, so that the researcher can be more confident in the results.

History of Focus Groups

The origin of focus groups began in the 1940s during the war. Groups of people were asked to respond to radio programs that had been created to improve morale during the war. Then marketing researchers started using the method to test advertisements. Focus groups were also used in politics, to explore voter preferences. Now, all sorts of social scientists use focus groups for different purposes!

Want to Learn More?

Want to learn more about focus groups in Anthropological research? Just take my newest Udemy course, “Exploring Focus Groups in Anthropology Research.”
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