The judgement of taste and social position in focus group research

Silva, Elizabeth B. and Wright, David (2005). The judgement of taste and social position in focus group research. Sociologia e Ricerca Sociale, n. 76-77 pp. 241–253.


The paper addresses the relationship between the democratic potential for participation and equality in focus group research (Johnson, 1996) in relation to the investigation of patterns of distinctions of taste and social position that generate social exclusion, as revealed in the ongoing Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion (CCSE) research project . The original theory of Distinction (Bourdieu, 1984) provides the backdrop of the investigation which utilizes and develops the methodological bourdieusian approach. The deployment of focus groups is an innovative aspect of this development. In the context of this project the focus group method is a constitutive element of the investigation, in which the experience of the research process is as relevant as the data itself.
This was not an intended purpose from the outset, but rather an outcome of the practice of data generation. The paper reflects about this process by addressing the theoretical assumptions of the project, the setting up of the procedure of generating data through focus group discussions, and some crucial elements of tension between the method and the theory. In particular, the focus groups generated distinctions, as well as deliberately concealed them. There were indications of unease with the concept of culture and a reluctance and anxiety on the part of researchers and participants to bring upfront issues of social distinction, the manifestation of exclusion, and re-assertion of distinctions. The conclusion raises some important questions for a broader discussion concerning focus group methodology in relation to theoretical explorations.

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