Youth, Risk and Identities: Exploring the Focus Group as a Site for the Positioning of Selves and Others
Deanery of Science and Social Sciences Liverpool Hope University Liverpool, UK
In this paper I argue that the focus group constitutes a valuable method for exploring processes of positioning of selves and others which occur in talk-in-interaction. The paper draws upon current PhD. research into youth, risk and identities in which focus groups are used to generate talk about aspects of everyday life that youths aged 14-24 living in Liverpool, UK, regard as risk. While the method is more conventionally used to gather opinions of, or attitudes towards, particular topics, focus groups are posited here as social contexts in which conversations characterized by the multifarious forms of interaction and conversational strategies typifying everyday talk can be generated. Data generated via focus groups can therefore be analysed using insights from the traditions of conversation analysis and discursive psychology which illuminate how, through the dynamic processes of talk-in-interaction, individuals construct and reconstruct the social world, and position themselves and others in a range of classed, gendered and racialized identities. As such, my concern is less with expressed attitudes and opinions, and more with conversational processes and the implications of this for identity-work.
Understanding focus groups as social contexts in which identity work occurs nevertheless necessitates consideration of not only the conversational moment, but also of how conversations are informed by broader cultural factors. Developing this, I contend that individuals occupying different positions in social space experience and define the social in different ways. Using ?risk? as an example, I suggest that factors such as gender, ethnicity, age and class, inform what is defined as risk, how risk is understood, and what form responses to risk should take. As such, risk cannot be divorced from the material experiences of everyday life and the culturally-embedded interpretive repertoires individuals draw upon in defining and understanding risks. Such factors inevitably inform both content and character of conversations. Focus groups, I argue, provide an ideal method for generating data which can be analyzed according to how conversations are informed by the material and the cultural, influencing both what is discussed, the form conversational interactions take, and processes of positioning of selves and others occurring therein.