Saturday, April 27, 2013

Focus Groups: Research Design, Limitations and Potential.

Robert K. Merton
The focus group has been employed extensively in market research since the late 1940s, from the 1990s it has been increasingly readopted in social science research as an important qualitative research method (Wilkinson, 1998).  Hyden and Bulow (2003, p. 306), in a database search of ‘Psychinfo’,  found nine hundred articles using the keyword ‘focus group’ and almost a third of the articles were published after 1998 indicating a rapid growth of research utilizing the method.  The increased use of focus groups has been accompanied by the elaboration of methodological concerns unique to focus groups and the proliferation of focus group designs based on the research objective of a specific project.   Focus groups are a qualitative research method, and therefore subject to methodological issues that affect qualitative methodologies in general, however focus groups entail further issues of project level design, group level design and unit of analysis not encountered by other research methods (Morgan, 1996; Hyden and Bulow, 2003).  The limitations of focus group research has been both derided,  on the basis that the data obtained has little external validity or reproduces normative discourses, and valorised for providing new insight into social interaction and opinion formation amongst groups of individuals, thus redefining apparent methodological limitations as potential strengths   (Folch-Lyon and Trost, 1981; Smithson, 2000).  Discussion of focus group methods benefits from defining its relation to qualitative methodology more broadly, and qualitative methodology counterpoised with quantitative methodology to highlight points of contradistinction that inform focus groups alongside other qualitative methods.   Once this has been outlined, the distinctive features of focus groups can be more adequately dealt with and the questions of project-level design, group-level design and unit of analysis can be evaluated for its impact on data collection through to data analysis.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mere Atheism; Or, You Can’t Justify Your Teapot.

There is a scene in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 where the Chaplin is being interrogated about the theft of Major Major’s correspondence and is asked by a C.I.D. officer about his religious persuasion.  The Chaplin declares himself an Anabaptist, which the officer finds a little suspicious: “Chaplin, I once studied Latin.  I think it’s only fair to warn you of that before I ask my next question. Doesn’t the word Anabaptist simply mean that you’re not a Baptist?”

The Chaplin protests, but the officer pushes the point “are you a Baptist?”, “no sir”, “than you are not a Baptist, aren’t you?” Defined by an absence of belief, the C.I.D. officer credits the Chaplin with certain malicious actions against the war effort.  Atheists often find themselves in a similar situation to the Chaplin, defined by an absence of belief. Theists and religious apologists infer ex nihlo that atheists hold a series of positive beliefs that have no necessary connection to the position of atheism, often the notion that “something came from nothing” or that in the absence of god “anything is permissible”. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Karen Armstrong on Women and Islam.

Karen Armstrong, in Islam: A Short History, summaries the condition of women within early Islam and the quranic prescriptions on gender relations:  
“The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were accorded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death.  Muslims at that time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny.  The Quran makes men and women partners before god, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treated them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle.  They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion, though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.” (p, 14.)