Technologising the opinion: focus groups, performance and free speech



Focus groups, like interviews and survey research, are typically employed in liberal settings, and are often designed to reveal the ‘opinion’ of participants. However, as I argue here, the ‘opinion’ is itself a technology of government, which cannot be assumed to operate the same under different regimes of governmentality. Giving the example of my experience with focus group research in Kazakhstan in autumn 2010, I demonstrate how, in many places around the world, popular ‘opinions’ are not technologised under prevailing regimes of government: they are not the basis of rule and/or legitimacy. Extending the geographic literature on methodological research as a set of ‘collaborative performances’, I argue that differential subjectivity practices in ‘closed contexts’ have important implications for the field methods that researchers choose to employ. I thus call for attention not just to the micro-political context of these research practices, but also to the macro-political context (and its concomitant technologies of government) in the conduct of qualitative field research.