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Keywords:

  • focus group interviews;
  • Heidegger;
  • hermeneutics;
  • Husserl;
  • phenomenology

Abstract

Title. The phenomenological focus group: an oxymoron?.

Aim.  In this paper we explore the congruence of focus group interviews within a phenomenological framework.

Background.  Focus groups as a research method are popular in nursing. Similarly, phenomenology is a dominant methodology for nurse researchers globally. A number of nurse researchers have combined focus groups and phenomenology, but there are others who argue that they are incompatible.

Discussion.  The argument against using focus groups in phenomenological research is that phenomenology seeks essential characteristics or ‘essences’ of phenomena in a manner that requires an individual to describe their experiences in an ‘uncontaminated’ way. We recognize that traditionally most phenomenological interviews are conducted with only one interviewer and one respondent, but we question whether this needs to continue. We suggest means by which individual lived experience can be preserved within a group context. We draw on our own experience and the phenomenological literature to argue that focus groups are congruent with phenomenological research and extend this argument further by proposing that group interviews in phenomenology are actually beneficial because they stimulate discussion and open up new perspectives. Our observation is that some researchers who combine focus groups and phenomenology appear to do so uncritically and we argue that this is unacceptable.

Conclusions.  It is important for nurse researchers to develop critical awareness of the research methodologies and methods they employ. We argue that the phenomenological focus group is not an oxymoron. Rather, the use of focus groups can provide a greater understanding of the phenomenon under study.