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Soc Sci Med. 2002 Oct;55(8):1471-83.

'Could you please pass one of those health leaflets along?': exploring health, morality and resistance through focus groups.

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  • 1Turner Dental School, University of Manchester, Higher Cambridge Street, Manchester, Lancs M15 6FH, UK.


This paper derives from research in which focus groups were used as a preliminary method of eliciting peoples' perceptions, attitudes and opinions towards health and health promotion in a Northern British city. However, applying criticisms associated with social constructionist theories (e.g. discourse analysis and rhetorical analysis), some recently emerging work on focus groups (see The challenge and promise of focus groups, in: Barbour, Kitzinger (Eds.), Developing Focus Group Research: Politics, Theory and Practice, Sage, London, 1999, p. 1; Focus Groups in Social Research, Sage, London, 2001) has suggested that their traditional use, as a kind of 'window' onto peoples' attitudes and opinions, misses important dimensions of the way in which these phenomena are actively negotiated and constructed during the course of the focus group. Working on the premise that these observations are particularly pertinent to health issues, this paper draws on data from one focus group in order to provide a detailed working example of the way in which attitudes and opinions towards health issues are actively constructed during the course of interaction. In addition, in accordance with social constructionist theories, attention will be paid to the way in which such construction is inextricably linked to social and moral actions such as the negotiation of blame and allocation of responsibility. Through an analysis of six extracts, the paper ultimately identifies three 'positions' or 'stances', which develop over the course of the focus group, often in opposition to one another. These are: (1) 'positive mental attitude'; (2) 'genes and luck'; and (3) 'resistance'. Each of these positions becomes associated, not only with certain moral values, but also 'attached' to certain people within the group. One of the main aims of this analysis is to illustrate how, through the everyday nature of such debates, health remains an intrinsically moral phenomenon.

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