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Focus Groups & Identity Work: . How young people position selves and others in discussing everyday risks. PhD. Youth, Risk and Identity. Explores the material & discursive aspects of risks in the context of young people’s everyday lives; Considers how these relate to social position –

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Focus groups identity work

Focus Groups & Identity Work:

How young people position selves and others in discussing everyday risks

Dave Merryweather - ESRC 2012

Phd youth risk and identity

PhD. Youth, Risk and Identity

  • Explores the material & discursive aspects of risks in the context of young people’s everyday lives;

  • Considers how these relate to social position –

  • Class & neighbourhood,

  • Gender,

  • Ethnicity,

  • Age;

  • How social position informs understandings & practices of risk;

  • How understandings & practices of risk inform identity positioning and contribute to the production and maintaining of social distinctions.



  • 96 x 14-24 year-olds in 16 Focus Groups;

  • Groups constructed according to similarities in age, gender, ethnicity and class;

  • Open-ended biographical approach used to explore everyday risks;

  • Risk narratives analysed using Discourse Analysis drawing on insights from positioning theory and discursive psychology.

Why use focus groups

Why Use Focus Groups?

  • Focus groups ...

  • “draw on people’s normal, everyday experiences of talking and arguing with families, friends, and colleagues about events and issues in their everyday lives …” (Wilkinson, 2004:275)

  • Use “Everyday forms of communication such as anecdotes, jokes or loose word association [which] may tell us as much, if notmore, about what people ‘know’ …” (Kitzinger, 1994:109)

Focus groups

Focus Groups

  • Accessed shared material experiences and understandings of risk produced by the habitus at intersections of class, gender, ethnicity and age;

  • Tapped into the processes through which selves and others are positioned in various identity positions and social distinctions produced and maintained as they talk about everyday risks.

Focused talk risk and gender

Focused Talk: Risk and Gender.

  • FG 4: 17 year-old, white, middle-class women: ‘Something could have happened to


Focus groups identity work

Zoe: There’s parties every week…

Hannah: … parties, there’s parties all the time ...

Rebecca:I don’t, I don’t know about anyone else but when I go

to town I’m never really drunk. In town I’ll drink but I’m

never really drunk. But at parties I’ll drink a lot more

cos I know I’m in someone’s house or y’know like in

like a hall or something [1] I don’t know I just feel

safer rather than walking around town cos we’ve been

in town once haven’t we and some fella’s just got

punched for nothing, it’s scary …

Becky: ... Like I’ve read stories of people, like if you just

accidentally bump into someone and they just

randomly start…

Leah: … But when you’re in town you don’t realise, like I just

got dead upset once and just walked through town, like

from one side of town to the other on me own …

Focus groups identity work

Rebecca: … and left me running after you on me own …

Leah: ... and then when you go home and think about it you

realise that anything could have happened at the

same time, but when you’re there you don’t, its not on

your mind…

Hannah: … You don’t think anything.

Leah: No

Mod: And when you have those experiences does it make

you think twice the next time or …

Leah: … Yeah like I wouldn’t do that again cos even five

minutes later I stopped and thought well like I could’ve

just died then or something

Focus groups identity work

Mod: What happened then, what was the situation?

Rebecca: We was in a party and she got angry or upset about

something …

Leah: … and then tried to go and find someone who was on

the other end of town and I was waiting for people to

go with me and then just got dead angry and went on

me own ...

Rebecca: … I was, I was going to come with you wasn’t I and

went ‘look after my bag while I go and get Amy’ and

then some lad was standing there with me bag and I

was like ‘where’s she gone’ and she was like right

down the other end of town, just walking around town

Mod: So you had to go chasing after Leah trying to find …

Rebecca: …Yeah, I found you with Claire didn’t I just sitting in

the middle of town ...

Focus groups identity work

Leah: ...Yeah

Mod: And how did you feel about that?

Rebecca: [laughs]just got hold of her…

Leah: …Yeah, cos like something could have happened to

her then like she was coming to find me…

Rebecca: ... I weren’t bothered about me though just the fact

you were gone and I didn’t know where you’d gone.

Focus groups identity work

  • Focus Group 9: 17-18 year-old white, middle-class, males: ‘I drank a bottle of vodka.’

Focus groups identity work

Sam: He was binge-drinking in a house party and then at

the end he had to walk home on his own in the night.

Mod: So go on [to Liam] tell us a bit more about – I mean

there’s two there isn’t there? Two involved there.

Liam: Well me mate lives in the next street from me so it

wasn’t really …

Mod: And, and what were your binge drinking exploits?

Liam: … erm, a bottle of Vodka …

Mark:… as if you did!

Liam:I did!

Mark:A whole bottle? How big was the bottle? How big

was the bottle?

Jon: … You weren’t there!

Liam:… It was only a little one.

Mark: Alright then

Focus groups identity work

Mod: Right so half litre was it?

Liam: … it’s about a third of a litre …

Mark: … you’d need your stomach pumped if you drank a

big one …

Several: [inaudible]

Mark: You would!

Liam:… I’ve been in a house and like me brother’s, me

brother’s mate’s drunk like a whole, a whole big one

– each!

Mod: A whole what?


Liam:… like a regular size one like that in a night – they

can drink like a whole bottle of vodka in a night and

not get a stomach pump …

Jon: Yeah I do that…

Focus groups identity work

Mod: … So you are saying here that you, what you have

drunk a whole bottle or…

Liam: … no, I’ve seen people do it in a night drink, y’know like a

big bottle of vodka not like …

Several: [excitable speech - inaudible]

Mark:… you’d need, you’d need your stomach pumping or

something …

Several: [inaudible – laugh]

Mod: [inaudible] that’s what it was, yeah. S:o you’ve seen

people drinking…

Liam: … I’ve seen people do it, yeah!

Mod: Mark, you’re totally disbelieving that anyone could drink

a bottle of vodka?

Anon: … he’s a witness, he’s a witness …

Liam: … [to Mark] you’re smaller, you’re smaller so you can’t

take – like hold your ale or …

Conclusions focus groups

Conclusions: Focus Groups ...

  • Access young people’s material experiences of risk;

  • Access the ‘socially embedded and culturally meaningful discourses’ (Mitchell, Bunton and Green, 2004) through which risks and social position are understood;

  • Reveal the conversational interactions through which individuals position selves and others, and produce and maintain social distinctions.

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