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The Process - Focus Group and Interviews
Multimodal analyses have been criticised for the lack of attention paid to the reception of multimodal documents (cf. Holsanova 2012). Researchers often assume a particular reading path on the basis of salience and perhaps their own reading preferences, but rarely actually test these intuitions. This seems rather negligent, as it has been established that information processing is determined not only by bottom-up factors that are present in a document, but also by top-down factors, including a reader’s/viewer’s personal characteristics and context (Holsanova 2012). Reminiscent of reader-response theory, reception studies examine the relation between text/image and the (intended) recipient and aim to “show how a text works with the probable knowledge, expectations, or motives of the reader” (Scott 1994: 463).
Both theoretical and experimental analyses have been conducted to further the understanding of viewers’ and readers’ reception of documents. In a reader-response exploration of the representation of male bodies in adverts, Elliott and Elliot (2005: 5), for example, found that individual participants read and interpret stimulus materials differently. Interestingly, some of the respondents demonstrated a keen awareness of marketing ploys and “seemed to pride themselves on this fact and were quick to voice their independence and ability to resist advertisers’ ‘tricks’” (ibid: 16). Similarly, in an eye-tracking study of a newspaper spread, Holsanova et al.’s (2006) participants also engaged with the stimulus materials in various ways. Contrary to expectations based on a semiotic analysis, for example, some ‘editorial’ readers ignored the colourful, salient advert in the newspaper spread and mainly focused on the written elements.
Although eye-tracking studies may provide some exciting insight into what participants focus on in a particular document, a word of caution is in order. As Holsanova et al. (2006) have acknowledged, eye-tracking measures can only say something about the allocation of visual attention, which means that they can merely provide insight into “the order in which things are read and for how long” (Holsanova 2012: 253). However, it remains to be seen whether ‘looking at’ actually equals ‘seeing’ in the sense that readers/viewers actively engage with the element that their eyes are focused on.
In order to address the reception of the magazine data, one focus group and three (group) interviews were conducted to investigate the reception of the magazine contents and the wider context of the beauty and cosmetic surgery market (cf. Litosseliti 2003: 17). The initial plan was to interview students at a UK university as they constitute (part of) the magazines’ target audience and are generally interested in the fashion and beauty industries (cf. Elliott and Elliott 2005: 7). The conditions for participation were that the person (a) was between the ages of 18 and 40, (b) regularly read lifestyle magazines (i.e. at least three to four times a year), and (c) would be interested in discussing grooming or beauty advertising in a group setting. The participants were given a £5 Amazon voucher for their time. Providing a voucher rather than money was a conscious decision as it presented more of a ‘thank-you’ gift and, as Jackson, Stevenson & Brooks (2001: 166) found, “helped keep the situation as informal as possible”.
Within a week, I received over 20 responses from women expressing their interest in participating in the focus group. As I wanted to keep the focus group small so that everyone would have the opportunity to contribute, I randomly selected eight of the women and invited them to join the group. In the end, six out of the eight women who had agreed to take part showed up on the day and participated in the focus group (see Table 3.7 for details of women’s focus group participants).
As will become clear in the analysis of this focus group, the fact that the participants were self-selected may have had an impact on the discussion as most of the women chose to participate because of ideological reasons (cf. Morgan 1998: 57-58). Reminiscent of Gibbs (1997), the female focus group participants appeared to enjoy the empowering aspect of the discussion and hoped they could make a difference by their participation. Perhaps related to this, four out of the six women agreed to be fully identifiable (in contrast to only one of the men); however, following the Social Research Association’s Ethical Guidelines (December 2003), I nevertheless decided to anonymise both the female and male participants, although I believe the women’s willingness to disclose their identity is relevant in itself7.
In contrast to the easy recruitment for the female focus group, men - perhaps unsurprisingly - proved a lot harder to persuade to participate in a focus group on beauty and grooming. After several attempts at recruitment, I decided to widen the call for participants to include men who do not regularly read lifestyle magazines. Moreover, I abandoned the idea of organising one focus group - instead, I coordinated one group interview (consisting of two participants) and two individual interviews (see Table 3.8 for male interview participants). Furthermore, whereas all the female participants were unknown to me, three out of four male participants I either knew personally or were friends of friends (recruited
Table 3.7 Participant data women’s focus group
•Participants were not provided with predetermined options for ethnicity; rather, they used their own terms to describe their ethnicity.
through the snowballing procedure; cf. Hermes 1995). This acquaintanceship with most of the male participants influenced the dynamics of the interviews; as Thompson and Hirschman (1995: 140) found, familiarity may greatly aid the “natural flow of conversation”. This may relate to how friends and friendship groups “tend to be more relaxed [and] are perhaps less reticent in voicing their opinions” (Jackson et al. 2001: 167). However, a focus group or interview with people known to the researcher does have the disadvantage that certain things remain unsaid, especially taken for granted assumptions (Morgan 1998: 68). Moreover, as Franz (2011: 1381) has noted, “familiarity can inhibit disclosure” - an example of this can be found in Chapter 8 on Masculinities.
As previous literature suggested that gay men would be more interested in grooming practices, I included both hetero- and gay men for my (group) interviews (see Table 3.8).
Procedure Focus Group and Interviews
As all of the women in the focus group responded to the call for participants, I started the focus group by asking the participants to introduce themselves and to say a few words on why they decided to participate in the focus group. Following these introductions, the conversation shifted to advertising for cosmetic procedures and, to a lesser extent, the wider cosmetics market for women (and men). To aid this discussion I presented the female participants with various stimulus materials, which were all taken from either the broad or core corpus. The focus group - like the (group) interviews with the men - was semi-structured in nature and included various fixed elements but “left space for study participants to offer new meanings to the topic of study” (Galletta 2013: 2). At the end of the focus group, in line with focus group guidelines, the participants were presented with the opportunity to highlight anything that had not been discussed which they felt needed to be examined (cf. Krueger and Casey 2001).
Table 3.8 Participant data men’s (group) interviews
Considering that only one of the male participants - Daniel - was unknown to me, it would have felt artificial to start all of the interviews with the men by asking them to introduce themselves. Rather, the interview openers were all slightly different and depended on how (well) I knew the participants. However, I did ask all of the male participants at the start of the interview what grooming/beauty products they used and how they viewed the male grooming market. The overall topic of the (group) interviews with the men was slightly different from what was discussed in the female focus group. In contrast to the women’s magazine data, the men’s magazine data included features on beauty and grooming, which needed to be reflected in the interviews. For this reason, then, the stimulus materials I presented to the men included both adverts for cosmetic procedures and advertising for (other) beauty products/services. The men’s engagement with the stimulus materials proved particularly interesting and aimed to understand how men engage with the magazine content included in my corpus. Towards the end of the (group) interviews, as with the female focus group, I provided the participants with the opportunity to consider whether we had missed anything that they deemed important or that they felt was missing from the overall discussion.
After conducting the interviews and focus group, I created broad transcriptions for analysis as I was mostly interested in what was said, rather than how it was said (cf. Braun and Clarke 2006). Nevertheless, the transcriptions not only included a “word-for-word replicas of the words spoken in the interviews”, but also incorporated aspects of speech relevant to the interpretation of what was said, such as notable pauses, overlaps or interruptions (Hennink, Hutter and Bailey 2011: 200). Following the transcribing process, a thematic analysis of the focus group and interview data was conducted. Some of these themes were the result of the analysis of the magazine data in NVivo, but themes also emerged as I was reading (and rereading) the transcriptions (cf. Rice and Ezzy 1999; Boyatzis 1998; and Guest, MacQueen and Namey 2012).