Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 11.3. Focus groups

11.3 Focus groups

The purpose of using focus groups was to create an atmosphere where the participants could speak freely with each other; my function was ideally more like that of a chairman presiding over a meeting. In addition to the role of chairman, I had an active role as interviewer in the groups. My role as an active interviewer was modelled on a study by Holstein and Gubrium (1995). In their study, the interview situation is characterized by the fact that the participants and the researcher cooperate by co-constructive story-telling and searching for meaning. This implies a social-constructivist perspective on research; it postulates that meaning itself is also a social construction. This perspective is described by Berger and Luckmann in their classical book The social construction of reality (1966/1991). Knowledge itself is a product of interaction with other people. The researcher is not a passive observer, but an active discussion partner who creates meaning through story-telling together with the participants.

The meeting in each group started with a conversation around one or more of the situations used in a test of self-conscious affect (TOSCA-3) developed by Tangney and Dearing (2002). This is a test that measures proneness to shame, guilt, detachment, externalization and two forms of pride. Using the situations described in this test was a way of “getting started”; the group needed something concrete to discuss at the beginning of each meeting. After a period of “warming up” with TOSCA-3, the conversation was directed on to the topic of shame.

All the interviews were recorded on digital video, transferred to a laptop, transcribed in a Word document, and analysed using QSR NVivo7 (NVivo), a qualitative data analysis program (Gibbs 2002). The 26 hours of conversations were transcribed into 633 pages and stored in NVivo for further analysis.

I have chosen to conduct an empirical study on the concept of shame and phenomenon within the context of sexual abuse. Having conversations about sexual abuse is a sensitive task. Not only is the topic sensitive, but those who have been abused are also vulnerable. Conversations about the topic take place on a daily basis in the Norwegian Incest Centres. I have worked closely with one of these Incest Centre’s, the Incest Centre in Vestfold (which has given their consent to have their name used in this study), since the Centre started in July 1988. The Incest Centre of Vestfold has kept track of all activity since it started up in 1988. The statistics from their annual rapport for 2005, show that they have had a total of 180 228 telephone conversations concerning sexual abuse and 23 203 face to face conversations at the Center, from July 1988 to January 2006 (Annual report for the Incest Centre of Vestfold 2005). The Incest Centre of Vestfold is just one of 19 such Centers in Norway which I have cooperated with in this exploration (appendix 18) and which gives help to the sexually abused. One of the participants in my study is Linda, a woman who has worked at the Centre since it started in 1988 and I asked her:

Kaare:                         How many conversations have you had since you started here?
Linda:                         (.) Over 6000
Kaare:                         In all of these conversations, how often are shame and guilt present?
Linda:                         In all of them. They’re in all of them. I can’t recall having a single conversation that hasn’t been characterized by guilt and shame. They are central ((scratches her head)) to the whole issue. They’re, ((Coughs)) in a way, in the background of all the problems they have. Guilt and shame are always there.

Shame seems to be present in all of the conversations she has had and she concludes that this emotion is central to the whole issue of sexual abuse. The aim of my study has been to interview men and women who have stories to tell about shame. I have not been concerned with defining the concept of shame, but with stories of shame, histories that have been experienced by themselves or others: stories that can help cast light upon the concept of shame, and contribute to a better understanding of the concept.

After videotaping twenty hours of focus group interviews and six hours of in-depth interviews, all the recordings were transcribed. The transcription was then given back to the participants for validation and approval. 633 pages of interviews were thereafter transferred to the computer program NVivo (Gibbs 2004), a program developed for qualitative data analysis. The text was then coded[1] down to 71 nodes[2] (appendix 22) and these were again linked together to form seven node trees[3]. These seven node trees represent the same seven categories which I use in my dissertation to cast light over the meaning of shame as established by my participants (appendix 4). These seven categories are shame within the context of: the family, emotions, body, food, self image, sex and therapy.

[1] Coding is the action of identifying a passage of text in a document that exemplifies some idea or concept and then connecting it to a node that represents that idea or concept (Gibbs, 2002: 240).
[2] A node in NVivo means an object that represents an idea, theory, dimension, characteristic etc. of the data. Text in documents can be coded at a node. Nodes can be linked to other nodes either directly or by position in a node tree and linked to documents (Gibbs, 2002: 243).
[3] A node tree in NVivo is the arrangement of nodes in a hierarchy, also known as a node hierarchy. At the top are one or more root” or top” nodes and arranged below them each may have one or more child nodes (all the nodes connected to and below a specified node), which in turn may have their own child nodes etc. (Gibbs 2002: 243)

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