Focus group research: A misunderstood history

Date of publication: November 5, 2003


The presentation traces the origination and development of focus groups from the methods beginning in 1941 at the hands of Robert Merton of Columbia University, New York.Attention is given to the intellectual ethos from within which focus groups emerged and how, when introduced to market research, the method lost its original logic to the extent that late in his life Merton attacked market research for abusing the method.Consideration is given to this position and warning offered that unless market research takes steps to counter weakness in the method the consequences for the market research industry as a whole could be grave. This presentation is, in a sense, offered as a lesson from history for current users of focus groups, and as a lesson about its current public/media standing, but is also offered in the hope of recognition by ESOMAR of Robert K. Merton, and his contribution to market research by the development of focus groups over half a century ago. Merton died, aged 92, at the beginning of this year.

David E. Morrison


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