European Journal of Information Systems

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 378–394

Focus groups and critical social IS research: how the choice of method can promote emancipation of respondents and researchers

  • Bernd Carsten Stahl
  • Monica Chiarini Tremblay
  • Cynthia M LeRouge
Original Article


Critical social research in information systems has been gaining prominence for some time and is increasingly viewed as a valid research approach. One problem with the critical tradition is a lack of empirical research. A contributing factor to this gap in the literature is the lack of agreement on what constitutes appropriate methodologies for critical research. The present paper contributes to this debate by exploring the role that focus group research can play in the critical approach. This paper outlines the main characteristics of critical research with an emphasis on its emancipatory faculties. It then reviews the focus group method from the perspective of critical approach and provides a critical account of two research projects that used focus groups as a method of data collection. The paper presents the argument that focus groups, if designed and executed in light of a critical approach, can contribute to the emancipation of researchers and respondents. This argument is built upon the critical theories of the two most influential theorists in critical social information systems research, namely Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault. Critically oriented focus groups have the potential to improve communication and move real discourses closer to Habermas's ideal speech situation. At the same time, they can contribute to challenging the prevailing orthodoxy and thereby overcome established regimes of truth in the Foucauldian tradition. The paper ends by developing a set of guiding questions that provide a means for researchers to ensure that the emancipatory potential of focus group research can be achieved.


critical social research focus groups research methodology information systems 


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Copyright information

© Operational Research Society 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernd Carsten Stahl
    • 1
  • Monica Chiarini Tremblay
    • 2
  • Cynthia M LeRouge
    • 3
  1. 1.Information Management, De Montfort University, The GatewayLeicesterU.K.
  2. 2.Decision Sciences and Information Systems, Florida International UniversityMiamiU.S.A.
  3. 3.Decision Sciences/Information Technology Management, Saint Louis UniversitySaint LouisU.S.A.

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