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date: 04 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Real groups constitute themselves as representatives of social structures, that is, of communicative processes in which it is possible to identify patterns and a certain model of communication. This model is not random or incipient, rather it documents collective experiences as well as the social characteristics of these groups, their representations of class, social environment, and generational belonging. In the context of qualitative research methods in the fields of social sciences and education, group discussions gained prominence mainly from research conducted with children and young people. As a research method, they constitute an important tool in the reconstruction of milieux and collective orientations that guide the actions of the subjects in the spaces in which they live.

This article begins with some considerations about group interviews, highlighting the Anglo-Saxon model of focus groups, the Spanish tradition of group discussions from the School of Qualitative Critics in Madrid, and group discussions conceived in the 1950s at the Frankfurt School in Germany. Next, the theoretical-methodological basis of group discussions and the documentary method developed in Germany in the 1980s by Ralf Bohnsack are presented. Both procedures are anchored mainly in Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, but also in Pierre Bourdieu’s ethnography and sociology of culture. Finally, from the results of three research projects in education carried out in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil, the potential of this research and approach to data analysis is assessed. Based on the principle of abduction, the documentary method inspires the creation of analytical instruments rooted in praxis and that can delineate educational experiences in different contexts.

Keywords: group discussion, documentary method, reconstructive research methods, qualitative data analysis, sociology of knowledge, Karl Mannheim

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