The critical value of focus group discussions in research with women living with HIV in Malawi

Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, Patricia E. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


This article is based on a critical ethnography about HIV and gender-based issues of power and violence conducted in Malawi in 2008. In all, 72 women living with HIV were recruited from four antiretroviral treatment clinics, three rural and one urban, to participate in 12 focus groups. Informed by a postcolonial feminist perspective, we analyze the process and products of these focus groups to interrogate their capacity to facilitate collective engagement with the social and structural realities confronting women in a resource-limited, highly AIDS-affected country. We present exemplars to show how women together created collective narratives to mobilize individuals to action. Findings indicate that focus groups can be used innovatively to benefit both the research and the participants, not only as a critical method of inquiry with marginalized groups but also as a forum in which validating dialogue, mutual support, and exchange of strategic information can generate transformative change to improve womens lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)684-696
Number of pages13
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Africa
  • Against women
  • Critical method
  • Ethnography
  • Feminism
  • Focus groups
  • Gender
  • Marginalized populations
  • Postcolonial theory
  • Poverty
  • Power
  • Violence
  • Womens health


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