CSC: "A Desperation to Be Heard": Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation

Thursday, November 16, 2017 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM
Johnson Center, Meeting Room D

Please join us for the last CSC of the semester. Liza Featherstone, journalism professor at NYU and Columbia’s School of International Public Affairs will give a talk titled "A Desperation to Be Heard: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation."

Over the course of the last century, few areas of life, from salad dressing to health care legislation to our favorite TV shows, were left untouched by the focus group. Liza Featherstone, author of Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation (O/R Books), the first-ever popular survey of this rich topic, will discuss some of her research with the colloquium, including the surprising roots of the focus group in early-twentieth century European socialism, its subsequent use by the midcentury “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue, and its widespread impact on our lives today. As elites have become increasingly detached from the general public, they rely ever more on focus groups, whether to win votes or to sell products. And, in a society where many feel increasingly powerless, the focus group has offered at least the illusion that ordinary people will be listened to and that their opinions count. Yet, it seems the more we are consulted, the less power we have. That paradox is particularly stark today, when everyone can post an opinion on social media—our 24 hour “focus group”—yet only plutocrats can shape policy.

Liza Featherstone is a journalist and journalism professor at NYU and Columbia's School of International Public Affairs. She is a contributing writer to The Nation magazine. She is the co-author of Students Against Sweatshops: The Making of a Movement (Verso, 2002) and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker’s Rights at Wal-Mart (Basic, 2004). She is the editor of False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton (Verso, 2016).

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