Researching memories of The Exorcist: An introduction to grounded audience studies

Martin Smith

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This essay critically evaluates grounded theory methodology and mixed qualitative methods of data generation used in an ongoing international audience research project dealing with the forty-six-year history of The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973). The project employed an international survey, individual interviews and small focus groups to produce data on audiences' experiences with the film from its release in 1973 to the present day. It resulted in a data set constituting the recollections of around 800 individuals from the US, the UK, and other English-speaking countries, detailing encounters with The Exorcist in its many incarnations over the years in the cinema, at the drive-in and in the home. In this essay, I argue for the potential of Kathy Charmaz's (2014) constructivist grounded theory methodology in producing grounded audience studies which employ a more iterative, collaborative, open-ended process of discovery. This approach facilitates research which speaks more to audiences' everyday experiences, forgoing the quest for the verification or rejection of age-old theories and giving more power to participants. Resultant studies, with their concerns grounded in original data, may reflect better the immediate, personal circumstances affecting the reception of individual films. I discuss how grounded theory methodology shaped the direction of this research and offer a template for a grounded audience study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)844-864
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2019


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