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What is participant observation in qualitative research

what is participant observation in qualitative research
In this case, the researcher is obligated to relinquish data that may identify the members in any way. For a more developed discussion of the distinction between observation and participant observation see Savage and for a discussion of participant observation as a methodology see Jorgensen This option is less desirable, as students sometimes find it difficult to find a program with which they do not have some familiarity.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

Ethnography, sometimes referred to as field work or qualitative sociology. It is a more of an approach than a single research method in that it generally combines several research methods including interviews, observation, and physical trace measures. Good ethnography truly captures a sense of the place and peoples studied.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

There are obvious trade-offs in participant observation research. The researcher is able to get an "insider" viewpoint and the information may be much more rich than that obtained through systematic observation.

It has probably already occurred to you that there are potential problems.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

Consider the two sources of error in systematic research: These difficulties are magnified in participant observation. Events are interpreted through the single observer's eyes.

Participant observation

observation, as a tool for collecting data in qualitative research studies. Aspects

The technique generally involves taking extensive notes and writing down one's impressions. Clearly one's own views can come in to play.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

This same method of study has also been applied to groups within Western society, and is especially successful in the study of sub-cultures or groups sharing a strong sense of identity, where only by taking part may the observer truly get access to the lives of those being studied.

The postmortem publication of Grenville Goodwin 's decade of work as a participant-observer with the Western Apache[4] The Social Organization of the Western Apacheestablished him as a prominent figure in the field of ethnology. Since the s, some anthropologists and other social scientists have questioned the degree to which participant observation can give veridical insight into the minds of other people.


In response to these challenges, some ethnographers have refined their methods, either making them more amenable to formal hypothesis-testing and replicability, or framing their interpretations within a more carefully considered epistemology. The development of participant-observation as a research tool has therefore not been a haphazard process, but instead has practiced a great deal of self-criticism and review.

It has as a result become specialized.

Qualitative Research Guide

The purpose of this paper is to discuss observation, particularly participant

Visual anthropology can be viewed as a subset of methods of participant-observation, as the central questions in that field have to do with how to take a camera into the field, while dealing with such issues as the observer effect. Clifford Geertz 's famous essay on how to approach the multi-faceted arena of human action from an observational point of view, in Interpretation of Cultures uses the simple example of a human wink, perceived in a cultural context far from home.

Such research involves a range of well-defined, though variable methods: Although the method is generally characterized as qualitative researchit can and often does include quantitative dimensions.

Traditional participant observation is usually undertaken over an extended period of time, ranging from several months to many years, and even generations. Observable details like daily time allotment and more hidden details like taboo behavior are more easily observed and interpreted over a longer period of time.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

A strength of observation and interaction over extended periods of time is that researchers can discover discrepancies between what participants say—and often believe—should happen the formal system and what actually does happen, or between different aspects of the formal system; in contrast, a one-time survey of people's answers to a set of questions might be quite consistent, but is less likely to show conflicts between different aspects of the social system or between conscious representations and behavior.

In participant observation, a researcher's discipline based interests and commitments shape which events he or she considers are important and relevant to the research inquiry.

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Participant observation is not simply showing up at a site and writing things down. During participant observation, the researcher works to play two separate roles at the same time: Sometimes, though not always, the group is aware that the sociologist is studying them. The goal of participant observation is to gain a deep understanding and familiarity with a certain group of individuals, their values, beliefs, and way of life.

Often the group in focus is a subculture of a greater society, like a religious, occupational, or particular community group. To conduct participant observation, the researcher often lives within the group, becomes a part of it, and lives as a group member for an extended period of time, allowing them access to the intimate details and goings on of the group and their community. There are several guides for learning how to prepare fieldnotes.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

Immersion and prolonged involvement in a setting can lead to the development of rapport and foster free and open speaking with members. Observation is an essential part of gaining an understanding of naturalistic settings and its members' ways of seeing.

what is participant observation in qualitative research

Adler, PA and Adler, P. Membership roles in field research. Handbook of Qualitative Research pp. Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology.

Doing Qualitative Research 2nd Edition. Ethnography Step by Step 2nd Edition. A Methodology for Human Studies. Ethnography Principles in Practice 2nd Edition.

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