Participant observation is where the researcher takes part in the event that they are observing or the everyday life of the group whilst observing it. There are two different types of participant observation. Firstly, overt observation is when the researcher firstly makes all the participants aware that they are being studied and makes sure they give their permission before the observation takes place. This makes their research ethically sound, however observer effect can occur which is where people behave differently because they are being observed, giving unreliable results. The other type of participant observation is covert studies. This means participants do not know they are being watched. This means they are more likely to behave like they normally would, giving valid results, however raises ethical concerns such as the right to withdraw and deception. This essay will look at the strengths and limitations of participant observation for the study of labelling in schools.
Firstly, strength of participant observation is that results are usually valid. Rather than getting a participant to fill out a questionnaire when there is no real way of telling if they are giving accurate answers, participant observation can however provide high amounts of qualitative data and the researcher can put his findings into great detail. By observing ethnic minorities and teacher/student interaction towards them, the sociologist can gain understanding of their viewpoints and actions. Studies that take place in a natural setting e.g. a classroom raise validity as the students are more likely to behave in their normal manner, rather than if they were taken into a lab, they may react and treat ethnic minorities differently to conform to social accepted views. Validity is a major strength of participant observation as if results are true to life, they can be generalised and used objectively.
Another strength of participant observation is Insight. Sociologists refer to this as...
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