Participant Observation

Topics: Observation / Pages: 7 (1643 words) / Published: Nov 14th, 2015
ANT 2410: Participant Observation Exercise in Turlington Plaza Going into this project my partner, Connor O’Brien, and I were both determined to observe students as they move through campus. We felt that this would be a beneficial thing to observe as it would provide us with a wide spectrum of students to observe. It would also give some insight into how students move across campus. After considering multiple possible locations, my partner and I decided that the best place on campus for our observations was Turlington Plaza. Turlington serves as a central hub for students as they make their way through campus, which makes it ideal for observing a wide range of personal behaviors and interactions. Due to the centrality of the plaza and the …show more content…
I chose to primarily focus on the students, rather than the advertisers because I felt that the advertisers were only there as a result of the student traffic through the area. This made them interesting, but secondary characters in the plaza. The primary technique that I used in order to observe the behaviors of the students was to passively observe the surroundings and interactions. This technique involved simply walking among the crowds as they moved through on their way to class or the busses. This technique allowed me to closely examine the mannerisms displayed by the students towards each other and their surroundings. The inspiration for this passive approach to observation comes from Sterk’s work on prostitution. Sterk summarizes the value of this tool in her research by saying:
As I began visiting various locales, I continued to learn about new settings. In one sense I was developing ethnographic maps of street prostitution. I also was able to expand these maps by adding information about the general atmosphere on the stroll, general characteristics of the various people present, the ways in which the women and customers connected, and the overall flow of action. (Sterk, p
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To my surprise my partner came to a very different conclusion as to the major contributors to the atmosphere in Turlington Plaza. According to him the major participants in the plaza were the advertisers themselves, whom I had relegated to a far more minor role. He viewed the plaza as less of a thoroughfare for students and more as a marketplace for the advertisers. His argument for this was that while there were far more students than advertisers, the advertisers were a more permanent element to the plaza since they remained after the students moved on, which in his opinion made them a more important factor in the plaza. While his argument about the permanence of the advertisers is true, I am still convinced that it is the students that give the plaza its character. They are the reason that the advertisers are there and to me this, along with their relative numbers makes them the major actors in the plaza. His observations on the interactions between the students and advertisers, however, were largely the same as mine. He acknowledged that while the majority of students ignored the advertisers, there were those who sought them out. In addition to learning more about the actions of the advertisers, this conversation demonstrated something important about the observers in a participant observation exercise. Different observers have different lenses through which they view the world

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