Participant Observation Advantages and Disadvantages

Topics: Participant observation, Qualitative research, Sociology Pages: 5 (1516 words) Published: February 26, 2014
Introduction
All methods involve observation, but participant observation is characterized by the extent to which its advocates insist on observation and interpretation of a situation, informed by an understanding of the situation from the point of view of the participants rather than the observer. An attempt is made to avoid imposing categories from outside. Participant observation is the method of anthropology, although it is used in a wide range of sociological studies when the researcher has 'become part of a daily round, learning languages and meanings, rules of impersonal, relations... and in short, living the life of the people under study.' (Hughes, 1976). Traditional participant observation is usually undertaken over an extended period of time, ranging from several months to many years, and even generations. An extended research time period means that the researcher is able to obtain more detailed and accurate information about the individuals, community, and population under study. Types of Participant Observation

Non participant observation is an observational investigative method whereby the researcher or observer attends group events and records the observations without taking part in the group's activities. The group has knowledge that the observer is present, but he or she is an inactive attendant. Covert observation is a research method in social science. With this method, the researcher goes undercover as one of the participants of the group he/she chooses as subject of the study. The researcher participates on the activities of the group while making observations on their behaviour or whatever factors are being studied. Overt observation involve researcher being open about the reason for her presence in the field of study since the researcher is given permission by the group to conduct her research and the use of a 'sponsor', who is an individual likely to occupy a high status within the group, therefore lessening any potential hostility towards the researcher. Participant observation is a research method in which the researcher actually takes part in the social phenomenon being studies. Structured observation refers to a systematic method of data collection, where there is considerable pre-coding and observation that normally takes place. In this method, the researcher records down all the events that he has observed in the field. Advantages of Covert Participant Observation

 An advantage of covert observation is that it allows us access to social groups that normally would not provide consent to being involved in studies. Therefore, allowing us to research and expand knowledge on lesser-known social groups, which in turn will widen our Psychological understanding of the world. Also, this type of observation avoids problems surrounding observer-effects and so may be considered to be higher in validity than overt observations. One famous example of covert participant observation is that undertaken by Erving Goffman in his study of mental hospitals, published as Stigma in 1968. Goffman worked in an asylum for the mentally ill as Assistant Athletic Director. His research was mainly covert, with only a couple of staff being privy to the knowledge of his research, and via this method he was able to uncover the 'unofficial reality' of life in a mental institution. Advantages of Overt Participant Observation

An advantage of overt observation is the avoiding ethics issues such as deception or lack of informed consent. Furthermore, it also prevents the researcher from becoming over-familiar with the participants and ‘going native’. Therefore, aiming to keep the observation objective and free from bias. Also data may be openly recorded. An example of overt participant observation is William F. Whyte's study Street Corner Society, (1943) where he was protected from potential antagonism by his friendship with 'Doc', his sponsor. However, Whyte, despite employing an overt participant observer role, did...
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