UPSC MAINS SOCIOLOGY
Paper 1 – Chapter 3 – Research Methods and Analysis : Qualitative and quantitative methods.
WHAT IS PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION ?
- It is a qualitative research method.
- The researcher not only observes the research participants, but also actively engages in the activities of the research participants.
- The researcher freely mixes with the activities of the group.
- 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.
- Generally, Participant observation is a beginning step in ethnographic studies.
- 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.
- This research method was pioneered by anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas but was adopted as a primary research method by many sociologists affiliated with the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century.
IN THE PROCESS OF OBSERVATION
- Overt Observation – This is where the group being studied know they are being observed.
- Covert Observation – This where the group being studied does not know they are being observed, or where the research goes ‘undercover’.
- Subjective – Participant observation requires the researcher to be a subjective participant in the sense that they use knowledge gained through personal involvement with the research subjects to interact with and gain further access to the group.
- Objective -Participant observation research also requires the researcher to aim to be an objective observer and record everything that he or she has seen, not letting feelings and emotions influence their observations and findings.
- Observer gains insight into the group in its natural setttings.
- Gets more information as certain behaviour are not open to observation from outside or from a distance.
- Verstehen/empathetic understanding– participant observation allows the researcher to fully join the group and to see things through the eyes (and actions) of the people in group.
- Interpretivists prefer this method because it is respondent led – it allows respondents to speak for themselves and thus avoids a master-client relationship which you get with more quantitative methods.
- Observer may identify himself with the group and may develop emotional attachment inducing subjectivity in research.
- Certain phenomena cannot be observed in s a short time available to the observer.
- Cannot cover wide area through participation.
- Low degree of reliability of the research work as it would be almost impossible for another researcher to repeat given that a participant observation study relies on the personal skills and characteristics of the lone researcher.
- A further threat to validity is the Hawthorne Effect, where people act differently because they know they are being observed, although participant observers would counter this by saying that people can’t keep up an act over long time periods.
Participant observation involves the researcher’s involvement in a variety of activities over an extended period of time that enable him/her to observe the cultural members in their daily lives and to participate in their activities to facilitate a better understanding of those behaviours and activities. The process of conducting this type of field work involves gaining entry into the community, selecting gatekeepers and key informants, participating in as many different activities as are allowable by the community members, clarifying one’s findings
through member checks, formal interviews, and informal conversations, and keeping organized, structured field notes to facilitate the development of a narrative that explains various cultural aspects to the reader.