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Introduction Participant observation, for many years, has been a hallmark of both anthropological and sociological studies. In recent years, the field of education has seen an increase in the number of qualitative studies that include participant observation as a way to collect information. Qualitative methods of data collection, such as interviewing, observation, and document analysis, have been included under the umbrella term of "ethnographic methods" in recent years. The purpose of this paper is to discuss observation, particularly participant observation, as a tool for collecting data in qualitative research studies.

Aspects of observation discussed herein include various definitions of participant observation, some history of its use, the purposes for which such observation is used, the stances or roles of the observer, and additional information about when, what, and how to observe.

Further information is provided to address keeping field notes and their use in writing up the final story. Participant observation is the process enabling researchers to learn about the activities of the people under study in the natural setting through observing and participating in those activities. Most anthropologists, he notes, need to maintain a sense of objectivity through distance.

He defines participant observation as the process of establishing rapport within a community and learning to act in such a way as to blend into the community so that its members will act naturally, then removing oneself from the setting or community to immerse oneself in the data to understand what is going on and be able to write about it. He includes more than just observation in the process of being a participant observer; he includes observation, natural conversations, interviews of various sorts, checklists, questionnaires, and unobtrusive methods.

FINE, in part, defines "peopled ethnography" as being based on extensive observation in the field, a labor-intensive activity that sometimes lasts for years. In this description of the observation process, one is expected to become a part of the group being studied to the extent that the members themselves include the observer in the activity and turn to the observer for information about how the group is operating.

He also indicates that it is at this point, when members begin to ask the observer questions about the group and when they begin to include the observer in the "gossip," that it is time to leave the field. This process he describes of becoming a part of the community, while observing their behaviors and activities, is called participant observation.

The History of Participant Observation as a Method Participant observation is considered a staple in anthropological studies, especially in ethnographic studies, and has been used as a data collection method for over a century. During this time, CUSHING learned the language, participated in the customs, was adopted by a pueblo, and was initiated into the priesthood.

Because he did not publish extensively about this culture, he was criticized as having gone native, meaning that he had lost his objectivity and, therefore, his ability to write analytically about the culture.

In my own research, I have been hesitant to write about religious ceremonies or other aspects of indigenous culture that I have observed, for example, for fear of relating information that my participants or other community members might feel should not be shared.

When I first began conducting my ethnographic study of the Muscogee culture, I was made aware of several incidents in which researchers were perceived to have taken information they had obtained through interviews or observations and had published their findings without permission of the Creek people or done so without giving proper credit to the participants who had shared their lives with the researchers. She took a job as a rent collector to interact with the people in buildings and offices and took a job as a seamstress in a sweatshop to better understand their lives.

These sociological studies have brought into question the stance or positioning of the observer and generated more creative approaches to lending voice to others in the presentation of the findings of their studies GAITAN, By the s, participant observation was widely used by both anthropologists and sociologists. The previously noted studies were some of the first to use the process of participant observation to obtain data for understanding various cultures and, as such, are considered to be required reading in anthropology classes.

Why Use Observation to Collect Data? Observation methods are useful to researchers in a variety of ways. They provide researchers with ways to check for nonverbal expression of feelings, determine who interacts with whom, grasp how participants communicate with each other, and check for how much time is spent on various activities SCHMUCK, They suggest that participant observation be used as a way to increase the validity 1 of the study, as observations may help the researcher have a better understanding of the context and phenomenon under study.

Validity is stronger with the use of additional strategies used with observation, such as interviewing, document analysis, or surveys, questionnaires, or other more quantitative methods.

It makes it possible to collect different types of data. It reduces the incidence of "reactivity" or people acting in a certain way when they are aware of being observed. It helps the researcher to develop questions that make sense in the native language or are culturally relevant. Participant observation also enables the researcher to collect both quantitative and qualitative data through surveys and interviews.

These include that it affords access to the "backstage culture" p. DeWALT and DeWALT add that it improves the quality of data collection and interpretation and facilitates the development of new research questions or hypotheses p. To alleviate this potential bias problem, BERNARD suggests pretesting informants or selecting participants who are culturally competent in the topic being studied. Such actions skew the description of cultural activities.

To alleviate this problem, they advocate the use of systematic observation procedures to incorporate rigorous techniques for sampling and recording behavior that keep researchers from neglecting certain aspects of culture.

Their definition of structured observation directs who is observed, when and where they are observed, what is observed, and how the observations are recorded, providing a more quantitative observation than participant observation. For example, DeWALT and DeWALT note that male and female researchers have access to different information, as they have access to different people, settings, and bodies of knowledge. The important thing, they note, is for the researcher to recognize what that exclusion means to the research process and that, after the researcher has been in the community for a while, the community is likely to have accepted the researcher to some degree.

Another potential limitation they mention is that of researcher bias. They note that, unless ethnographers use other methods than just participant observation, there is likelihood that they will fail to report the negative aspects of the cultural members. Researcher bias is one of the aspects of qualitative research that has led to the view that qualitative research is subjective, rather than objective.

BREUER and ROTH use a variety of methods for knowledge production, including, for example, positioning or various points of view, different frames of reference, such as special or temporal relativity, perceptual schemata based on experience, and interaction with the social context—understanding that any interaction changes the observed object.

Using different approaches to data collection and observation, in particular, leads to richer understanding of the social context and the participants therein. The quality of the participant observation depends upon the skill of the researcher to observe, document, and interpret what has been observed. GOLD relates the four observation stances as follows: The disadvantages of this stance are that the researcher may lack objectivity, the group members may feel distrustful of the researcher when the research role is revealed, and the ethics of the situation are questionable, since the group members are being deceived.

In the participant as observer stance, the researcher is a member of the group being studied, and the group is aware of the research activity. This role also has disadvantages, in that there is a trade off between the depth of the data revealed to the researcher and the level of confidentiality provided to the group for the information they provide. In either case, the observation in this stance is unobtrusive and unknown to participants.

MERRIAM suggests that the question is not whether the process of observing affects the situation or the participants, but how the researcher accounts for those effects in explaining the data. Participant observation is more difficult than simply observing without participation in the activity of the setting, since it usually requires that the field notes be jotted down at a later time, after the activity has concluded.

Yet there are situations in which participation is required for understanding. SPRADLEY describes the various roles that observers may take, ranging in degree of participation from non-participation activities are observed from outside the research setting to passive participation activities are observed in the setting but without participation in activities to moderate participation activities are observed in the setting with almost complete participation in activities to complete participation activities are observed in the setting with complete participation in the culture.

One also must consider the limitations of participating in activities that are dangerous or illegal. Over time, such events may change, with the season, for example, so persistent observation of activities or events that one has already observed may be necessary. He further advises that fieldworkers ask themselves if what they want to learn makes the best use of the opportunity presented. How Does One Conduct an Observation?

WHYTE notes that, while there is no one way that is best for conducting research using participant observation, the most effective work is done by researchers who view informants as collaborators; to do otherwise, he adds, is a waste of human resources. His emphasis is on the relationship between the researcher and informants as collaborative researchers who, through building solid relationships, improve the research process and improve the skills of the researcher to conduct research. In this section, these aspects of the research activities are discussed in more detail.

While there may be instances where covert observation methods might be appropriate, these situations are few and are suspect. This means that one is constantly introducing oneself as a researcher. Individual identities must be described in ways that community members will not be able to identify the participants. Several years ago, when I submitted an article for publication, one of the reviewers provided feedback that it would be helpful to the reader if I described the participants as, for example, "a 35 year old divorced mother of three, who worked at Wal-Mart.

Instead, I only provided broad descriptions that lacked specific details, such as "a woman in her thirties who worked in the retail industry.

It is typical for researchers who spend an extended period of time in a community to establish friendships or other relationships, some of which may extend over a lifetime; others are transient and extend only for the duration of the research study. Particularly when conducting cross-cultural research, it is necessary to have an understanding of cultural norms that exist.

They suggest that the researcher take a participatory approach to research by including community members in the research process, beginning with obtaining culturally appropriate permission to conduct research and ensuring that the research addresses issues of importance to the community.

They further suggest that the research findings be shared with the community to ensure accuracy of findings. In my own ongoing research projects with the Muscogee Creek people, I have maintained relationships with many of the people, including tribal leaders, tribal administrators, and council members, and have shared the findings with selected tribal members to check my findings.

Further, I have given them copies of my work for their library. I, too, have found that, by taking a participatory approach to my research with them, I have been asked to participate in studies that they wish to have conducted. These include choosing a site, gaining permission, selecting key informants, and familiarizing oneself with the setting or culture BERNARD, In this process, one must choose a site that will facilitate easy access to the data.

The objective is to collect data that will help answer the research questions. One may need to meet with the community leaders. For example, when one wishes to conduct research in a school, permission must be granted by the school principal and, possibly, by the district school superintendent. For research conducted in indigenous communities, it may be necessary to gain permission from the tribal leader or council.

He also cautions that, when using highly placed individuals as gatekeepers, the researcher may be expected to serve as a spy. The "professional stranger handlers" are those people who take upon themselves the job of finding out what it is the researcher is after and how it may affect the members of the culture. These key informants must be people who are respected by other cultural members and who are viewed to be neutral, to enable the researcher to meet informants in all of the various factions found in the culture.

This may involve mapping out the setting or developing social networks to help the researcher understand the situation. These activities also are useful for enabling the researcher to know what to observe and from whom to gather information.

This process of hanging out involves meeting and conversing with people to develop relationships over an extended period of time. There is more to participant observation than just hanging out. It also involves taking field notes of observations and interpretations. Included in this fieldwork is persistent observation and intermittent questioning to gain clarification of meaning of activities. Rapport-building involves active listening, showing respect and empathy, being truthful, and showing a commitment to the well-being of the community or individual.

Rapport is also related to the issue of reciprocity, the giving back of something in return for their sharing their lives with the researcher. The researcher has the responsibility for giving something back, whether it is monetary remuneration, gifts or material goods, physical labor, time, or research results. Confidentiality is also a part of the reciprocal trust established with the community under study.

They must be assured that they can share personal information without their identity being exposed to others. Fluency in the native language helps gain access to sensitive information and increases rapport with participants. Learn about local dialects, he suggests, but refrain from trying to mimic local pronunciations, which may be misinterpreted as ridicule.

Learning to speak the language shows that the researcher has a vested interest in the community, that the interest is not transient, and helps the researcher to understand the nuances of conversation, particularly what constitutes humor.

Gender can limit what one can ask, what one can observe, and what one can report. For example, several years after completing my doctoral dissertation with Muscogee Creek women about their perceptions of work, I returned for additional interviews with the women to gather specific information about more intimate aspects of their lives that had been touched on briefly in our previous conversations, but which were not reported.



Volume 6, No. 2, Art. 43 – May Participant Observation as a Data Collection Method. Barbara B. Kawulich. Abstract: Observation, particularly participant observation, has been used in a variety of disciplines as a tool for collecting data about people, processes, and cultures in qualitative greenclix.pw paper provides a look at various definitions of participant observation. As you read the passage below, consider how Paul Bogard uses. evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims. reasoning to develop ideas and to .

Total 3 comments.
#1 25.09.2018 â 10:02 Radarroy:
I forgot where I already met almost the same collection of data, but thanks anyway

#2 29.09.2018 â 18:46 Miker:
Whether in Wikipedia, or else where I already noticed almost the same article!

#3 03.10.2018 â 09:33 Zinovij-Bogd:
Absolutely agree with you. I think it is a good idea.