This is a type of observation where the researcher takes part in the situations that they are observing. In other words they are observing and participating also. Participant observation can be overt (this is where we people know that they are being watched) or covert (this is undercover and people are unaware that they are being observed). Researchers find themselves almost ‘living amongst’ the group that they are studying and for quite a while too. This method is used by interpretivistic sociologists who are trying to find detailed meanings behind people’s behaviour. It is a qualitative method that reveals much about the experiences of social groups.
The researcher observes the group but does not join in with the group. The researcher will follow the group around and ask questions often recording information on a tape or video recorder. Covert is when the respondents do not know they are being observed. Overt is when the respondents know they are being observed.
+ avoids ethical issues (informed consent) + notes can be taken openly + researcher can use interview techniques to check insights derived from observations Group may refuse researcher permission or prevent them from seeing anything Hawthorne Effect + reduces the risk of altering peoples behaviour and sometimes the only way to gather valid information Requires the researcher to keep up an act Raises ethical issues- deception, informed consent, lie about reasons for leaving the group, may have to participate/view immoral or illegal activities
Observational methods generate qualitative data which may not be reliable but tends to be valid.
Advantages The researcher is able to study a group it would be difficult to study in another way The researcher is able to study the group and how it behaves in an everyday situation - right where the action is! 1. People can be studied in their natural surroundings. In the classroom = interactions—relationships - labelling 2. Researchers can see things from the point of view of the observed and therefore have a deeper understanding of those observed...vestehen 3. This data gathered is seen as more VALID as it is a true reflection of the actually people and their lives. 4. It allows researchers to explore more secretive groups and their lifestyles. Disadvantages The research findings may lack reliability i.e. could not be repeated with the same results and could therefore be seen as unreliable and unscientific Observations may be superficial if the researcher does not join in fully with the group. Only small numbers of people can be surveyed at a time It is time consuming, hard work and expensive. The Hawthorne Effect - the researcher may influence the group to behave in a different way to normal. 1. It is hard to gain entry to groups. 2. It is hard to record information, such as taking notes. A researcher’s memory may not be accurate. 3. Researchers may put themselves at risk. 4. It takes a lot of time and commitment—quite expensive. 5. A researcher may ‘go native’ and become too involved with the group. This may lead to them becoming biased. 6. The presence of the researcher may influence the group and they may change their behaviour. This is called the ‘observer effect’. 7. You cannot repeat this form of study accurately. Hard to test the results.
Why might a researcher of such as teenage gangs in Glasgow not reveal his real name? If a researcher keeps covert secrecy, does s/he become obliged to fully take part in the activity? What are the ethical dilemmas? Letting time pass before publishing assists others' anonymity and risk to oneself. Should a researcher protect those researched? Participant observation is inconvenient and demanding. High status groups can exclude outsiders; low status groups become suspicious. How can such research go wrong?
Objectives • To understand what participant observation is and what type of researcher uses them. • To understand the benefits and disadvantages of using participant observation. • To link participant observations to education.
The Facts• Useful for studying deviant groups, or in situations where interviews and questionnaire may not be appropriate e.g. surveying the attitudes of very young children.
Covert and Overt• Overt- Researcher reveals his or her true identity and purpose to the group. They know they are being watched• Covert- Research is carried out ‘under cover’. True identity and purpose is kept a secret from the group. If participating they usually pose as a genuine member of the group
• Structured Observation- Researcher classifies behaviour they see into distinct categories• Unstructured Observation- Observer simply records what they see and experience in any way they can
• P.O. is 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).• The emphasis is on qualitative research, where the social meanings of the actors is the basis for explaining their actions.• Verstehen- empathy (understanding what someone is going through)• NP.O- researcher simply observes theActivity Page 207 group or event without taking part in it
Comparison of Covert and Overt observation• Discuss these possible subjects for a participant observation study and decide which would be more suitable for a covert observation study and which for an overt study. Explain your reasons. • a religious sect• a class of university students• football fans• company directors• drug addicts
P.Observation • Observer finds a role within the group that allows them to study group behaviour • Observations are recorded in field notes • Research often involves years of fieldwork • Researchers start with an open mind and re search ideas emerge during the study http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRq1AhFAN-4
Steps- why may there be issues at some of these points? • Getting in- making contact- acceptance- observers role • Staying in- going native (becoming over involved) • Getting Out
Evaluation• In pairs discuss and note down the advantages or disadvantages of using participant observation.Disadvantages• http://www.chrisgardner.cadcol.ac.uk/sls1/test s/methods/podis.htmAdvantages• http://www.chrisgardner.cadcol.ac.uk/sls1/test s/methods/poadvs.htm answers
Additional AdvantagesAdvantages1. Flexibility- hypotheses/explanations can be formulated/changed during researchDisadvantages1. The researcher may get too involved and lose their ability to be objective (bias)2. Data not valid as for non participant observation (Positivists suggest that its subjective and biased impressions of the observer)- Also Hawthorne effect (presence of stranger could impact behaviour)3. The group studied is usually too small to be representative4. There are ethical problems especially if the group is involved in illegal activities.
Example Studies • Laud Humphries in ‘Tearoom Trade’. He went undercover in public toilets in the USA, where he developed a greater understanding of the experiences and lifestyles surrounding ‘gay liaisons in such places. He took on the role of the ‘watch queen’ and kept a look-out for approaching strangers. He discovered that most of the men involved were not homosexual but in fact ‘straight men’ in search of a gay experience. • Eileen Barker in ‘The Making of a Moonie’ went undercover with the Moonies cult to find out how far they actually did brainwash their members. • James Patrick in ‘A Glasgow Gang Observed’ became involved with a gang of violent young criminals in Scotland. He spent many hours with them to try and understand how and why they performed the crimes that they did.
Non P Observation • Adv: 1.Less drawn into group activity. 2.Researcher is less biased and more neutral. • Disadv: • 1. Researcher finds it hard to see the world through the eyes of those observed.
HW Task • Research one of the following studies: • John Howard Griffin ‘Black like me’. • Laud Humphries: ‘Tea room Trade’ • James Patrick ‘Glasgow gangs’ • What did they find out, how did they record their data and what are the strengths/weaknesses of their method?
Task• Carry out 2 pieces of observation: 1. Local library: Spend 10 minutes watching how people behave. 2. An evening at home with your family: watch how they behave and interact.• Comment on which study is more biased, how accurate they are, if participant or non- participant is more effective and whether covert or overt is more valid.
Exam Practice • Assess the strengths and limitations of participant observation for the study of labelling in schools. 20 marks (AO1=8, AO2 = 12)