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. They encourage the novice researcher to practice reflexivity at the beginning of one's research to help him/her understand the biases he/she has that may interfere with correct interpretation of what is observed. Researcher bias is one of the aspects of qualitative research that has led to the view that qualitative research is subjective, rather than objective. According to ratner (2002 some qualitative researchers believe that one cannot be both objective and subjective, while others believe that the two can coexist, that one's subjectivity can facilitate understanding the world of others. He notes that, when one reflects on one's biases, he/she can then recognize those biases that may distort understanding and replace them with those that help him/her to be more objective.
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For example, dewalt and dewalt (2002) note that male and female researchers have access to different information, as they have access to different people, settings, and bodies of knowledge. Participant observation is conducted by a biased human oak who serves as the instrument for data collection; the researcher must understand how his/her gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and theoretical approach may affect observation, analysis, and interpretation. 16 schensul, schensul, and lecompte (1999) refer to participation as meaning almost total immersion in an unfamiliar culture to study others' lives through the researcher's participation as a full-time resident or member, though they point out that most observers are not full participants in community. There are a number of things that affect whether the researcher is accepted in the community, including one's appearance, ethnicity, age, gender, and class, for example. Another factor they mention that may inhibit one's acceptance relates to what they call the structural characteristics—that is, those mores that exist in the community regarding interaction and behavior (p.93). Some of the reasons they mention for a researcher's not being included in activities include a lack of trust, the community's discomfort with having an outsider there, potential danger to either the community or the researcher, and the community's lack of funds to further support. Some of the ways the researcher might be excluded include the community members' use of a language that is unfamiliar to the researcher, their changing from one language to another that is not understood by the researcher, their changing the subject when the researcher arrives. 17 schensul, schensul, and lecompte further point out that all researchers should expect to experience a feeling of having been excluded at some point in the research process, particularly in the beginning. 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. 18 Another limitation involved in conducting observations is noted by dewalt, dewalt, and wayland (1998). The researcher must determine to what extent he/she will participate in the lives of the participants and whether to intervene in a situation.
14 johnson and sackett (1998) discuss participant observation as a source of erroneous description in behavioral research. They note that the information collected by anthropologists is not representative of the culture, as much of the data collected by these researchers is observed based on the researcher's individual interest in a setting or behavior, rather than being representative of what actually happens. For example, they report that more data has been collected about political/religious activities than about eating/sleeping activities, because the political/religious activities are more interesting to researchers than eating/sleeping activities; yet, the amount of time the cultural members spent on political/religious activities was less barbing than. 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. 15.1 Limitations of observation several researchers have noted the limitations involved with using observations as a tool for data collection.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Participant Observation demunck and sobo (1998) provide several advantages of using participant observation over other methods of data collection. These include that it write affords access to the essay "backstage culture" (p.43 it allows for richly detailed description, which they interpret to mean that one's goal of describing "behaviors, intentions, situations, and events as understood by one's informants" is highlighted (p.43 and it provides opportunities for. Dewalt and dewalt (2002) add that it improves the quality of data collection and interpretation and facilitates the development of new research questions or hypotheses (p.8). 13 demunck and sobo also share several disadvantages of using participation as a method, including that sometimes the researcher may not be interested in what happens out of the public eye and that one must rely on the use of key informants. The mead-freeman controversy illustrates how different researchers gain different understanding of what they observe, based on the key informant(s) used in the study. Problems related to representation of events and the subsequent interpretations may occur when researchers select key informants who are similar to them or when the informants are community leaders or marginal participants (demunck sobo, 1998). To alleviate this potential bias problem, bernard (1994) suggests pretesting informants or selecting participants who are culturally competent in the topic being studied.
Schensul, schensul, and lecompte (1999) list the following reasons for using participant observation in research: to identify and guide relationships with informants; to help the researcher get the feel for how things are organized and prioritized, how people interrelate, and what are the cultural parameters;. 11 bernard (1994) lists five reasons for including participant observation in cultural studies, all of which increase the study's validity: It makes it possible to collect different types of data. Being on site over a period of time familiarizes the researcher to the community, thereby facilitating involvement in sensitive activities to which he/she generally would not be invited. 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. It gives the researcher a better understanding of what is happening in the culture and lends credence to one's interpretations of the observation. Participant observation also enables the researcher to collect both quantitative and qualitative data through surveys and interviews. It is sometimes the only way to collect the right data for one's study (pp.142-3).
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By the 1940s, 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. 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 sustainability spent on various activities (schmuck, 1997). Participant observation allows researchers to check definitions of terms that participants use in interviews, observe events that informants may be unable or unwilling to share when doing so would be impolitic, impolite, or insensitive, and observe situations informants have described in interviews, thereby making them.
Dewalt and dewalt (2002) believe that "the goal for design of research using participant observation as a method is to develop a holistic understanding of the phenomena under study that is as objective and accurate as possible given the limitations of the method" (p.92). They suggest that participant observation be used as a way to increase the validity 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. Participant observation can be used to help answer descriptive research questions, to build theory, or to generate or test hypotheses (dewalt dewalt, 2002). When designing a research study and determining whether to use observation as a data collection method, one must consider the types of questions guiding the study, the site under study, what opportunities are available at the site for observation, the representativeness of the participants. 10 Participant observation is a beginning step in ethnographic studies.
My own experience conducting research in indigenous communities, which began about ten years ago with my own ethnographic doctoral dissertation on Muscogee (Creek) women's perceptions of work (kawulich, 1998) and has continued in the years since (i.e., kawulich, 2004 leads me to believe that, while. 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. A short time later, in 1888, beatrice potter webb studied poor neighborhoods during the day and returned to her privileged lifestyle at night. 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.
Then, in the early 1920s, malinowski studied and wrote about his participation and observation of the Trobriands, a study bernard (1998) calls one of the most cited early discussions of anthropological data collection methods. Around the same time, margaret mead studied the lives of adolescent Samoan girls. Mead's approach to data collection differed from that of her mentor, anthropologist Frank boas, who emphasized the use of historical texts and materials to document disappearing native cultures. Instead, mead participated in the living culture to record their cultural activities, focusing on specific activities, rather than participating in the activities of the culture overall as did malinowski. By 1874, the royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain had published a manual of methods called Notes and queries on Anthropology, which was subsequently revised several times until 1971 (bernard, 1998). Stocking (1983, as cited in dewalt dewalt, 2002) divided participant observation as an ethnographic method of data collection into three phases: participation, observation, and interrogation, pointing out that malinowski and mead both emphasized the use of observation and interrogation, but not participation. He suggests that both mead and malinowski held positions of power within the culture that enabled them to collect data from a position of privilege. While ethnographers traditionally tried to understand others by observing them and writing detailed accounts of others' lives from an outsider viewpoint, more recently, sociologists have taken a more insider viewpoint by studying groups in their own cultures. 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, 2000).
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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 about 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. 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. As dewalt and dewalt (2002) relate it, one of the first instances of its use involved the work of Frank hamilton cushing, who spent four and a half years as a participant observer with the zuni pueblo people around 1879 in a study for the. 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.
Schensul, schensul, and lecompte (1999) define participant observation as "the process of learning through exposure to or involvement in the resume day-to-day or routine activities of participants in the researcher setting" (p.91). Bernard (1994) adds to this understanding, indicating that participant observation requires a certain amount of deception and impression management. 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. 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. Participant observation is characterized by such actions as having an open, nonjudgmental attitude, being interested in learning more about others, being aware of the propensity for feeling culture shock and for making mistakes, the majority of which can be overcome, being a careful observer and. Fine (2003) uses the term "peopled ethnography" to describe text that provides an understanding of the setting and that describes theoretical implications through the use of vignettes, based on field notes from observations, interviews, and products of the group members. He suggests that ethnography is most effective when one observes the group being studied in settings that enable him/her to "explore the organized routines of behavior" (p.41). Fine, in part, defines "peopled ethnography" as being based on extensive observation in the field, a labor-intensive activity that sometimes lasts for years.
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. Definitions, marshall and rossman (1989) define observation as "the systematic description of events, behaviors, and artifacts in the social setting chosen for study" (p.79). Observations enable the researcher to describe existing situations using the five senses, providing a "written photograph" of the situation under study (erlandson, harris, skipper, allen, 1993). Demunck and sobo (1998) describe participant observation as the primary method used by anthropologists doing fieldwork. Fieldwork involves "active looking, improving memory, informal interviewing, writing detailed field notes, and perhaps most importantly, patience" (dewalt dewalt, 2002, i). 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. It provides the context for development of sampling guidelines and interview guides (dewalt dewalt, 2002).
8.1, ethics.2, gaining entry and establishing rapport.3, the processes of conducting observations. Tips for Collecting Useful Observation Data. Keeping and Analyzing field Notes and Writing up the findings. Teaching Participant Observation. 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 legs of data collection, such as interviewing, observation, and document analysis, have been included under the umbrella term of "ethnographic methods" in recent years.
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Table of Contents. The history of Participant Observation as a method. Why Use Observation to collect Data? Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Participant Observation.1, limitations of observation. The Stances of the Observer. How does One Know What to Observe? How does One conduct an Observation?