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Encyclopedia > Participant observation

Participant observation is a major research strategy which aims to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals (such as a religious, occupational, or deviant group) and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their natural environment. The method originated in field work of social anthropologists and in the urban research of the Chicago School. Research is often described as an active, diligent, and systematic process of inquiry aimed at discovering, interpreting and revising facts. ... In sociology, the Chicago School refers to the first major attempt to study the urban environment by combined efforts of theory and ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago. ...


Such research usually involves a range of methods: informal interviews, direct observation, participation in the life of the group, collective discussions, analyses of the personal documents produced within the group, self-analysis, and life-histories. Thus, although the method is generally characterized as qualitative research, it can (and often does) include quantitative dimensions. Participant observation is usually undertaken over an extended period of time, ranging from several months to many years. An extended research time period means that the researcher will be able to obtain more detailed and accurate information about the people he/she is studying. Observable details (like daily time allotment) and more hidden details (like taboo behaviour) are more easily observed and understandable over a longer period of time.


Participant observation has its roots in anthropology and as a methodology can be attributed to Frank Hamilton Cushing in his study of the Zuni Indians in the later part of the nineteenth century, followed by the studies of non-Western societies by people such as Bronislaw Malinowski, Edward Evans-Pritchard, and Margaret Mead in the first half of the twentieth century. It emerged as the principal approach to ethnographic research by anthropologists and relied on the cultivation of personal relationships with local informants as a way of learning about a culture, involving both observing and participating in the social life of a group. By living with the cultures they studied, these researchers were able to formulate first hand accounts of their lives and gain novel insights. Frank Hamilton Cushing July 22, 1857- April 10, 1900 was born in Northeastern Pennsylvania, later moving with his family to western New York. ... The Zuni (IPA: ) (also spelled Zuñi) or Ashiwi are a Native American tribe, one of the Pueblo peoples, most of whom live in the Pueblo of Zuñi on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico. ... For the Olympic champion athlete see Bronislaw Malinowski (athlete). ... Edward Evan (E.E.) Evans-Pritchard (September 21, 1902 - September 11, 1973) was a British anthropologist instrumental in the development of social anthropology in that country. ... Margaret Mead Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist. ... Ethnography (from the Greek ethnos = nation and graphein = writing) refers to the qualitative description of human social phenomena, based on fieldwork. ... Anthropology (from the Greek word άνθρωπος, human or person) consists of the study of humanity (see genus Homo). ...


This same method of study has also been applied to groups within Western society, and is especially successful in the study of sub-cultures or groups sharing a strong sense of identity, where only by taking part might the observer truly get access to the lives of those being studied. In biology, a subculture in a population of a microorganism is when one microbe colony in such a population is transferred onto blank growth medium and allowed to freely reproduce. ...


See also

// Description PAR has emerged in recent years as a significant methodology for intervention, development and change within communities and groups. ... The term qualitative research has different meanings in different fields, with the social science usage the most well-known. ... INTRODUCTION: Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. ...

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  Results from FactBites:
 
Focus Groups in Ethnography of Communication: Expanding Topics of Inquiry Beyond Participant Observation (6099 words)
Participant observation, long known as the backbone of ethnography of communication (Hymes, 1962), is unfortunately limited or impossible for projects where access to observation is restricted.
Participant observation is natural for topics of inquiry that occur naturally within everyday interaction and conversation.
One advantage of participant observation is that, in theory, the key points of the study emerge through the process of observation rather than from the researcher's agenda.
Using participant or non-participant observation to explain information behaviour. Participant observation, ... (6619 words)
Observation of the interrelationships of the clients and their care workers was complemented by in-depth interviews with the care workers, managers and policymakers.
The initial period of fieldwork for the participant observation took place over a period of several months, and only when it was considered by the researcher that trust and rapport were well established were clients and their families asked to join the study.
In the participant observation study in the social care setting, cognitive and affective trust had to be developed from the outset, with gatekeepers to the research subjects, with the clients' families, the clients themselves, and with the other care workers.
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