participant observation

participant observation

Technique

A research technique commonly used in ethnography - a qualitative research method that aims to study and understand the culture, behaviour, and social dynamics of a particular group or community. In participant observation, researchers immerse themselves in the lives and activities of the people they are studying, actively participating in their daily routines, rituals, and social interactions. The technique allows researchers to gain a deep and holistic understanding of the community in focus.

A research technique commonly used in ethnography - a qualitative research method that aims to study and understand the culture, behaviour, and social dynamics of a particular group or community. In participant observation, researchers immerse themselves in the lives and activities of the people they are studying, actively participating in their daily routines, rituals, and social interactions. The technique allows researchers to gain a deep and holistic understanding of the community in focus.

background

background

Participant observation has a long history in anthropology. The method can be traced back to the early days of anthropology when researchers like Bronisław Malinowski conducted fieldwork in the early 20th century. Malinowski's work with the Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea is often cited as a seminal example of participant observation. Since then, many ethnographers and social scientists have employed this technique to gain insights into various settings and social groups.

Participant observation has a long history in anthropology. The method can be traced back to the early days of anthropology when researchers like Bronisław Malinowski conducted fieldwork in the early 20th century. Malinowski's work with the Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea is often cited as a seminal example of participant observation. Since then, many ethnographers and social scientists have employed this technique to gain insights into various settings and social groups.

what to observe & participate?

what to observe & participate?

To gain a rich and embedded understanding, you should observe and participate in a wide range of activities, even those that might not seem directly related to your research questions at first. It's advisable to start broader to gain a picture of the dynamics and drill down to the aspect that stands out.

To gain a rich and embedded understanding, you should observe and participate in a wide range of activities, even those that might not seem directly related to your research questions at first. It's advisable to start broader to gain a picture of the dynamics and drill down to the aspect that stands out.

Daily routines

You may want to pay attention to the daily activities and routines of community members. This can include work, meals, rituals, and leisure time. You may then participate in these routines by joining in daily tasks, sharing meals, and participating in communal activities.

Social interactions

Observe how individuals interact with each other, the language they use, non-verbal communication, and the dynamics of social relationships. Attending social gatherings is a great way to understand the intricacies of social bonds.

Ceremonies and rituals

Attend and observe any ceremonies, rituals, or special events that are significant to the community. Take note of the symbolism, traditions, and cultural expressions. Rituals can range from daily meetings in a work environment or toast speeches in celebrations.

Practices and beliefs

Explore the cultural practices, customs, and belief systems of the community. This includes folklore, religious practices, and any symbolic rituals. Engage in discussions about it with different people in your research fieldwork to get grasp the community's worldview.

Spatial dynamics

You should also take note of the physical layout, the use of space, and how individuals navigate and interact within different locations. Participating in community events and gatherings in various spaces is a good way to gain a sense of the significance of different locations within the community.

Adaptation to change

It's easy to fall into thinking that the people you observe will always remain the same. Observe how they respond and adapt to external influences, social change, or economic shifts. This allows you to reflect on the participants' aspirations and dreams.

Best practices

Best practices

Immersion

Participant observation requires researchers to fully immerse themselves in the culture or community they are studying. This means spending an extended period of time within the community, participating in their daily activities, and building rapport with the members. Immersion allows the researcher to develop a deep understanding of the group's norms, values, and practices.

Participant role

The position the researcher takes within the community during the observation can vary depending on the research goals and the dynamics of the community. In different situations, the researchers will have to continuously shift between being a full observer, full participant, and adaptive researcher. In any case, you should be transparent about your role and intentions within the community. Honest communication with participants is not only an ethical practice but can also help mitigate misunderstandings and build trust.

Reflexivity

Practitioners will need to critically examine and acknowledge their own biases, subjectivity, and the impact they may have on the community they are studying. Continuously reflect on your own perspectives, values, and assumptions as these biases based on your positioning in the community may impact the kind of insights that may in return harm or disrupt the community.

related to participant observation

related to participant observation

Method

Ethnography

Delve into people's real-world contexts and gain rich insights. Unbundle social and cultural fabrications to understand people through their worldviews

Approach

Coming soon

Participatory design

A democratic creative process, ensuring more inclusive and relevant solutions that reflect their needs and desires

Approach

Coming soon

Pluriversal design

Embrace diverse worldviews, cultures, and experiences for creating solutions that honour pluralism, equity, and environmental harmony

See the whole collection

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