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Participant Observation

Participant observation can be defined as a type of data collection by practitioner-scholars that is typically used in the fields of qualitative research and ethnography. This type of methodology is generally employed in several disciplines, especially in the field of

  • Anthropology which includes European ethnology and cultural anthropology
  • Sociology which includes sociology of culture and cultural criminology
  • Communication studies
  • Human geography
  • Social psychology, and so on

Its aim is to gain close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals (such as a religious, occupational, youth group, or a particular community) and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their cultural environment, usually over an extended period of time.

The method of participation observation originated in the field research linked to American and European voyages of scientific exploration. Such research includes a wide range of well-defined, yet variable methods as mentioned below:

  • Informal interviews
  • Direct observation
  • Participation in the life of the group
  • Collective discussions
  • Analyses of personal documents produced within the group
  • Self-analysis
  • Results from activities undertaken off or online, and
  • Life-histories

Even though the method is usually characterized under qualitative research, it can and often does include quantitative dimensions. Traditional participant observation is undertaken over an extended period of time, ranging from a period of several months to maybe even many years, and even generations. An extended research time period refers to the ability of a researcher to obtain detailed and accurate information about the individuals, community, and/or population which is under study.

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