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Assess the usefulness of participant observation as a sociological method

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Assess the usefulness of participant observation as a sociological method Unlike other research methods participant observation allows the sociologist to look at people in their natural environment. It is often referred to as a naturalistic approach. The research does not artificially interfere with people's lives and they are free to act as normal. This allows the researcher to gain an insight which surveys cannot produce. This is illustrated by a well-known quote: "As I sat and listened, I learned the answers to questions I would not have the sense to ask if I had been getting my information solely on an interview basis." By W.F. Whyte, "street corner society" 1981. The kind of data produced by participant observation is qualitative, that is to say it is a picture of the world through the eyes of people themselves, whether they be members of a religious movement, a gang of delinquents or a group of school pupils. ...read more.


Furthermore participant observation is useful carried out before a survey to help design questionnaires and identify issues. There are a number of different ways of carrying out participant observation. Some researchers for example hardly participate at all in the group they are observing while others are very much a part of the group. Some observers announce who they are and explain their research to their research subjects to the group; which is overt and some observers act secretively pretending to be a group member and write down what they observe; this is covert. An example of covert participant observation that has been carried out is James Patrick's research. The purpose of the research was to discover what life was like in a Glasgow gang. An example of overt participant observation is Eileen Barker's study in "The making of a Moonie" (1984) ...read more.


The researcher may also put themselves in danger because of this. Moreover, apart from the obvious reason of the research process being very time consuming and expensive there is a problem of access to the group, staying in the group and leaving the group and yet there leaves further areas of social life which cannot be observed. To evaluate the usefulness of participant observation I would say that despite the various issues that need to be addressed participant observation can be a worthwhile part of research, exploring various issues and providing a true picture of what is being studied. However, I would say that the observer would need use triangulation to incorporate other forms of research in order to come to an accurate conclusion. For example quantitative information from secondary data such as official statistics to make generalisations and identify trends and patterns to reach a more objective conclusion. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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