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Assess the usefulness of participant observation in sociological research

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Assess the usefulness of participant observation in sociological research. In this short essay I will give a skilled weighed argument of the usefulness and non-usefulness of a participant observation. I will back up the points made during this piece with sociologists I have studied. After, which I will then reach a conclusion where I will justify the argument in depth. Observation means watching behaviour in real-life settings. A covert participant observation is when the subject(s) you're studying doesn't know that you're actually studying them. An overt participant observation means that the subject(s) you're studying are aware of the fact that you're studying them. There are many reasons why a participant observation is seen as a very useful way to gather research. This is because you are taking part with the observation and would therefore be able to really get an insight into the topic you're studying. Also if it is a covert participant observation you're more likely to gather valid data as the subject(s) being studied don't have any idea of the reason for your presence and, what's more, the subject(s) can't mislead the researcher. Ned Polsky did a study of hustler beats. It was a covert participant observation which meant that he was free to ask questions without arousing suspicion. ...read more.


Ken Pryce is the perfect example for getting too involved in a study. He did a covert participant observation in which he studied West Indian life in Bristol. He found himself going to clubs and blues dances, drinking with and talking to local residents well past midnight. This just shows the dangers that can occur when you mix with a very risky group. Not only do you have to know what you're doing, but you have to have the right attitude and personality for that particular study. An overt participant observation can be very useful if used for the right topic. It is generally a good idea to use an overt participant observation when studying a particular subject that is very emotional and sensitive. This is because when looking at a topic very close to the heart you feel you don't want to deprive them of their rights so it's best to involve them more in what you're doing. Another two examples of this specific study is Beverley Skeggs and Howard Becker. Both sociologists picked a topic based on something very personal. Beverley Skeggs studied female sexuality among students at a college. She chose to do an overt participant observation as she felt that she needed the permission from the students before she could continue with her work. ...read more.


Because he had been in the police force for a long time he would already have an opinion on the topic he was studying and therefore have biased data. This meant that he found it hard to be able to stand back and objectively observe without letting his views take over. This backs up the statement on how a sociologist can get too involved with their study, they need to be able to not let any own opinions stand in the way of getting provable data. On the whole a participant observation has its up's and downs. It is very useful if you wanted to get valid data as you can really get to know someone with a participant observation however you can only study a small sample so your data won't be representative of the whole population not to mention the fact that you cannot repeat a participant observation and therefore it lacks reliability as well. What's more observations of all sorts can be very time consuming and expensive so you need to make sure that nothing can go wrong otherwise you would have wasted a lot of your time as well as others. Although with a participant observation you know you're getting first hand data, especially if it's a covert participant observation as your subjects won't know your studying them so the behaviour of your subjects can't be influenced a certain way by the researcher. ...read more.

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