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Assess the strengths and limitations of participant observation for the study of labelling in schools

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Introduction

Assess the strengths and limitations of participant observation for the study of labelling in schools. AO1 (8 marks) / AO2 (12 marks) - 25 mins By Kirsty Malins Participant observation is where the researcher takes part in the event that they are observing or the everyday life of the group whilst observing it. There are two different types of participant observation. Firstly, overt observation is when the researcher firstly makes all the participants aware that they are being studied and makes sure they give their permission before the observation takes place. This makes their research ethically sound, however observer effect can occur which is where people behave differently because they are being observed, giving unreliable results. The other type of participant observation is covert studies. This means participants do not know they are being watched. This means they are more likely to behave like they normally would, giving valid results, however raises ethical concerns such as the right to withdraw and deception. This essay will look at the strengths and limitations of participant observation for the study of labelling in schools. Firstly, strength of participant observation is that results are usually valid. ...read more.

Middle

In a study of labelling, through directly observing the participants interaction with each other and especially towards ethnic minorities, it is easier to make judgements as the researcher is open minded and not looking for one particular interaction. Sometimes participant observation may be the only method for studying certain groups. Participant observation enables the sociologist to build a relationship with the group. For example if a researcher was observing a class of children they might pretend to be a teacher to gain the pupils trust and make them feel comfortable to behave in their normal manner, this means the researcher will blend into their natural environment and not cause as much change in their actions than if the study was overt. However, participant observation also carries limitations. Firstly, when observing, the researcher would have to write or jot down notes in private in order to not attract any attention from the participants. This means that participant observation may rely on memory or interpretation of the researcher which may just be their opinion and not agreed with anybody else. This is a limitation as it shows that results are not objective, and that it depends upon the researcher's ability to take accurate and detailed notes and how they interpret what they see. ...read more.

Conclusion

Ronald King (1984) tried to blend into the background in an infant school by spending short periods of time in the classroom before carrying out his observation so that the children got used to his presence. However, it is not always that easy and even teachers may act differently in the presence of the researcher. Teachers are seen as performers, so when they are being observed they try their best to live up to the role of the perfect teacher, not necessarily behaving towards the students the way they normally would if the researcher wasn't there, this means that with overt studies, results are always going to be less valid due mainly to the Hawthorne effect that naturally occurs. To conclude, participant observation is a good way to gain detailed accurate results and if covert, can produce valid results and a great understanding as to why in schools labelling occurs and how ethnic minorities are labelled by their fellow students and also teachers. However, many limitations point to the fact that because of ethical issues due to the young age of the participants, studies most likely have However, many limitations point to the fact that because of ethical issues due to the young age of the participants, studies most likely have. ...read more.

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