The Advantages and Disadvantages of Participant Observation as a Research Method
This essay will examine how participant observation is used as a
research method. In the main body of this essay, this idea will be
addressed by pointing out advantages and
disadvantages of participant observation. I will give examples to
support my argument.
Participant observation is the main research method favoured by
interpetitivists. It involves the researcher participating in a
social group to observe and experience the
world as a participant while still observing the group for future
analasys of their behaviour from the researchers point of view. The
researcher must decide how he will approach
the group he wishes to join. He may decide to become an 'overt'
participant observer, in which the researcher will join the group as a
participant and does not hide the fact
that he is observing, or he may decide to become a 'covert' particpant
observer, in which he becomes a normal participant in the setting
while consealing the fact that the
research is being done. Sometimes the researcher may use degrees of
overtness, for example, in Whytes study "Street corner society"
(1955), he became friendly with
"Doc" and was overt with him while consealing his true identity to the
rest of the gang members.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to participant
observation. Participants face the problem of objectivity, it is
often very time consuming, for example,
Beverly Skeggs (1997), spent 12 years researching the lives of women
on a 'caring' course in England. Participants also face dangers and
can also find themselves in
situations they find morally unacceptable or illegal. Quantitative
researchers samples are too small and while the researcher may get the
bulk of his/her information from