Participant Observations

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  • Participant Observations
    • When a sociologist becomes a part of the group they are studying in order to collect data
    • Types of observation
      • Covert - when the researcher goes undercover
      • Structured - when the researcher is looking for specific data
      • Unstructured - When the researcher is not looking for anything specific
      • Overt - when the participants are aware the researcher is a researcher
      • Ethnography           When the researcher involves themselves in the participants daily life for an extended period of time in order to understand their culture and behaviour
    • Example Studies
      • John Howard Griffin : ' Black Like Me'
        • Griffin was a white man who wanted to understand the experience of being black in the Deep South of the USA. He used medication and sun lamps  to change the colour of his skin in order to fully gain an empathetic understandingthe experience of black people
      • Laud Humpreys : ' The Tearoom Trade' 1970
        • Humpreys observed the sexual activity of gay men in public toilets to try and gain an insight into gay subculturesin American cities in the 1960's
        • He adopted a covert role as a " watch queen' and followed up his research by interviewing some of his participants. He noted their car registration numbers and was able to use them to find out their addresses.
      • James Partick ; ' A Glasgow Gang Observed 1973
        • Patrick covertly studied a violent, delinquent teenage gang in Glasgow over a period of four months.
        • He was a teacher at a school in Scotland and was invited by a juvenile offender to experience the 'Young Team' for himself. Patrick posed as his friend to gain entry to the gang and had to be careful not to blow his cover as it could put him in danger.
    • Advantages  & Disadvantages
      • Overt = +Hawthorne effect and lower validity         - Informed consent and no deception +Verstehen and empathy. - Time consuming and requires personal skill + Qualitative data and a true picture of society gained -Lacks representativeness and reliability as it is a small sample frame +Easy to complete a field diary
      • Covert =.            - deception, no informed consent or right to withdraw.         - lots of personal skill needed e.g acting  - researcher characteristics may limit who can be studied
      • Structured = + less personal skills needed as a tally/ list is used        - however, designing the tally chart may require some skill and the concept of the study has to be operationalise+ higher in reliability as quantitative data is produced
      • Unstructured= + qualitative data - higher validity - interpretivist   +more flexibility for researcher rather than focusing on predetermined behaviours  + less preparation required          - greater skill required to interpret the behaviour


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