Advantages and Disadvantages of Participant Observation


Advantages and Disadvantages of Participant Observation


  • Validity - produces rich qualitative data which shows picture of how people really live. Researcher can see for them selves
  • Insight - Allows researcher to gain empathy through personal experience . By acting as a member can get insight into their meanings, veiw points, values and problems - gives authentic data
  • Flexibility - more flexible and allows for an open mind. Researcher can follow up different directions/ideas if something interesting occurs - Whyte - 'learned answers to questions i wouldn't have had the sense to ask'
  • Practical advantages - Access to more suspicious groups as can gain rapport and trust - helpful when studying groups like gangs. Also useful to use where questioning ineffective - Cicourel - study of how police categories juveniles through unconscious assumptions it would be pointless questioning them


  • Covert participation observation raises serious ethical difficulties - deceiving people to gain info on them is wrong - or participating in illegal/immoral activity in the course of research
  • Practical disadvantages - very time consuming - Whytes study took him 4 years to complete, need a trained researcher to recognise specific details, can be very demanding and stressful especially if done covertly
  • Representatives -small sample sizes as time consuming so hard to generalize from data
  • Bias - risk of getting to involved and therefore giving bias data, may begin to sympathise with the group so give bias data - Willis giving romanticized view of the lads to show them more positively


Participant observation is a research method which involves the researcher joining a group and looking at the members activities or daily lives. It is favored by interpretivist sociologists as it acheives their main goals of validity especially if it is an unstructured observation  


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Really good and helpful. Thank You



This is especially useful, now that Research Methods is integrated into the Paper 1 & 2 and I like that you mention Paul Willis which is exactly what I was looking for, also for the Specification, Thank You!!