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Examine the reasons some sociologists chose not to use participant covert observation.
Covert observation is a form of research; it is not often used by sociologists mainly
because of the practical and ethical issues that may arise when conducting the
research. In this essay I will discuss the disadvantages of using this type of research
There are multiple ethical issues that may occur when carrying out covert observation.
One might be that in some cases it would be highly unethical in places such as schools,
because they are under 18 they would need their parent's consent which can be difficult
to obtain because the research is in secret. This could be a reason for not choosing this
Another ethical issue which may arise from covert observation is the secretive element
within covert research. The fact that you have to deceive people by not telling them that
they are being studied is immoral. For example laud Humphreys "tearoom trade" this
research could be criticised by many because of the lack of honesty and sensitivity
towards the group.
In some circumstances you may have to participate in immoral or illegal activities as a part
of fitting in. similarly you may have to report illegal/moral activities you see to the police
which would raise the problem of risking harm to the group or to the researcher
On the other hand covert research also has some practical problems
Firstly there is a possibility that you are putting your own life at risk, if the group finds out
that you are studying them they could cause physical damage to you or even report you.
E.g. Patrick a researcher, who studied a gang, was nearly found out when he made a
mistake and did things that weren't he gang members did, This risk of getting found out
like this is why most sociologists choose not to use participant observation.
The researcher must also be careful not to ask irrelevant questions or combine
observation with other methods such as interviews which may propose suspicions to the
In participant observation the researcher has to build rapport within the group and gain
their trust. Acceptance within a group can take a long time which may be a
Another issue is the ability to record data. Since the researcher cannot openly record the
information, they will have to rely on their memory which may affect the validity of the
results. Another factor which may contribute to the final results is the lack of direct
The reader of the research has to trust what the researcher saw and what they claimed
they saw in the group which encounters questions of reliability and validity that maybe
cannot be answered by the researcher.
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Participant's change their behaviour when they know that they are being studied (the
hawthorn effect) so covertly researching is a big advantage which could mean that you
will collect more valid data. However the addition of a new member could also change the
group's behaviour, then reducing validity. covert research may be justified in certain
circumstances but the negatives more out weight the positives which is a clear
explanation for not choosing this type of method for research to use.…read more