Participant observtion

Particpant observation (with methods in context-crime and deviance)

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Participant observation
Practical Ethical Theoretical
It allows the researcher to achieve Interpretivism: Sociologists gain a deep
verstehen, by seeing social actors in subjective understanding of their meaning.
their natural environment. It shows the This produces valid, insightful data.
Advantages world from their view and enabled Additionally the flexibility of PO produces
them to feel what is like being a valid data as they can develop and modify
member of the group. their research to produce a grounded
theory, as they are developed on
grounded realities rather than imposed on
the data by the researcher.
They produce a more valid picture as they
are not simply a snapshot.
It is valid because it does not impose the
researcher view on them.
Sometimes it is the only suitable
method such as studying outsiders like
criminals who may be suspicious of
questionnaires. Or where groups are
unaware of their stereotypes and
asking questions would be pointless.
It is very flexible and can formulate new
questions, hypothesises as new ideas
Often it may be difficult to gain access It is unethical to Positivism: They argue the research is not
to certain social groups, and when deceive people representative as samples are often small
contact is made the researcher may in order to obtain and so generalisations cannot be made.
have to gain their trust to eliminate any information by The method is seen as unreliable because
Disadvanta sense of suspicion. Factors such as pretending to be if repeated will not yield the same results,
ges gender, age, class and ethnicity may their friend. it is not a standardised measuring
hamper building up that trust. instrument.
The role they adopt must allow them to Also it is difficult to make comparisons.
gather as much information as possible, They also argue the researchers close
but should not disrupt the group's relationship with the group lack in
normal behaviour. objectivity, and can risk going native
They may have to take sides in conflicts producing biased over sympathetic view
resulting in becoming estranged from of them as loyalties often develop, and
certain member's. information may even be concealed as a
The Hawthorne effect also undermines the
reliability of the research if is overt it may
make the social actor act differently.
Once accepted the researcher must be Covert Marxists and Feminists: argue that
fully immersed in the groups activates researcher may because it seeks to understand individual
yet they must remain detached to be have to lie about meaning at a micro level it ignore structural
objective and unbiased. Yet if they are why they are factors such as the class system, and the
too detached they risk no fully leaving at the value system we are socialised into.
understanding the group. They must not end or abandon

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The longer they spend with the group is unethical.
the more used they will get to them
and are less likely to notice important
behaviour for their research.
Very time consuming and may take They may have to
years to complete, data is qualitative participate in
and difficult to analyse. immoral or illegal
activity as part of
their role
Sociologists need to be trained and They may have to
poses interpersonal and observation reveal
skills.…read more

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Many deviant acts do not happen in a predictable way so it will be time consuming waiting
for them to occur. It may also take a long time to gain their trust so they won't necessarily
reveal anything right away.
3. The researcher's background, age, ethnicity, class, gender and appearance may affect their
ability to blend in, particularly in distinct deviant groups such as punks.
4.…read more


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