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Types of observation
Non-participant observation
Researcher simply observes the group/event without taking part in it
Two way mirror ­ observe children playing
Participant observation
Researcher takes part while observing it
Overt observation
Researcher makes their true identity and purpose known
Open about what they are doing
Covert observation
Carried out `under cover'
Researcher's real identity and purpose are kept concealed from the group being
studied
Takes on a false identity and role
Poses as a genuine member of the group…read more

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Most observation = unstructured participant observation
Positivist sociologists ­ structured observation ­ normally non-
participant
Researcher uses a structured observational schedule to categorise
systematically what happens
Schedule = pre-determined list of types of behaviour/ situations the
sociologist is interested in
Each time an instance of behaviour occurs ­ sociologist records it on a
schedule
Adds up the number of times each event occurs
Produces quantitive data ­ patterns and correlations can be established
Can be used in conjunction with other methods
Interviews ­ sociologist can observe body language…read more

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Interpretivists - unstructured participant
observation
Achieves main goal of validity
Gives the researcher a true picture
Shows us what people do, rather than what they say they do
Participation = first hand insight
Into social actors meanings + behaviour ­ esp if carried out
covertly
Positivists reject
Lack of structure
Cannot be replicated
Results quantified…read more

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Positivists ­ structured non-participant
observation
Achieves main goals of reliability, generalisabilty and
representativeness
Standardised behaviour categories = reliable data
Other researchers can replicate the observation
Pre-determined observational categories = quantitive data
Can identify behaviour patterns + establish cause-and-effect
relationships
Takes less time
Larger, more representative sample can be studied
Interpretivits reject
Imposes researcher's view of reality on those being observed = invalid
data…read more

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Conducting a participant observation
study
Two issues
Getting in, staying in and getting out of the group being studied
Whether to use overt/ covert observation
Getting in
Must first gain entry
Some groups are easier than others
Football crowd ­ easier ­ criminal gang
Making contact
Making initial contact ­ depends on personal skills (Polsky (1971), right connections (Patrick
(1973), pure chance (Faihurst 1977)
Acceptance
Needs to win over groups trust ­ John Howard Griffin (1962)
Observer's role
One that doesn't disrupt the group's normal patterns
Offer a good vantage point from which to make observations
Not always possible to take this role ­ some roles may involve taking sides in conflicts ­ may
become estranged from one faction or the other - difficult…read more

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