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Chapter 7

Participant Observation Research

 

Outline

 

Concepts
I.  The Role of Participant
    Observation Studies in
    Communication
    Research
 

fieldwork: study of people acting in the natural courses of their daily lives. The fieldworker ventures into the worlds of others in order to learn firsthand about how they live, how they talk and behave, and what captivates and distresses them.
naturalistic studies: nonexperimental inquires completes as subjects are involved in the natural course of their lives
participant observation: fieldwork in which researchers study groups by gaining membership or close relationships with them

    A. The Purposes of
         Participant
         Observation
         1. attempts to
             answer
             questions in
             settings where
             use of
             questionnaires
             and direct
             reports would
             be inappropriate
             or impractical
         2. exploration of
             a setting that
             has been so
             unexplored
             that formal
             hypotheses
             may not have
             been
             developed
         3. attempts to
             develop
             grounded
             theory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


grounded theory: a set of explanations that has immediate relevance to a specific field setting under investigation
analytic induction: researchers start with some tentative hypotheses that they apply to fieldwork, hypotheses that may be abandoned or reformulated during the course of research questions involve naturally arising behavior not consistently produced in laboratories

  B.  Suitability of
         Participant
         Observation
         Methods to
         Research
         Questions
         --suitable when
            researchers are
            interested in
            naturally arising
            behavior that has not
            always been shown
            to have regularities
            that can be produced
            in the laboratory
         --guidelines for select-
            ing the approach:
            1.  when the research
                 problem deals with
                 fields in which
                 naturally occurring
                 communication
                 phenomena exist
            2.  when the research
                 deals with
                 phenomena that
                 take place within
                 a relatively limited
                 area and time
II.  Forms of Participant
    Observation Studies
    A.  The Position of the
          Observer  
          1.  Full Participant
               Observation
full participant observation: the researcher's gathering data while taking part in the activities of a group--and while concealing his or her research identity
--observational studies
   complete observer inquiry
:
   research in which the observer
   has no contact with the
   individuals observed
   unobtrusive measurement:
   using artifacts that do not
   influence the behavior being
   studied
      accretions: deposits of
      material left by some action
      urban archaeology:
      examination of artifacts that
      are leftovers of urban
      activity
      erosions: evidence of the
      wear or use of objects
          2.   Participant as
               Observer
        
participant as observer studies: work in which group members are made aware of the researcher's role
          3.  Balancing
               Involvement
with complete involvement: (1) interpretations become subjective; (2) researcher shares sympathy for the group studied; (3) researcher plays an active role in communication; (4) researcher usually enters research setting in "disguise"
with complete observation: researchers tend to be: (1) objective, (2) unsympathetic, (3) detached, (4) candid
    B.  Ethnography ethnography: research in which the investigator participates, overtly or covertly, in people's lives for an extended period of time
--ethnomethodology: (a.k.a.
   the "new ethnography"): the
   study of mundane and ordinary
   activities of everyday life,
   concentrating on the methods
   used by people to report their
   common sense practical
   actions to others in acceptable
   rational terms
Other qualitative-naturalistic
methods
   life history: the
   autobiography of a person
   obtained through interview
   and guided conversation
   time budgeting studies:
   inquiries to determine how
   individuals are using their
   time
   community studies: study of a
   whole community of people,
   usually a small town or village,
   or possibly part of a larger town
   case studies:  intensive
   inquires about single events,
   people, or social units
   --negative case study: a form
     of case study in which the
     researchers attempts to
     obtain a case that has the
     potential to negate a
     generally accepted view
III.  The Fluid Process
      of Participant
      Observation Study
      A. Steps in Participant
           Observation
           1. Selecting
               Settings and
               Cases
           2. Getting into the
               Setting
           3. Sampling within
                the Case
               (Selecting the
               Types of
               Behaviors to
               Monitor)
questions asked to isolate key behavior: what type of behavior is it? what is its structure? how frequent is it? what are its causes? what are its processes? what are its consequences? what are people's strategies?
           4. Keeping Records
               and Observations
sift sound reports from others by asking: is the report firsthand? where was the observer? did the participant have a reason to give false or biased information? is the report internally consistent? can the report be validated by other independent reports?
           5. Interpretive
               Analysis of Data
interpretive approach: identifies communicators' interactions to determine such things as the situations in which people find themselves, the structures within which they work, and the practical features of their world 
           6. Exiting the Field
               Setting
     B.  Limitations of the
           Approach
 

limits: (1) time consuming and expensive; (2) tends to rest on unreliable measurement; (3) may become over-identified with the group; (4) cannot reach comprehensive conclusions alone