Observational Methods of Research Phases and Steps ( Part II)

Afza.Malik GDA

Observational Methods of Research  and Role Participant

The Observer Participant Role in Participant Observation,Leininger (1985), Junker (1960),Evaneshko (1985)

Observational Methods of Research Phases and Steps ( Part II) The Observer Participant Role in Participant Observation,Leininger (1985), Junker (1960),Evaneshko (1985)

    The role that observers play in the groups under study is important because the observers' social position determines what they are likely to see. That is, the behaviors that are likely to be available for observation depend on observers' position in a network of relations. Leininger (1985) describes a participant observer's role as evolving through a four-phase sequence: 

1. Primarily observation 

2. Primarily observation with some participation 

3. Primarily participation with some observation 4. Reflective observation In the initial phase, researchers observe and listen to those under study to obtain a broad view of the situation. This phase allows both observers and the observed to “size up” each other, to become acquainted, and to become more comfortable interacting. 

    This first phase is sometimes referred to as “learning the ropes.” In the next phase, observation is enhanced by a modest degree of participation. By participating in the group's activities, researchers. can study not only people's behaviors, but also people's reactions to them. In phase 3, researchers strive to become more active participants, learning by the actual experience of doing rather than just by watching and listening. 

    In phase 4, researchers reflect on the total process of what transpired and how people interacted with and reacted to them. Junker (1960) described a somewhat different continuum that does not assume an evolving process: complete participant, participant as observer, observer as participant, and complete observer. 

    Complete participants conceal their identity as researchers, entering the group ostensibly as regular members. For example, a nurse researcher might accept a job as a clinical nurse with the express intent of studying, in a concealed fashion, some aspect of the clinical environment. At the other extreme, complete observers do not attempt participation in the group's activities, but rather make observations as outsiders. 

    At both extremes, observers may have difficulty asking probing questions albeit for different reasons. Complete participants may arouse suspicion if they make inquiries not congruent with a total participant role, and complete observers may not have personal access to, or the trust of, those being observed. 

    Most observational field work lies in between these two extremes and shifts over time in emphasis between observation and participation, as noted by Leininger. Junker described participants as observers as marked by “subjectivity and sympathy”; observers as participants adopt a somewhat more detached stance characterized by “objectivity and sympathy.”

Getting Started

    Observers must overcome at least two initial hurdles: gaining entry into the social group or culture under study, and establishing rapport and developing trust within the social group. Without gaining entry, the study cannot proceed; but without the group's trust, researchers could be restricted to what Leininger (1985) refers to as "front stage" knowledge, that is, information distorted by the group's protective facades. 

    The observer's goal is to “get back stage”to learn about the realities of the group's experiences and behaviors. This section discusses some practical and interpersonal aspects of getting started in the field.

Gaining an Overview

    Before fieldwork begins, or in the very earliest stage of fieldwork, it is usually useful to gather some written or pictorial descriptive information that provides an overview of the setting. In an institutional setting, for example, it is helpful to obtain a floor plan, an organizational chart, an annual report, and so on. 

    Then, a preliminary personal tour of the setting should be undertaken to gain familiarity with its ambiance and to note major activities, social groupings, transactions, and events. In community studies, ethnographers sometimes conduct what is referred to as a windshield survey, which involves an intensive tour (usually in an automobile, and hence the name) to “map” important features of the community under study. 

    Such community mapping can include documenting community resources (eg, churches, businesses, public transportation, community centers), community liabilities (eg, vacant lots, empty stores, public housing units), and social and environmental characteristics (eg, condition of streets and buildings, traffic patterns, types of signs, children playing in public places).

    Gaining Entrée In many cases, researchers need permission to conduct the study, or need access to people who can make important introductions. Gaining entrée typically requires strong interpersonal skills, and knowledge about who to approach as the “gatekeepers” to the community or group. 

    Wilson (1985) noted that successful participant observation research may require researchers to “go through channels, cultivate relationships, contour [their] appearances, withhold evaluative judgments, and be as unobtrusive and charming as possible” (p. 376). Participant observers must learn to take full advantage of anyone who can help in gaining entrée. Evaneshko (1985) offers excellent advice on strategies for gaining entry into qualitative nursing studies.

Establishing Rapport

 After researchers obtain permissions or information about contacts to make from gatekeepers, the next step is to enter the field. In somecases it may be possible just to “blend in” or ease into a social group, but often researchers walk into a “headturning” situation in which there is considerable curiosity because they stand out as strangers. 

    Participant observers often find that, for their own comfort level and also for that of participants, it is best to have a brief, simple explanation about their presence. Except in rare cases, deception is neither necessary nor recommended, but vagueness has many advantages. 

    People rarely want to know exactly what researchers are studying, they want an introduction and enough information to satisfy their curiosity and erase any suspicions they may have about the researchers' ulterior motives. After initial introductions with members of the group, it is critical to learn these things. 

    Politeness and friendliness are, of course, essential, but effusive socializing is not appropriate at the early stages of field work. usually best to keep a fairly low profile. At the beginning, researchers are not yet familiar with the customs, language, and norms of the group, and it.As rapport is developed and trust is established, researchers can begin to play a more active participatory role and to collect observational data in earnest.

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