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Marketing Coordinator 16551
Marketing Coordinator 16551

Marketing Coordinator 16551

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  • Pages: 11 (5684 words)
  • Published: October 28, 2018
  • Type: Research Paper
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Traditional Research Methods: Participant Observation

What does Participant Observation bring to research?

H. Russell Bernard’s perspective on Participant Observation:

H. Russell Bernard describes participant observation as being the foundation of anthropological research, yet the well-defined methodological component of the discipline. The steps involved are establishing rapport in a new community, learning to act so that people go about their business as usual, and removing oneself from the everyday cultural immersion in order to intellectualize what one has learned, to put it into perspective, and write about it accordingly.

There is a fine line between participant observation and field research, although the results of both show distinct differences. Bernard proposes to think of participant observation independently of time. He further states that it is the only method that can truly yield understanding of social change, through very long-term participant observation over several decades. At the same time, participant observation can take place in a period of a few days, assuming that one speaks the native language, and is already familiar with the nuances of etiquette from previous experience. Bernard sites an example of his experience at the Laundromats during his college life.

Bernard defines participant observation as a strategy, rather than a method; a strategy that facilitates qualitative as well as quantitative data collection. Participant observation reduces the reactivity factor since the observer becomes less noticeable after a while. Lower reactivity increases the validity of the data. It also helps form sensible questions in the native language, which would never be possible from a remote location and without the intense knowledge of the culture. Participant observation allows one to make strong statements about cultural facts, as one understands the mean


ing of the observation, instead of merrily citing acquired data. Without knowing about some local customs and the expression for such, certain facts can never be revealed.

The proper skill set of a participant observer, consists of several attributes, not ignoring the general experience in the field. A researcher should become the instrument of both data collection and its analysis through ones own experience. Following are critical skills one should develop for success in participant observation:

  • Learning the language so one can understand the observation and also ask questions that will clarify as well as further the research
  • Building memory so one can accurately report the observation
  • Maintaining Naivete, through the genius willingness to learn
  • Building writing skills so that field notes can be converted to published work

Entering the field:

Bernard considers the entry into the fieldwork as the most difficult part of participant observation. There are several ways to address this challenge:

  • Choose a site that is easy to enter (provides easy access to data)
  • Bring as much documentation about oneself and the project as possible
  • Utilize all help possible (friends, connections, letters of recommendation, etc.)
  • Be prepared for questions, show honesty and consistency
  • Getting to know the physical and social layout of the field site.

Field research literature, work experience, and conversations with experienced researchers have brought Bernard to a finding on the different stages of Participant Observation:

  • Initial contact
  • Shock
  • Discovering the obvious
  • The break
  • Focusing
  • Exhaustion, the second break, and frantic activity
  • Leaving

During the initial contact

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period, many anthropologists experience an extreme excitement as move into a new culture. Bernard states that cultural anthropologists are attracted to living in a new culture. However, there have been cases when the opposite occurred, usually caused by the effect of culture shock.

Almost all anthropologists report a form of depression and shock soon after their initial contact period. One form reveals itself in the anxiety to about their ability to collect good data. An good response, Bernard suggests, is to be highly task oriented, making maps, taking censuses, doing household inventories, collecting genealogies, and so forth. One can also carry out clinical, methodological field notes about feelings and responses in doing participant observation fieldwork. Another common experience is the culture shock. One focuses on little annoyances and is frustrated with everything around oneself as it is different from ones own culture. Bernard warns that one needs to be prepared for the challenge to remain a dispassionate observer, while another problem often sets in, the lack of privacy.

In the third stage, discovering the obvious, anthropologists experience the feeling that the informants are finally letting them into the core of their culture. That information, however, later turns out to be commonplace. At this stage, anthropologists feel like they belong and the “village” appears almost like a home.

The break usually occurs after three to four months. It is an important opportunity to get some physical and emotional distance from the field site. The anthropologist has a change to reflect on the research done so far, on the initial goal, and plan the remaining steps for the visit. By returning to the community, one also demonstrates a genuine interest in it and establishes more trust with the informants.

The break allows for the fifth stage: focusing. The break allowed for a reflection and preparation that can now be applied for the focusing stage.

The sixth stage consists out of exhaustion, a second break, and frantic activity. The exhaustion sets in as one feels an embarrassment to keep asking the informants questions and one believes that the informants do not have any more information. As cultural knowledge is enormous and can barely be acquired during a few years, this feeling is a big misconception. At that point a second break is useful as it allows reflecting on that and realizing how much there is still to find. The break, however, causes the frantic activity, as one panics about how little time is left with so much work to accomplish.

Leaving the field in a genuine and positive manner is very important, not only for ones own project, but also for the future of participant observation.

Differing from questionnaire surveys, ethnography relies on a few key informants rather than a representative sample. Anthropologists look for informants that are capable of providing adequate information about the culture, by choosing good informants and by asking them things they know about. Benard offers an approach, which was first implemented by Poggie in 1972. Poggie asked knowledgeable informants questions about the communities and compared the answers with high quality social surveys. The higher the correlation, the more qualified the informants. Another way to select

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