Research Writing

Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

Participant observation

The participant observation  is based on the integration of a researcher or analyst community for the purpose of gathering information. Complies in order to understand a phenomenon or social problem. According to the desired result, the studied group does not necessarily have to be aware of the research development. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

The objective of participant observation is to understand in depth the situation of a certain group of individuals, as well as their values, beliefs, culture and ways of life. Generally, the group is usually the subculture of a society, such as a religious group, work or some particular community.

To carry out this type of work, the researcher must remain within the group and feel part of it for a long time. In addition, you must be able to access the intimate details and events of the group, as this is part of the objective of your investigation.

This method was proposed by anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas, and adopted by sociologists at the Chicago School of Sociology in the early 20th century.


Data collection

Data collection methods are useful processes for gathering information and generating some new knowledge as a result. Within this process, there are a series of techniques to gather the necessary information from a certain population in order to reach concrete conclusions. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

Observation is one of the data collection techniques commonly used in investigations. The observation technique (especially the participant), provides the researcher with a series of useful data to know the expressions, feelings , interactions and activities of a particular group of individuals.

Qualitative research

Participant observation is often used in qualitative research. It is intended to analyze the speeches of individuals to reach particular conclusions according to the cultural composition of each group.

It can also be used as a support to answer questions in qualitative research, in the construction of new theories or to test any hypothesis that has been raised before the development of the study.

Qualitative research generally uses this method to determine changes in the population to be analyzed, with the aim of improving their living conditions. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

Use in social sciences

Participant observation is normally used in the social sciences. The main areas in which it is applied are: anthropology, ethnology, sociology, psychology and studies related to communication between different cultures.

This type of method is useful for the social sciences, as it helps to become familiar with a group of individuals (cultural or religious groups) in order to analyze them in detail.

By using this method, the researcher is able to achieve intense participation within the cultural environment. To achieve this, you must dedicate an ample period of time to develop the study.

It uses socialization

The researcher must bear in mind that observation and socialization are processes that are associated within participant observation. To apply this methodology, the researcher must resort to the process of socialization with the group until he is accepted as part of it.

A close relationship must be established with the community or group studied; the researcher must learn to act as one more member of the community. The only way to obtain reliable results is for the researcher to be accepted as part of the group. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

In fact, the word “participant” refers to the fact that beyond being an observer, the person carrying out the study must engage in conversations and engage in group activities through dialogue.

Field work

Participant observation is a field work carried out by specialists in social sciences. In fact, it is the first method used by anthropologists when putting their hypotheses into practice in an external context.

This type of work requires the use of the five senses of the researchers, in addition to memory , informal interviews and the inevitable interaction with the individuals to be studied.


The investigator must decide the type of participatory research that is best suited to the study to be conducted. This analysis should be carried out before putting the methodology into practice, in order to maximize the obtaining of results and minimize the margin of error. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages


The least common participant observation style is the so-called “non-participatory”, where the researcher is not in contact with the population or the field of study.

In this sense, analysts do not focus on building relationships with the population, or asking questions to find new information.

The analysis of group behavior has a fundamental role within the research field.

Passive participation

In this type of study, the researcher only makes detailed observations within his role as a spectator. Like non-participatory observation, the analyst refrains from building relationships with the population in question and with the field of study. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

The observer remains distant from the field of study; the members do not get to notice the presence of the investigator. For example, cafeterias, offices and the subway are places that can be observed without having to participate directly in the study.

Moderate participation

If it is decided to maintain a moderate participation, the researcher must have a balance between internal and external roles. That balance is based on establishing participation, but with a detachment towards the people involved.

Active participation

In active participation, the researcher is fully integrated into the field of study, to the point of fulfilling the role of spy. The observer becomes involved with the population he studies and participates in their daily activities.

However, members are unaware of the observation or research that is taking place despite their interaction with researchers. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

There is even a possibility that the researcher voluntarily becomes part of the group to better understand the population he is studying.

Full participation

In this type of participation, the researcher is fully integrated into the study population by being a member of the studied community. The analyst does not pretend or act, since he is part of that community.

The disadvantage of this type of participation is that the objectivity of the investigation can be lost.

Advantages and disadvantages

Depth of knowledge

Participant observation allows the researcher to obtain a more accurate perspective of the social problems of the studied group. By knowing the level of life and daily life of the group, it is much easier to understand the situation and achieve a profound change. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

On the other hand, the method allows to have detailed information on behaviors, intentions, situations and events of the group to find new hypotheses and better results. It offers a large amount of key qualitative data to make the investigation much more complete.

Help discover other problems

This method allows the approach to suspects such as thieves, scammers and murderers. In addition, analysts can access criminal groups such as gangs, in order to reach out and improve the attitude and behavior of antisocial communities.

High time consumption

One of the drawbacks or weaknesses of this method is the large amount of time it takes to find concrete results. The researcher can spend months or years within the study group before achieving the objective of the research.

During the time that the analyst is part of the group, he is able to become a member of the group and not be objective with his analysis. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

For this reason, the researcher must stay away to a certain extent from the activities of the group and fulfill an observer role. This implies a higher time consumption.

Ethical difficulties

Participant observation raises a series of ethical difficulties that the researcher must know how to cope with. When the members of the study group are not aware of the research, the researcher tends to mislead or hide information so as not to reveal his objective.

Depending on the investigated group, the analyst could be involved in illegal and immoral activities during the investigation. This helps him to be accepted as part of the group.


Usefulness of technology in classrooms

A researcher may have the objective of knowing the use of technology in the classrooms of foreign students, in order to improve the learning process. In these cases, the researcher may choose to use participant observation as the data collection method for his research.

To initiate participant observation, the researcher must enroll in a foreign language course, attend daily, behave like an ordinary student, interact, and have impromptu conversations with students.

Parallel to that, you should take note of what you observe and all the situations that your colleagues experience. In addition, you should note the use of technology and any information that you consider useful for the investigation. Participant observation advantages and disadvantages

Participant observation provides access to certain types of information that you would not be able to access if you are not involved within the community.

Participant observation of a group of athletes

An investigator may conduct a covert observation on a soccer team with the aim of learning about its behavior. The participating observer can become involved with the group as a student interested in the sport without having to participate in the games.

Your focus may be to meet with the players for as long as possible, both on and off the courts.

The investigator can determine the differences between the behavior of the players on the pitch and off the pitch. Some members may act professionally on the court, but immorally in their private lives.

To achieve his goal, the observer must gain enough trust with the group to obtain more accurate information from the members. You may have to commit a minor offense to reach your goal.

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