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Qualitative Research: Observation

What is an observation?

A way to gather data by watching people, events, or noting physical characteristics in their natural setting. Observations can be overt (subjects know they are being observed) or covert (do not know they are being watched).

Participant Observation

  • Researcher becomes a participant in the culture or context being observed.
  • Requires researcher to be accepted as part of culture being observed in order for success

Direct Observation

  • Researcher strives to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to bias the observations; more detached.
  • Technology can be useful (i.e video, audiorecording).

Indirect Observation

  • Results of an interaction, process or behavior are observed (for example, measuring the amount of plate waste left by students in a school cafeteria to determine whether a new food is acceptable to them).

Suggested Readings and Film

  • Born into Brothels. (2004)
    Oscar winning documentary, an example of participatory observation, portrays the life of children born to prostitutes in Calcutta. New York-based photographer Zana Briski gave cameras to the children of prostitutes and taught them photography