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Participant Observation in Anthropology Essay

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Participant observation is a method of collecting information and data about a culture and is carried out by the researcher immersing themselves in the culture they observing. The researcher becomes known in the community, getting to know and understand the culture in a more intimate and detailed way than would be possible from any other approach. This is done by observing and participating in the community’s daily activities. The method is so effective because the researcher is able to directly approach the people in the community in a natural context as opposed to taking the participant out of their environment. The aim of participant observation is to gain an understanding the subject’s life from their perspective, with the purpose of collecting more detailed information about a community’s habits, opinions, relationships and issues.


One of the major advantages of participant observation is the ability of the anthropologist to gain access to events, locations and intimate situations where outside observers would not be allowed. DeMunk and Sobo (1998) describe some benefits of the observation method over alternative methods of anthropological data collection including the fact that it allows admission to the “backstage culture” (DeMunk and Sobo 1998 p.43), it allows for intimately detailed description, and provides the anthropologist with opportunities to be a part of all events. DeWalt and DeWalt (2002 p.92) also suggest that it increases the quality of the data that has been collected and the interpretation of the anthropologist, as well as analysis of that data and assisting in the development of new research questions and hypotheses. However, DeMunk and Sobo (1998) also address some disadvantages of using the particip...


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...formity and Conflict: readings in cultural anthropology, 6th edn, Little Brown, Boston, pp. 34-43.

deMunck, Victor C. & Sobo, Elisa J. (Eds) (1998). Using methods in the field: a practical introduction and casebook. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

DeWalt, Kathleen M. & DeWalt, Billie R. (2002). Participant observation: a guide for fieldworkers. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Schensul, Stephen L.; Schensul, Jean J. & LeCompte, Margaret D. (1999). Essential ethnographic methods: observations, interviews, and questionnaires (Book 2 in Ethnographer's Toolkit). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Schultz, Emily A. & Lavenda, Robert H. 2005, Cultural Anthropology, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, New York, Chapter 3: Fieldwork.

Van Dongen, Els 2007, ‘Anthropology on Beds: the bed as the field of research’, Anthropology Today, vol. 23, no. 6, pp. 23-26



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