Participant Observation Exercise
This exercise provides a relatively brief, safe and, inexpensive way to acquire a sense of what participant observation in ethnographic ﬁeldwork is like and to evaluate its strengths and limitations as a method.
Select an event or activity specifically for this project to observe and, ideally, to participate in at some level. The event or activity may be quite simple, common, small, or frequent—or it may be elaborate, unusual, and different from your own cultural tradition—but it must meet these criteria:
Ø You have a right to be there, or you have secured permission or an invitation to attend from persons in charge.
Ø It is not familiar to you.
Ø It has a clear beginning and end.
Ø It is limited in time so you can observe the entire event.
Ø It is legal and risks little harm.
Ø You are curious about it.
Ø You have a trusted acquaintance familiar with the event -your key informant– who will accompany you or host you at the event and answer your questions about it.
Examples of events on/around campus that could meet these criteria:
Ø Athletic team/club practice (not of a game you have played before)
Ø Habitat for humanity project
Ø Religious service outside of your own religion
Observe the event and take notes if this can be done unobtrusively, to refresh your memory during debrieﬁng soon after. Request to participate in some way: to throw the ball, wield a hammer, pour the punch, and so on. During the event or the debrieﬁng, ask your key informant to explain what you observed.
After the event and after consulting your ﬁeld notes and discussing the event with your key informant, debrief yourself by composing a typed document of notes. Include in these notes:
Ø What happened at the activity? Include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile memories.
Ø How you felt during the activity?
Ø How people responded to you?
Ø What your key informant told you.
Ø Evidence that your presence influenced the scene.
Answer the following questions and turn them in along with your field notes, typed notes and any other documentation you feel compliments the assignment.
1. What event/activity did you observe and how/why was it a new experience for you?
2. What understanding was gained from participation compared to just observing?
3. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
4. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
5. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
**MAKE SURE TO STAPLE ALL PAGES/ATTACHMENTS INTO ONE PACKAGE – NO PAPER/BINDERCLIPS**
**EXPECTED LENGTH 5-6 PAGES**
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