Definition of Participant Observation
(noun) When researchers actively engage in the activity they are studying to understand it better.
Example of Participant Observation
Participant Observation Pronunciation
Syllabification: par·tic·i·pant ob·ser·va·tion
- American English – /pahr-tIs-uh-puhnt ahb-suhr-vAY-shuhn/
- British English – /pah-tIs-i-puhnt ob-zuh-vAY-shuhn/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /pɑrˈtɪsəpənt ˌɑbzərˈveɪʃən/
- British English – /pɑːˈtɪsɪpənt ˌɒbzə(ː)ˈveɪʃən/
- Plural: participant observations
- Participant observation is often used in ethnographic research and the data is recorded through field notes.
- A qualitative research method.
- Participant observation is contrasted to detached observation.
- Also called participation observation.
- “[A field experiment] enables researchers to observe various forms of social behavior under conditions in which they normally occur. In a laboratory study, subjects know they are being observed and thus may display the behavior they believe is desirable” (Kendall 2006:27).
- “Ethnographers seek out the insider’s viewpoint. Because culture is the knowledge people use to generate behavior and interpret experience, the ethnographer seeks to understand group members’ behavior from the inside, or cultural, perspective. Instead of looking for a subject to observe, ethnographers look for an informant to teach them the culture” (Spradley and McCurdy 2008:4).
- Qualitative Research Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Quantitative Research Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “participant” and “observation” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- field experiment
- field note
- field research
- qualitative research
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Cite the Definition of Participant Observation
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “participant observation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 5, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/participant-observation/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
participant observation. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/participant-observation/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “participant observation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 5, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/participant-observation/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“participant observation.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/participant-observation/>.