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Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts (1st edn)

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan
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date: 08 December 2021

p. 189O. Observational Methods

Combining Critical Distance and Inside Knowledge?locked

p. 189O. Observational Methods

Combining Critical Distance and Inside Knowledge?locked

  • Christian Olsson

Abstract

This chapter assesses observational methods. What distinguishes observational methods, and particularly participant observation (PO), from other data-gathering methods is, among others, that it privileges direct observation over the use of instruments. This implies that the observation is likely to be holistic, in the sense of involving the five senses, rather than only one of the senses (typically sight). PO also privileges observation in real time over the retrospective observation of traces left by past activities (texts, pictures, filmed sequences). It allows one to observe discourses, practices, interactions, and context together rather than separately. It focuses on first-hand observation, as opposed to observation based on secondary sources (involving a mediator or third person). PO is sometimes accused of harbouring a naive belief in the scientific virtue of ‘gut feeling’.

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