Participant observation allows us to “walk in other people’s shoes” to discover how they live their lives. It’s an immersive research method that can reveal unexpected discoveries.

In his book Participant Observation, James Spradley discusses detailed aspects of participant observation, but let’s look a little more closely at how this method works.

If participant observation can reveal so much about social situations comprised of place, people, and activities, what are the qualities one must have to become an effective participant observer? Spradley details this in Participant Observation but it’s worth a deeper discussion.

‘Got a sense that participant observation is more about the observer than the situation being observed? You’re right!

Follow Through

Invest yourself in participant observation and remain as objective and open as possible to the “familiar.” You’ll discover something new every time.

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Dennis Cheatham

Associate Professor, Communication Design

Miami University

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