Participant Observation: Advantages & Disadvantages

This allows researchers to better understand what is happening in that culture and lends credence to their interpretation of observations. Participatory observation also allows researchers to collect both quantitative and qualitative data through surveys and interviews.
Pros: Researchers gain access to scarce information by living as part of a target group. Cons: Because participants know they are being observed, changes in participants’ responses and behavior can affect the results.
What Are Its Disadvantages?
  • It can be very time-consuming.
  • It generates a vast amount of data.
  • By participating in activities, the researcher can inadvertently influence the other participants’ behavior.
  • Active involvement in the group can cause the researcher to lose objectivity and may lead to bias.

Participant Observation

Participant observations are based on an amalgamation of a community of researchers or analysts for the purposes of information gathering. Observation to understand social phenomena and problems. To achieve the desired results, the research team did not know the progress of the study.

The purpose of participant observation is to gain insight into the context of a particular group of individuals and their values, beliefs, culture, and lifestyle. In general, groups are often subcultures of society, such as specific religious, work, or community groups.

To do this type of work, the researcher must belong to a group and feel part of it for a long time. As this is part of our research objective, we also need to have access to insights and facts about the group.

This method was proposed by anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas and adopted by sociologists at the Chicago School of Sociology in the early 20th century.


Data collection

Data collection methods are useful processes for gathering information and creating new knowledge. In this process, there are various techniques for gathering the necessary information from specific populations to draw specific conclusions.

Observation is one of the data collection techniques commonly used in research. In particular, participant-observation techniques provide a wealth of data that help researchers understand the facial expressions, emotions, interactions, and activities of specific groups of individuals.

Qualitative research

Participant observation is often used in qualitative research. It aims to analyze the speech of individuals in order to draw certain conclusions according to the cultural structure of each group.

It can also be used as a tool for answering qualitative research questions, forming new theories, and testing hypotheses put forward prior to research and development.

Qualitative research uses this method with the aim of identifying changes in the analyzed population and improving living conditions.

Use in social sciences

Participatory observational methods are commonly used in the social sciences. The main fields of application are research related to anthropology, ethnography, sociology, psychology, and intercultural communication.

This type of method is useful in the social sciences because it lends itself to a detailed analysis of groups of individuals (cultural or religious groups).

By using this method, researchers can achieve active participation in the cultural environment. To do that, we need to spend a lot of time on research and development.

It uses socialization

Researchers should keep in mind that observation and socialization are processes that participants observe. To apply this method, researchers must use a process of interacting with groups until they are accepted as part of the group.

A close relationship should be established with the community or group under investigation. Researchers must learn to behave like other members of the community. The only way to get reliable results is for researchers to be accepted as part of the group.

In practice, the term “participant” refers to the fact that the person conducting the research, in addition to being an observer, must participate in the conversation and participate in the group activity through dialogue.


Participatory observation is fieldwork conducted by social science experts. In fact, it was the first method anthropologists used to practice their hypotheses in an external context.

This type of work requires researchers to use their five senses in addition to memory, informal interviews, and the inevitable interaction with the individual under investigation.


Researchers must decide which type of participatory research is most appropriate for the research they are conducting. This analysis should be performed prior to method implementation to maximize results and minimize errors.


The least common style of participatory observation is called ‘non-participatory’, where the researcher is not exposed to the population or field of study.

In this sense, analysts are not focused on building relationships with the population or asking questions to uncover new information.

The analysis of collective behavior plays a fundamental role in the research field.

Passive participation

In this type of study, the researcher sits on the sidelines and only makes detailed observations. In non-participatory observation, the analyst does not develop a relationship with the population or research area in question.

Observers are still far from an area of research. For example, coffee shops, offices, subways, etc. are places that can be observed without directly participating in the survey.

Moderate participation

Researchers must balance internal and external roles if they decide to maintain moderate participation. That balance is based on establishing participation, but separate from participating parties.

Active participation

By actively participating, the researcher integrates fully into the field of research and assumes the role of a spy. Observers participate in the population they are studying and participate in their daily activities.

However, while interacting with researchers, members are unaware of their ongoing observations and research.

Researchers may even voluntarily join groups to better understand the population they are studying.

Full participation

In this type of participation, the researcher is fully integrated into the research population by becoming a member of the research community. Analysts are part of that community, so they don’t pretend or act.

One of the limitations of this form of participation is the possible loss of research objectivity.

Advantages and disadvantages

Depth of knowledge

Participants’ observations allow researchers to gain a more precise perspective on social issues within the study group. Knowing your group’s standard of living and habits can help you understand the situation and make big changes.

On the other hand, this method allows us to get detailed information about the behavior, intentions, circumstances, and events of the group to find new hypotheses and better outcomes. It provides a large amount of qualitative data important to make your research more complete.

Help discover other problems

This method gives you access to suspects such as thieves, crooks, and murderers. In addition, analysts can approach criminal groups such as gangs to improve antisocial attitudes and behaviors.

High time consumption

One of the limitations or weaknesses of this method is the huge amount of time it takes to find a particular result. Researchers may spend months or years in research groups before reaching their research goals.

Analysts are part of a team, but they cannot be part of a team and perform objective analysis.

Therefore, researchers should pause group activities and act as observers. This means it takes time.

Ethical difficulties

Observing participants poses a series of ethical challenges that researchers must know how to address. When research team members are unaware of their research, researchers tend to deceive or withhold information to avoid revealing their intentions.

Depending on the group under investigation, analysts may engage in illegal and nefarious activities during the investigation. This made him accepted as part of the group.


The usefulness of technology in classrooms

Researchers may have the goal of understanding the use of technology in the classroom by foreign students to improve the learning process. In such cases, researchers may choose to use participant observations as a data collection method for the study.

To begin observing participants, researchers had to enroll in a foreign language course, attend daily, behave like normal students, interact with students, and have impromptu conversations.

In addition, observations and situations encountered by colleagues are recorded. Also, be careful when using technology or information that may assist in your investigation.

Participant observation provides access to certain types of information that would not be accessible without community involvement.

Participant observation of a group of athletes

Investigators can covertly observe the group to understand their behavior. Participating Observers can join the group as students interested in the sport, even if they do not participate in the game.

Focus on observing your players on and off the pitch for as long as possible.

Investigators can identify differences in player behavior on and off the pitch. Some members may act professionally on the field but are immoral in their private lives.

To achieve their goals, observers must trust the group enough to obtain more accurate information from its members. Sometimes you have to make small mistakes to reach your goals.

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