Someone mark my participant observation essay please?

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RosieB1717
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A level Sociology. Keep getting a C when resubmitting to my teacher. Please mark, grade and help me improve my work.

Evaluate the problems of using observation in sociological research

Participant observation is used in sociological research to express the views of anti-positivists who use it to understand the activity of others by getting involved in research. They use it as a research method because they are micro theorists who look at small groups to achieve versthen. This is when you understand why someone behaves a certain way which is useful for sociological research. They do this by using qualitive data to understand groups and present in depth information to develop new theories. This includes using the bottom up approach which is when small amounts of people develop systems to benefit society.
There is participant and non-participant observation where the researcher either takes part in the group or doesn’t as well as overt and covert research where the researcher either tells the group about the research or doesn’t. The theory is that people may act differently depending on what observation method is used which is the Hawthorn effect. An example of a theory used is interactionism which uses PO because they want to see the world through other people’s eyes. It has a front stage, back stage approach when addressing people. This is impression management where actions are visible to the audience and are part of the performance however, people can only engage in backstage behaviour when there is no audience present.
One example of covert and participant research is Laud Humphreys (1970). The Tea Room Trade was the study of gay men having sex in public places, in the USA. He acted as a look out for the men because homosexuality was illegal at that time. The research remained covert until he tracked them down by their car registration plates. He appeared at their houses asking for information in exchange for keeping their homosexual lives a secret because 50% of the men had oblivious wives at home. He researched the ethical activity of the group which proved that people associated the trade with stereotypes amongst the men. It also caused a major debate on privacy for research participants and is now used as an example. His research could be modified and a contemporary version could be compared to the original for interesting results that show development as people’s view on the gay community may have changed.
Another example of covert and participant observation was carried out by Amy Flowers (1998¬).She began her study as a sex phone worker and acknowledges the way in which women learned to mask their feelings and emotions when liaising with clients. Neither employees nor managers knew about her study. She gained experience by empathising with the clients which is considered an important part of research by Max Webter. It should be remembered that by doing this she received an honest response similar to Humphries research although, she didn’t invade the group’s privacy which meant that she received less criticism as a result.


Howard Parker is one example of a problem with participant observation and how it isn’t always effective. His study of young males in Liverpool discovered that they stole car radios, fought heavily and used drugs. He became so involved that he actually assisted them in crime by keeping watch as they committed felonies. Although his study got out of hand, it raised ideas about moral issues to sociologists and supported the criminals as they realised their behaviour was wrong.

On the other hand, Stephen Lang studied overt observation of high risk groups. His honest study of dangerous activities helped him understand the group without invading privacy. Lang’s use of participant observation helped him gain experience which will help him develop theories and ideas. The respondents are oblivious and therefore will be more honest with you which results in more useful information. You can develop trust and again access to areas where you couldn’t if you participated. On the other hand, disadvantages of PO are that the researcher may become bias towards the group which could influence their research. They can get too attached to the subject or the subject could be at risk, meaning they’d have to stop observing the group. A downfall is that the research they find is too specific and only applies to small groups meaning they can’t generalise results.
An example of overt and participant research can be shown from Stephen Lying (1998) who studied high risk groups. This included skydivers who he researched to discover why they did it. He never hid the fact that he was completing his study; however, he participated in the activities and joined in with the group. This way, the group were more honest with him. It also meant he could possibly follow on the research with other methods such as questionnaires and interviews to see why they behave this way. He really wanted to understand why someone thrives so badly from an adrenaline rush and the only way to do this was to experience it himself whilst asking others their feelings towards it.
Alternatively, the advantage of non PO is that it is safer for the researcher because they cannot be harmed by the group if something goes wrong. They merely observe their actions but may always be considered an outsider which won’t provide the most efficient results. The results may vary because the activity of the group can alter providing they know they’re being watched. This is the Hawthorne effect. An example of this is when teachers are watched to see how they educate children. They may use props and visual aids that they usually wouldn’t in lesson to appear more professional to the researcher which isn’t an accurate representation.
Covert methods are beneficial because they can present the normal activity of people. However, overt methods may have the Hawthorne effect due to the appearance of the researcher. For example, if the researcher is dressed as a nun you’re more likely to give an answer that isn’t truthful and won’t offend their religious beliefs. Whereas, overt methods minimises the chances of this happening and will lead to other efficient methods of research for observation, such as questionnaires and interviews to understand why the group behaved this way.
One way covert and total participant research was carried out was by James Patrick (1973). He studied and participated for four months in a Glasgow gang. This meant that he could research into difficult areas and use normal behaviour as well as the forbidden fruit to understand the group. Despite this, he could’ve posed himself as a threat due to exposure and there would be ethical dilemmas. In addition to this, his total participation meant that he has similar social characteristics to the group and therefore he was more believable which made him easier to confine in. He came to the summary that the group were afraid of fighting other gangs but more afraid of not fighting at all.
In conclusion, observation as a sociological research method benefits the researcher because it helps them to discover useful information about the group. However, it can sometimes be very challenging and difficult to observe the group depending on the method you use. It is therefore best if you evaluate how you will carry out your research before beginning the observation in order to achieve the most efficient results.
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TSR Jessica
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