In social research it iscommon for researchers to use participant observation as a method to gatherinformation in ethnography. (Bryman, 2016, p.
423) It allows the researcher tosee the world from the participants point of view. On the other hand, Interviewsare another method of research used which is mostly utilised to gain quantitivedata which can later be generalised and repeated. Both methods of research havedifferent advantages and disadvantages, meaning that the information gatheredfrom one strategy may allow us to see things from a different angle to theother.
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The aim of this essay is to outline and explain in detail the differenttypes of interview structures, for example, structured, semi-structured andunstructured along with what covert and overt participant observations is. Thepositives and negatives of each strategy will also be discussed. In order tocomprehend how we are able to collect different types of data from each one andwhat these different results may teach us, the essay will also aim to engage indeep discussion concerning how although one method may give us one result andthe other method a different result, when both are used together usingtriangulation, the authenticity of ones research then increases.Participant observation can consistof the researcher taking part in the same activities as those who theresearcher is observing and records what they find. This method of research ismore common in field experiment where the participant(s) are in a naturalenvironment rather than a controlled environment, this means that theresearcher can then see how the participant behaves in a natural environment.Participant observation is much preferred by interpretivists as it has highecological validity. This means that the actions displayed in the observationcan be generalised because they have taken place in real world settings.
It allowsthe researcher to empathise with the participants and see the world from theirpoint of view, giving us better understanding of why the participant behaves inthat particular way. There are two types of observation, covert and overt observation. Covert observation is when the participantsbeing observed are not aware of this and are therefore more likely to act natural.The researcher becomes part of the crowd that they are studying in order to geta true understanding. This means that the identity of the researcher mustremain hidden in order for the observation to be successful. In contrast to this,Overt observation is when the participant(s) are aware that they are beingwatch and are aware of the experiment/subject of research.
This means theiridentity and intentions are known to the crowd and therefore they are allowedto openly observe as much as they can. Covert observation has many positivesand negatives. Some positives of covert observation are that the troublesgetting in, staying in and getting out are reduced. For example, in Patrick’scovert Glasgow gang study, getting into the gang was not a problem because theidentity of the researcher was hidden and therefore the gang members believedthat the researcher wanted to join the gang was genuine, but if they knew thatthey were part of a study, the likelihood of the researcher being allowed toobserve them openly would be minimal. Staying in also wasn’t a problem becausethe researcher’s identity is hidden. However, when considering the fact thatthe identity of the researcher must remain hidden, one must also realise thatthis may affect the field notes the research takes and how much informationthey can truly access.
Because the researcher’s identity is hidden, asking toomany questions would make them seem suspicious and uncover their true identity.In addition to this, taking notes in front of the crowd would not be a wiseidea and therefore the researcher would have to wait until afterwards and relyon their memory and versions of events. An example of how covert surveillance canaffect a studying this way is in Ditton’s research on fiddling in a bakery 1977(Bryman, 2016.
p.426). The researcher started of as a covert observer and thentransferred to being an overt observer because of the difficulty of takingnotes during the experiment without revealing the nature of his presence. Anotherpositive of covert observation is that because the true intentions of the researcherare unknown, the participants are more inclined to act natural, their naturalbehaviours are uninterrupted by the presence of the researcher. In contrast tothis, because the identity of the researcher, intentions and nature of thestudy is hidden, this raises some ethical issues such as deception. Inaddition, the participants being observed have not given permission to be partof the study and therefore the ethical issue of consent is then raised. Theethical issue of withdrawal is also an issue when considering covertobservation. Due to the fact that participants are unaware of the study andunaware that their information is part of it, they do not have the knowledge towithdraw this information if they wish to.
Overt observation also has itsown positives and negatives. When conducting overt surveillance, theparticipants know the intentions of the researcher as well as the nature of thestudy, the identity of the researcher is not hidden and therefore theresearcher doesn’t have to make a conscious effort to watch what they say andtheir behaviour around the participants. As a result of this, the researchercan ask more detailed questions about the what they have observed to gather moredetail about why they have decided to behave in that particular way. Comparedto the covert observation method, the researcher who chooses to use overtsurveillance is likely to have more accurate notes. This is because overtresearcher do not have to recall from memory before taking notes. They can takenotes at the moment of the event happening and therefore there is likely to bemore reliability placed on this category of surveillance. However, because inovert observation the identity and intention of the researcher is known, thismay cause the participants to respond to things in an unusual way compared tohow they would if no one was observing therefore elucidating that theauthenticity of the results found would lack validity.
This is known as the Hawthorneeffect. ‘going native’ may also be a problem for the researcher. Due to thefact that the researcher is trying to fit in, the may get accustomed to the lifestyleor behaviours and as a result, lose sight of what they are studying.Another research methodcommonly used is interviews however there are three types. Unstructuredinterviews are similar to conversations in the sense that it is very easyflowing and back and forth.
The interviewer’s response is based on theinterviewee’s answer. This allows the participant to be free with their answerand express their true opinion on the subject being studied. This method of research is much preferred byinterpretivist due to the fact that the method doesn’t limit the participant toone answer or the other making the validity of the results very high. Incontrast to this, because the interview then becomes the person leading theinterview, they may lead it the interview to a path that has nothing to withthe subject.
This is similar to a semi-structured interview. In this case, thequestions are “predetermined”, (Banister et. Al 2011 pg.
89) this is known as aninterview schedule. However, the difference between the two is that theinterviewer may miss questions out and add questions depending on what theinterviewee’s response is to the previous question (Banister et. Al 2011 pg.90).
The questions are also usually open ended, for example, if the researcher isstudying race they may ask “how do you feel about hate crime?” which allows theparticipant to express themselves and their opinion. For this reason, themethod is also much preferred by interpretivist. But when considering allfactors, semi-structured interviews then become difficult to quantify andcompare when reviewing the results leading to lack of reliability andgeneralisation.
The last category is structured interviews. This too has aninterview schedule meaning that the questions are “predetermined”. (Banisteret.
al. 2011 pg.89). However, unlike semi-structured interviews, the questionsare unchanging in terms of what is asked, the order it is asked in and possibleresponses that could be given. The questions are closed-ended, meaning that theparticipants can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions they are asked.
This means that they are limited replies they can give. Although the data isthen easy to analyse and qualify, it lacks validity. Overall, interviews areextremely time consuming. This is because each participant has to get a turnbeing interviewed.
In addition to this, constructing interviews is also costly.The researcher must pay for the interviewer to be train, pay the interviewer forthe job and pay for a venue to conduct this in. the may also have to considerpaying participants in some cases.
When studying specificsubjects, researchers may choose to use one research method over the other.This is because there are some things that the researcher can learn fromobservation that we can not gather from interviews and other things that we canlearn from interviews that observation would not reveal to the researcher. Forexample, from using participant observation, specifically covert observationthe researcher allows themselves to look through the eyes of others. This meansthe researcher has the best possible understanding of the group of people thatthey are studying. They have been in contact with the selected group for aprolonged period of times and have taken part in the same activities that thegroup. From this we learn how to put ourselves in the shoes of others, this isknown as empathising with others. Interviews on the other hand are more likelyto involve “fleeting contact” (Bryman, 2016, p.
493) meaning that they don’t getthe chance to gather full information and understanding of the participantbecause they only have brief contact. On the other hand, when consideringethical implications, interviews do not have as many as participantsurveillance. In the case of interviews, the participant is aware that they aretaking part in a study and therefore the researcher is able to limit the ethicalissue of deception within the study. In essence, this also mean that they havegiven their consent to be part of the study and lastly, they have understoodthat they have the right to withdraw their information if they wish to. Usually,all these ethical rights are repeated to them before the interview commences.Participant surveillance, mainly covert, suffer the previous ethical issuesmentioned before due to the fact that the researcher’s identity must remainhidden in order to avoid “reactive effects”. (Bryman, 2016, p.
494). Similar tounderstanding, the research is able to obtain knowledge of how people act innatural situation without the reactive effects or the participant putting on anact due to the presence of someone watching them. When conducting a structuredinterview, it is possible that the participant may base their answers on socialdesirability. Due to their desire to want to impress the interviewer, it islikely that a participant may change their answer from what they honestly thinkto something else which they may believe is the correct answer or the answerthat the interviewer would prefer to hear.
This means that the results obtainedmay not be genuine nor valid. On the other hand, Covert participant observationallows the researcher to gain easy access. For example, if the research isstudying a sensitive subject such as rape victims or prostitution, it may behard to find people that would participate in an interview. This could be dueto risk or danger or because of the sensitivity. In contrast to this, covertobservation allows the researcher to be in a familiar and comfortable environment.
Due to this, the victim may be more open to talking to some whom they view asordinary rather than an interview whom they think may judge them. As a result, italso creates what is referred to as the snowball effect. Once the covertresearcher has gained access to one member of their target sample, it may leadthem to another which allows the researcher to collect more authenticinformation.
Although when analysing bothmethods of social research, it is clear that they both have negative andpositive aspects to them, meaning we can gather different types of informationfrom each one. There are things that we can learn from participant observationthat interviews can not provide and there are things we can learn frominterview that observation can not provide. An example of this would be that interviewstend to hold high status in the case of reliability, however this method stillwould lack validity, whereas participants observation has high status invalidity due to its empathetic nature but lack reliability. However, if aresearcher was to use a method of research called triangulation, which is whenthe researcher uses more than one method to gather their information, thiswould then maximise both reliability and validity of the study.
The empatheticaspect of covert observation would allow the researcher to see how people reactin a natural comfortable environment and get in the mind of the participants.In addition to this, the semi- structured interview method would allow theresearcher to gain deeper understanding as to why the target sample behaved inthat specific way.