Participant Observation: A Guide for Fieldworkers

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9780759119277: Participant Observation: A Guide for Fieldworkers

Qualitative research in such diverse areas as anthropology, sociology, education, nursing, and medical research draws on the insights gained through the use of participant observation for gaining greater understanding of phenomena from the point of view of participants. This book serves as a basic primer for the beginning researcher and as a useful reference and guide for experienced researchers who wish to re-examine their own skills and abilities in light of best practices of participant observation.

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About the Author:

Kathleen M. DeWalt is professor of anthropology and public health and director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Billie R. DeWalt is a past director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.


Participant observation lies at the heart of the ethnographic approach to qualitative research. The essence of participant observation is immersion in the settings, the cultural practices and daily activities of people who are the focus of study. Through participant observation, we researchers form relationships with people who teach us to see the world through their eyes. The translation of everyday experience and knowledge acquisition in the field into the rigorous conduct of participation is rare in the world of qualitative inquiry. In this valuable and easy to understand publication, DeWalt and DeWalt, two widely recognized and internationally ethnographers pool their knowledge to offer a comprehensive and structured approach to participant observation that is 'must' reading for initiates and experienced researchers alike. (Jean J. Schensul, Institute for Community Research)

This excellent book (1st ed., 2002) about the use of participant observation in anthropological field research goes appreciably beyond this specific topic. In very accessible prose, Kathleen DeWalt (anthropology, Univ. of Pittsburgh) and Billie DeWalt (formerly, director, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh) cover in some detail the many aspects of participant observation: its essential nature to the enterprise of anthropology and the preparation for and potential pitfalls of using this approach. The authors also present concepts not strictly associated with participant observation, like validity and reliability, elements of research design, online research, and a strong chapter on data management. In addition, there is discussion of computer indexing and coding, informed consent, and the legal status of anthropological research with reference to who owns field notes and the potential for the subpoena of those notes and the researcher. The authors systematize and demystify note taking and include an appendix with examples of field notes from three projects. There are many apt examples throughout that elucidate the points made. The expansive and timely bibliography is of particular note. An excellent basic methodological reference work for undergraduate and graduate students as well as professionals. Summing Up: Essential. (CHOICE 2011-09-01)

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