Sociology: Observation at British College Of Osteopathic Medicine | Flashcards & Summaries

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How do you achieve reliability?

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To achieve reliability research procedures must be standardised so that other researchers can reproduce them. 

  • E.g. in structured interviews all interviewers ask the same standard questions in the same way.
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What is main practical advantage of covert observation?

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It reduces the risk of altering people's behaviour, and sometimes it is the only way to to obtain valid information. - Particularly true where people are engaged in activities that they would rather keep secret.

  • Laud Humphreys- studied gay men's sexual encounters in public toilets- If they knew they were being observed, they would change or conceal their behaviour and so the main advantage of observation which is to preserves the naturalness of people's behaviour would be lost. 
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Explain the Flexibility advantage of PO.

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Flexibility 

  • Rather than starting to enter the situation with a fixed hypothesis, it allows the sociologist to enter the situation with open mind about what they will find. 
  • Researcher can follow up different directions / ideas if something interesting occurs.
  • Whyte noted simply by observing 'I learned answers to questions that i would not have had the sense to ask if i had been using interviews.'
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What is the problem of representativeness with PO?

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In PO studies, the group studied is usually very small and the 'sample' is often selected haphazardly

  • E.g. by a chance encounter with someone who turns put to be a key informant. 
  • This does not provide a sound basis for making generalisations
  • Downes & Rock- although PO may provide valid insights into the particular group being studied, it is doubtful how far those ' internal valid insights are externally valid', that is generalisable to the wider population.
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Types of observation- explain.

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  • Non- participant observation: The researcher simply observe the group or event without taking part in it. E.g. they may use a two-way mirror to observe children playing.
  • Participant observation: The researcher actually takes part in an event or the everyday life of the group while observing it.
  • Overt observation: The researcher makes their true identity and purpose known to those being studied. The sociologist is open about what they are doing.
  • Covert observation: The study is carried out ' under cover'. The researcher's real identity and purpose are kept concealed from the group being studied. The researcher takes on a false identity and role, usually posing as a genuine member of the group.
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What is the practical disadvantage of covert participant observation?

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1. It requires the researcher to keep up an act, and may call for detailed knowledge of the group's way of life even before joining it
  • There is always a risk of one's cover being 'blown' by even trivial mistake. - E.g. Patrick was almost found out when he bought his suit with cash instead of credit and when he fastened the middle button of his jacket rather than the top one- things the gang would never have done.
  • -> This is likely to bring the research to an abrupt end and may, in the case of some criminal groups, lead to physical harm
  • Patrick- the gang handed him an axe to use in an expected fight- illegal activities - guilty knowledge.
2. The sociologist cannot usually take notes openly and must rely on memory and the opportunity to write them in secret
  • Both Leon Festinger, studying a religious sect that had predicted the imminent end of the world and Jason Ditton, studying theft among bread delivery men, had to use toilets as a place for recording their observations. In Ditton’s case, this eventually aroused suspicion.
3. The researcher cannot ask naive but important questions, or combine observation with other methods, such as interviews.
4. Although pretending to be an insider rather than an outsider reduces the risk of the Hawthorne Effect, the addition of a new member can still change the group’s behaviour, thus reducing validity.
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What issue does the use of covert observation raises?
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The use of covert observation raises several practical and ethical issues
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Does actual research always fit into the types of observation such as non- participant, participant, overt and covert observation?

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Actual research does not always fit neatly into these categorises. 

  • E.g William Whyte's study of 'Street Corner Society' was semi- overt (partly open). He revealed his real purpose to a key member of the group, Doc, but not to others. 
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What are the advantages of PO?

- list

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  1. Validity 
  2. Insight 
  3. Flexibility 
  4. Practical advantages
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What are the practical disadvantages of PO?

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  • It is time consumingEg Whyte's study took him four years to complete.
  • The researcher needs to be trained so as to be able to recognise aspects of a situation that are sociologically significant and worth further attention.
  • It can be personally stressful and demanding, especially if covered.
  • It requires observational and interpersonal skills that not everyone posses.
  • Personal characteristics such as age, gender or ethnicity may restrict what kinds of groups can be studied. As Downes and Rock put it, 'not everyone would pass uneventfully into the world of punk rockers or Hell's Angels'.
  • Many groups may not wish to be studied in this and some have the power to make access difficult. This is one reason why PO often focuses on relatively powerless groups who are less able to resist being studied, such as petty criminals.
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Explain the Insight advantage of PO.

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Insight

- To truly understand what something is like we need to experience it ourselves. Sociologist call this personal/ subjective understanding Verstehen (german word meaning empathy) / understanding that come from putting yourselves in another person's place.

  • PO allows the researcher to gain empathy through personal experience.
  • By actually living as a member of a group, we can gain insight into their way of life, their meanings and viewpoints, their values and problems. 
  • This closeness to people's lived reality means that PO can give uniquely valid, authentic data.
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Explain the Validity advantage of PO.

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Validity

  • Participant observation allows the researcher to see what people do rather than what people say they do.
  • By observing people we can obtain rich qualitative data that provides a picture of how they really live.
  • Supporters of PO argue that this is the method's main strength, and most of its other other advantages are linked to this. 
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Q:

How do you achieve reliability?

A:

To achieve reliability research procedures must be standardised so that other researchers can reproduce them. 

  • E.g. in structured interviews all interviewers ask the same standard questions in the same way.
Q:

What is main practical advantage of covert observation?

A:

It reduces the risk of altering people's behaviour, and sometimes it is the only way to to obtain valid information. - Particularly true where people are engaged in activities that they would rather keep secret.

  • Laud Humphreys- studied gay men's sexual encounters in public toilets- If they knew they were being observed, they would change or conceal their behaviour and so the main advantage of observation which is to preserves the naturalness of people's behaviour would be lost. 
Q:

Explain the Flexibility advantage of PO.

A:

Flexibility 

  • Rather than starting to enter the situation with a fixed hypothesis, it allows the sociologist to enter the situation with open mind about what they will find. 
  • Researcher can follow up different directions / ideas if something interesting occurs.
  • Whyte noted simply by observing 'I learned answers to questions that i would not have had the sense to ask if i had been using interviews.'
Q:

What is the problem of representativeness with PO?

A:

In PO studies, the group studied is usually very small and the 'sample' is often selected haphazardly

  • E.g. by a chance encounter with someone who turns put to be a key informant. 
  • This does not provide a sound basis for making generalisations
  • Downes & Rock- although PO may provide valid insights into the particular group being studied, it is doubtful how far those ' internal valid insights are externally valid', that is generalisable to the wider population.
Q:

Types of observation- explain.

A:
  • Non- participant observation: The researcher simply observe the group or event without taking part in it. E.g. they may use a two-way mirror to observe children playing.
  • Participant observation: The researcher actually takes part in an event or the everyday life of the group while observing it.
  • Overt observation: The researcher makes their true identity and purpose known to those being studied. The sociologist is open about what they are doing.
  • Covert observation: The study is carried out ' under cover'. The researcher's real identity and purpose are kept concealed from the group being studied. The researcher takes on a false identity and role, usually posing as a genuine member of the group.
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Q:

What is the practical disadvantage of covert participant observation?

A:
1. It requires the researcher to keep up an act, and may call for detailed knowledge of the group's way of life even before joining it
  • There is always a risk of one's cover being 'blown' by even trivial mistake. - E.g. Patrick was almost found out when he bought his suit with cash instead of credit and when he fastened the middle button of his jacket rather than the top one- things the gang would never have done.
  • -> This is likely to bring the research to an abrupt end and may, in the case of some criminal groups, lead to physical harm
  • Patrick- the gang handed him an axe to use in an expected fight- illegal activities - guilty knowledge.
2. The sociologist cannot usually take notes openly and must rely on memory and the opportunity to write them in secret
  • Both Leon Festinger, studying a religious sect that had predicted the imminent end of the world and Jason Ditton, studying theft among bread delivery men, had to use toilets as a place for recording their observations. In Ditton’s case, this eventually aroused suspicion.
3. The researcher cannot ask naive but important questions, or combine observation with other methods, such as interviews.
4. Although pretending to be an insider rather than an outsider reduces the risk of the Hawthorne Effect, the addition of a new member can still change the group’s behaviour, thus reducing validity.
Q:
What issue does the use of covert observation raises?
A:
The use of covert observation raises several practical and ethical issues
Q:

Does actual research always fit into the types of observation such as non- participant, participant, overt and covert observation?

A:

Actual research does not always fit neatly into these categorises. 

  • E.g William Whyte's study of 'Street Corner Society' was semi- overt (partly open). He revealed his real purpose to a key member of the group, Doc, but not to others. 
Q:

What are the advantages of PO?

- list

A:
  1. Validity 
  2. Insight 
  3. Flexibility 
  4. Practical advantages
Q:

What are the practical disadvantages of PO?

A:
  • It is time consumingEg Whyte's study took him four years to complete.
  • The researcher needs to be trained so as to be able to recognise aspects of a situation that are sociologically significant and worth further attention.
  • It can be personally stressful and demanding, especially if covered.
  • It requires observational and interpersonal skills that not everyone posses.
  • Personal characteristics such as age, gender or ethnicity may restrict what kinds of groups can be studied. As Downes and Rock put it, 'not everyone would pass uneventfully into the world of punk rockers or Hell's Angels'.
  • Many groups may not wish to be studied in this and some have the power to make access difficult. This is one reason why PO often focuses on relatively powerless groups who are less able to resist being studied, such as petty criminals.
Q:

Explain the Insight advantage of PO.

A:

Insight

- To truly understand what something is like we need to experience it ourselves. Sociologist call this personal/ subjective understanding Verstehen (german word meaning empathy) / understanding that come from putting yourselves in another person's place.

  • PO allows the researcher to gain empathy through personal experience.
  • By actually living as a member of a group, we can gain insight into their way of life, their meanings and viewpoints, their values and problems. 
  • This closeness to people's lived reality means that PO can give uniquely valid, authentic data.
Q:

Explain the Validity advantage of PO.

A:

Validity

  • Participant observation allows the researcher to see what people do rather than what people say they do.
  • By observing people we can obtain rich qualitative data that provides a picture of how they really live.
  • Supporters of PO argue that this is the method's main strength, and most of its other other advantages are linked to this. 
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