2022r语言代写留学生指导英国essay需求The participant observer oxymoron
This is an excerpt from: Karen O’Reilly (forthcoming, 2008) Key Concepts in Ethnography, London: Sage
This excerpt is covered by copyright laws so please be careful to reference it properly. For direct quotes you will need to cite: ‘2008, forthcoming: page unknown’
The participant observer oxymoron
The term ‘oxymoron’ acknowledges the juxtaposition of two terms, such as participant and observer, that are essentially opposed in meaning.
Outline: Participant observation as a contradiction in terms. The tension between detached observer and empathetic participant. The traditional emphasis on the role of observation, with participation as a means of access. Participation as a means of gathering data, through subjective experience. The contemporary need to be aware of the researcher’s own role and the advantages of balancing destrangement and estrangement. Practical and philosophical considerations, and the participant observation continuum.
The contradiction in termsParticipant observation is an oxymoron: a contradiction in terms; a concept with an inherent tension. As discussed under other concepts, it involves gaining access, adopting an insider role, gaining rapport, becoming accepted, building relationships, even sometimes making friends. It can be disturbing, finding oneself surrounded by new people in new surroundings and trying not only to fit in but to understand what is going on, and even write about it. Hoping people accept you in their world yet at the same time trying to access groups you would not normally access (such as when I spent time getting to know a group of women whose husbands were all in prison), and asking questions people do not normally ask, can make an ethnographer feel insecure and act apologetically. The tension between subjectivity and objectivity, detached observer and participant, group member and ethnographer always remain whether one is literally adapting to a strange and ‘other’ culture or observing a parallel culture from a mental distance. As Alfred Schutz (1971) so aptly described in his essay about the stranger in phenomenological sociology, the challenge is to balance attempts to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. However, the tension remains in the fact that you only really understand a group when you act within it without thinking, but the very act of trying to do that prevents you from ever truly being a member.
Emphasis on ObservationEthnography was first established as a method within the context of anthropology, which was then a fledgling discipline trying to establish itself as one of the sciences of society. Natural science, at the time, had earned huge respect as a discipline that could generate reliable and representative facts about phenomena and, even more, could effect change. The promise of sociology and anthropology, then, lay in the potential of science to yield information that could be used to change society for the better. A key element of the scientific approach of positivism was the application of empiricist views of natural science to the study of human societies. In turn, this meant that all knowledge about real phenomena had to be gained through direct experience of it using the senses. Anthropologists like Malinowski thus began to argue that the best way to understand exotic, ‘native’, societies was through direct and systematic observation. However, such observation was meant to be detached and objective, and used to record typical ways of thinking and feeling not individual impressions or reactions. For these early anthropologists participation was meant to aid this detached observation but was to be kept separate analytically. The goal was to be in the surroundings long enough for people to act naturally, to forget and thus ignore the presence of the anthropologist. Being there enables one to ask not about general rules and abstract principles but how certain cases may be treated or events responded to, and to draw generalisations from such observations. Participation itself was not a means of gathering data but a means of access in order that data could be gathered through observation.#p#分页标题#e#
Emphasis on participationThese ideas can also be seen to some extent in the naturalism of the Chicago School ethnographers. Here naturalism is a perspective that sees the world as real, and acknowledges that it can be studied scientifically, but challenges some of the assumptions of empiricism. It is more interpretive (interpretivism). Chicago sociologists conducted their research in the natural worlds of social interaction. They drew on ideas from phenomenology, hermeneutics and symbolic interactionism in their understandings of how society works. Participation therefore had more of a central role in participant observation since it was essential to begin to interpret and understand respondents’ meanings. However, there remained a desire to abstract and generalise beyond the specific case (Denzin, 1989). As philosophies of social science have moved increasingly towards a theory of the social world as co-constructed so ethnographers have argued that it is essential to take part in this construction in order to understand it (see Ellen, 1984; Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995). According to this approach, the social world is indeterminate and does not exist independently of our desire to understand it. As Denzin (1989: 26) states: ‘meaningful interpretations of human experience can only come from those persons who have thoroughly immersed themselves in the phenomenon they wish to interpret and understand.’ Critical, feminist and post-positivist ethnographers now want to reclaim some emphasis on the reality of the external world while acknowledging the need to understand its impacts from the perspective of those experiencing it (see realism).
The aims of participationIn fact it is, I believe, futile to attempt to resolve the participant observation oxymoron and to come down on the side of either participation or observation, objectivity or subjectivity. We have reached a point where it is crucial to acknowledge the role, value and contribution of scientific endeavourhttp://www.ukassignment.org/daixieEssay/daixieyingguoessay/ while remaining fully aware that humans (including ethnographers) make their worlds. Like Schutz (1971) and Maso (2001) I believe the tension is exactly the point. Ethnographers need to both empathise and sympathise, to balance destrangement and estrangement. Participating enables the strange to become familiar, observing enables the familiar to appear strange. The important thing is for ethnographers to consider why they want to use participation – to what ends. The reasons for participating will affect the extent to which one participates rather than observes. In fact, ethnographers now disagree about the extent to which we can learn through participation.
For some the role of participation is simply to get close enough to be able to collect data in an objective, detached way, through observation, informal interviews, collecting statistical data, taking photographic evidence and so on. Participation can be used to enable access to different groups of people at different times, in a variety of settings within which questions can be asked as they occur to the ethnographer. Events can be observed as and when they take place rather than being remembered to be reconstructed at a later date through other means. When Laud Humphreys studied anonymous sexual encounters in a men’s toilet in a public park in Chicago, his aim was to observe acts in an undisturbed form. He says ‘To employ…any strategies that might distort either the activity observed or the profile of those who engage in it would be foreign to my scientific philosophy’(1970: 21). Thus participant observation enables direct observation rather than a reliance on informants’ accounts. More recently, Gavin Smith (2007) has given similar justification for his participation role in CCTV control rooms. Smith saw himself as a ‘sociological voyeur’, using participation to limit his effect on the natural setting.#p#分页标题#e#
Participation enables the ethnographer to learn about events, feelings, rules, norms in context rather than asking about them. It enables a focus on what actually happens rather than what tends to happen. It enables the entire context of an event to be included in the observation rather than relying on the interpretation, recollection and reordering of events that tends to go with reporting. But it can be more involved than this. Some ethnographers turn their ethnographic gaze onto a field in which they are already implicated, sometimes as participants. Aid workers or relief workers, for example, may use their personal commitment to the group as the focus for a critical ethnography. Here participation might come before observation, with an insider role already well-established (insider ethnographies).
For others still, as with Sue Estroff (1981), the role of participation is to sensitise oneself to the world of others through experience and through the co-construction of that world. In her ethnographic study of psychic disorder among clinical outpatients, Estroff talks about learning from research participants rather than about them. Her aim was for herself and then her readers to ‘discover their worlds’, not to attempt to impose coherence or order on their lives. Similarly, Matthew Desmond (2006), for his ethnography of high-risk occupations, Becoming a firefighter, not only shared experiences with the research participants but his body bore the scars of what we might call acculturation. Desmond, who collected data while working as a wildland firefighter in northern Arizona, explains:
By taking the ‘participant’ in ‘participant observation’ seriously, by offering up my mind and body, day and night, to the practices, rituals and thoughts of the crew, I gained insights into the universe of firefighting, insights I gleaned when I bent my back to thrust a pulaski into the dirt during a direct assault on a fire or when I moved my fingers through new warm ash to dig for hot spots. My body became a field note, for in order to comprehend the contours of the firefighting habitus as deeply as possible, I had to feel it growing inside of me (2006: 392).
The participant observation continuumIn contemporary ethnography the extent and role of participation can vary dramatically between and within studies. The distinction between participation and observation now takes place on a continuum from full immersion in the setting or culture to very minimal participation, not only between but also within individual studies. In my research in Spain (O’Reilly, 2000) the balance between observer and participant shifted constantly. On one occasion, crippled from having fallen down concrete steps the previous day and with a huge swelling on my right eye from a mosquito bite, I resolutely turned up for a pre-arranged interview only to find the couple on their way out for a swim. Unperturbed they invited me to join them saying, ‘the water will do you good’. On this occasion I was a participant rather than an observer, learning from experience about various aspects of life in Spain as well as the pain and disappointment felt by (and the flexibility required of) an ethnographer. On another occasion, a council meeting with expatriate organisations, I was not permitted to participate but was allocated a seat at the edge of the room. As is discussed in participant observation, these decisions are often practical ones as well as theoretical and ethical. There may be times when a reflexive ethnographer who aims to experience and participate in the co-construction of the social world is cast in the role of researcher, or even journalist, and times when the detached observer is drawn in against her will and asked to adjudicate, help out, or otherwise become involved. The important thing is to know why you want to become involved before pursuing (or not) a fully participant role, and then to reconcile your intentions with practical issues on the ground.#p#分页标题#e#
See also: Malinowski; positivism; realism; interpretivism; insider ethnographies
ReferencesGeneralDenzin, N. (1989) Interpretive Interactionism. London: SageEllen, R. F. (1984) Ethnographic research : a guide to general conduct, London: Academic.Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (1995) Ethnography. Principles in Practice, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.Maso, I. (2001) ‘Phenomenology and Ethnography’, in P. Atkinson, A. Coffey, S. Delamont, J. Lofland and L. Lofland (eds) Handbook of Ethnography, London: Sage, 136-144.Schutz, A. (1971) ‘The stranger: an essay in social psychology’, in A. Broderson (ed) Alfred Schutz: Collected Papers II: Studies in Social Theory, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
ExamplesDesmond, Matthew. (2006) ‘Becoming a firefighter’, Ethnography 7(4): 387-421Estroff, S. E. (1981) Making it Crazy. An ethnography of Psychiatric Clients in and American Community. Los Angeles and London: University of California Press Humphreys, L. (1970) Tea-Room Trade, Chicago: Aldine.O’Reilly, K. (2000) The British on the Costa del Sol, London: Routledge.Smith, G.J.D. (2007) ‘Exploring Relations between Watchers and Watched in Control(led) Systems: Strategies and Tactics’, Surveillance and Society, 4(4): 280-313