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Participant Observation

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. What is Participant Observation? Chapter 2. Learning to Be a Participant Observer Chapter 3. Doing Participant Observation: Becoming a Participant Chapter 4. The Costs of Participation: Culture Shock Chapter 5. Doing Participant Observation: Becoming an Observer Chapter 6. Gender and Sex Issues in Participant Observation Chapter 7. Designing Research with Participant Observation Chapter 8. Informal Interviewing in Participant Observation Chapter 9. Writing Field Notes Chapter 10. Analyzing Field Notes Chapter 11. Ethical Concerns in Participant Observation Chapter 12 Appendix: Sample Field Notes Chapter 13 Bibliography

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 *

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