Participant Observation

Gary A Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


Participant observation is one of several qualitative field methodologies used to understand the culture and structure of communities. Used primarily by sociologists, participant observation involves the researcher engaging with the community being examined. This article describes the benefits and drawbacks of this form of ethnographic observation, discussing the historical development of this methodology and describing the variety of roles that a researcher can take in gathering data from a community, and comparisons with other related methodologies. The article concludes by discussing several of the ethical issues (deception, informed consent, confidentiality, and precision of descriptions) that practitioners of this methodology must confront.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences: Second Edition
PublisherElsevier Inc
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9780080970875
ISBN (Print)9780080970868
StatePublished - Mar 26 2015


  • Auto-ethnography
  • Confidentiality
  • Deception
  • Ethics
  • Ethnography
  • Field notes
  • Field research
  • In-depth interview
  • Informed consent
  • Membership roles
  • Participant observation
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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