The technique of participant observation, and the roles involved, have been widely discussed in the literature across a range of settings and topics. However, researchers rarely argue for a particular role that a participant observer should adopt. In this paper, I attempt to argue for the participant-as-observer role. I do so by reviewing existing literature on the topic. I argue that the complete observer and the complete participant roles are not applicable in today's research environment because, aside from their practical problems, they violate the ethical requirement of informed consent. I argued further that the observer-as-participant role, with its limited involvement in the life of informants, not only prevents the researcher from fully understanding the context of the study, but also instils doubts and suspicion in informants, leading to concealment or distortion of data. I therefore conclude that, where all the four roles are possible, the participant-as-observer role, which offers a higher degree of involvement, should be employed to enable the researcher to get deeper understanding of the context under study. I add, however, that the participant observer should, in this case, account for his/her biases and their possible effects on his/her observations.


Qualitative Research, Participant Observation, Involvement, Detachment, Life-World

Author Bio(s)

Enock Takyi, BA Psychology with Philosophy (University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana); MPhil Human Development (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway). Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Enock Takyi at, Økern Torgvei 92, H1212, 0589 Oslo, Norway. Email: ekt1082@yahoo.co.uk. Phone: 004745170670.

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