Participant Observation and Field Research


In field research, it is important to remember that an observer may play various roles. For example, a researcher who plays the role of a full participant is a genuine participant in what they are studying, and this can have a direct effect on ethical issues. A researcher can also be what is called a complete participant. In this role, the researcher may affect the social processes he or she is studying. That said, this is a rare occurrence in criminal justice institutions. To say a researcher is “going native” suggests one who tends to identify too much with the participants’ interests and viewpoints. An observer-as-participant, on the other hand, still interacts with the participants but has no pretense of being an actual participant. By way of contrast, a researcher who observes a location or process without becoming a part of it in any way is considered a complete observer.

For this discussion, review the experiments and surveys described in previous chapters of your Fundamentals of Research in Criminology and Criminal Justice text. Choose one experiment or survey to use as a basis for comparison with field research and respond to the following in your main post:

  1. Propose a field research design that would focus on the same research question as the experiment or survey, but with participant observation techniques in a local setting.
  2. Articulate an appropriate problem statement in relation to the field research proposed.
  3. Explain the researcher role you would play in the setting along the participant observation continuum.
  4. Lay out the stages of your proposed field research study, including your plans for entering the field, developing and maintaining relationships, sampling and recording, and analyzing data.
  5. Analyze what you would expect your study to add to the findings resulting from the study you selected.

Discussion Objectives

The competencies in this discussion are supported by discussion objectives.

  • Competency 2: Articulate a problem statement appropriate for examination using criminal justice research methods.
    • Articulate a problem statement related to field research.
  • Competency 4: Use a common research method of criminal justice practitioners to examine the problem statement.
    • Propose a field research design with participant observation techniques in a local setting.
    • Explain a researcher role you would play the participant observation continuum.
    • Lay out the stages of a proposed field research study.
    • Analyze what you would expect field research to add to the findings resulting from an experiment or survey study.

Response Guidelines

Respond to the posts of at least two peers. Interact about field research with a focus on researcher roles as they relate to data collection.

  • How is the field research method you identified similar to or different from field research methods identified by other learners regarding sampling, recording, and analyzing data?
  • Did you share perspectives similar to other learners regarding developing and maintaining relationships in the field? Why or why not?
  • Did you have similar expectations of whether your study would add to the findings resulting from the experiment or survey studies selected? Why or why not?