chapter  18
18 Pages

Observation

The distinctive feature of observation as a research process is that it offers an investigator the opportunity to gather ‘live’ data from naturally occurring social situations. In this way, the researcher can look directly at what is taking place in situ rather than relying on second-hand accounts. The use of immediate awareness, or direct cognition, as a principal mode of research thus has the potential to yield more valid or authentic data than would otherwise be the case with mediated or inferential methods. And this is observation’s unique strength. There are other attractions in its favour: as Robson (2002: 310) says, what people do may differ from what they say they do, and observation provides a reality check; observation also enables a researcher to look afresh at everyday behaviour that otherwise might be taken for granted, expected or go unnoticed (Cooper and Schindler 2001: 374); and the approach with its carefully prepared recording schedules avoids problems caused when there is a time gap between the act of observation and the recording of the event – selective or faulty memory, for example. Finally, on a procedural point, some participants may prefer the presence of an observer to an intrusive, time-consuming interview or questionnaire.