explain strengths and limitations of participant observation compared to the other types of qualitative field research methods.

Application: Qualitative Field Research Methods

One of the most famous examples of qualitative field research is that conducted by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. In the 1920s, Mead lived amongst a group of Samoans on the island Ta’u and studied that culture’s rites of passage, transitions, and attitudes concerning the transition to adulthood. This work is an example of one type of qualitative field research called participant observation.

There are four main types of qualitative field research, each of which has strengths and limitations and situations for which each would be more or less appropriate. These types include participant observation, systematic observation, intensive interviewing, and focus groups. What they all have in common is the goal of understanding the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of individuals in a given setting. They all position researchers as close as possible to the subjects, in order to gain access and collect personal experiences. Researchers collect data in the form of texts and descriptions of behaviors and actions or practices, which may subsequently be coded and analyzed for meaningful interpretation.

For this Application Assignment, explore the four main methods of qualitative field research and consider why participant observation is archetypal. Then consider the strengths and limitations of each type of qualitative field research method.

The assignment (2–3 pages):

  • Describe the four main methods of qualitative field research.
  • Explain why participant observation is considered archetypal.
  • Lastly, explain strengths and limitations of participant observation compared to the other types of qualitative field research methods.
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