Participant Observer


….participant observation is not a single method but rather a characteristic style of research which makes use of a number of methods and techniques – observation, informant interviewing, document analysis, respondent interviewing and participation with self-analysis.

Very early on I was conscious that my Jamaican but being born English origin lent itself to an experience of a British state education that would not give recognition, credence or justice to my witnessing of the nature of man; or even that there could be an opinion other than one that came from a British Imperial locus. My world view firstly at Latchmere Primary School as a child “the class of 77 – The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year” was shaped by a staff team dynamically led by a great educationalist Head Teacher John Bartholomew, who had created in us an outlook on the world that had the potential to be tackled and experienced as a wonderous life adventure.  My transition to Battersea County Comprehensive School as an adolescent  “the class of ’82” gave a more sobering outlook at what the world had on offer which meant coming terms with the common South London upbringing that lower middle class teachers saw as the reality to be shared with my peer group and gave in particular young black teenagers an extensive frame of reference in preparation for what British society had to offer the sons and daughters of her former Colonial children. I had become a participant observer before I knew what participant observer was.

The method of participant observation leads the investigator to accept a role within the social situation he studies: he participates as a member of the group while observing it. In theory, this direct participation in the group life permits an easy entrance into the social situation by reducing the resistance of the group members; decreases the extent to which the investigator disturbs the ‘natural’ situation, and permits the investigator to experience and observe the group’s norms, values, conflicts and pressures, which (over a long period) cannot be hidden from someone playing an in-group role.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s the broken Jamaican Patois dialect was the language of revolution and the hierarchy in terms of street culture and communities excluded from the mainstream; my generation where at the beginning of those who reconciled claiming their British identity and that it could be possible to survive both in the mainstream and the sub-culture. Being brought up by a young single Jamaican mother responsible for two young children in a post war Britain that turned out to be more foreign than initially anticipated and not so “Great”; the experience of the mid winters of discontent of a structuralist 70’s Britain with the default Hard Knock Life on the council estates of South London gave a particular understanding of the inclusion and exclusion power dynamics between those that invested in the languages of the dominant culture and those that resisted it and the unwritten rules of the cultural norms of both sides and all of the elements in-between.