Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2017

Page updated 29 May, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2017, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

3. Observation

3.1 Introduction
3.2 Aspects
3.3 Methodological approaches

3.3.1 Positivism and observation
3.3.2 Phenomenology and observation Observation for theory generation: emergent theory Observation for theory development: a naturalistic perspective Observation as a basis for identifying subjects’ meanings Observation as a basis for empathetic interpretation Observation as the basis for deconstructing everyday life Observation as a process of establishing identity Observation as a means of discovering how communities operate

3.3.3 Critical social research and observation

3.4 Access
3.5 Recording data
3.6 Analysing observational or ethnographic data
3.7 Summary


3.3 Methodological approaches

3.3.2 Phenomenology and observation
Phenomenological approaches regard observational data as providing invaluable insights to theoretical development. In some phenomenological approaches, observation is at the core of theoretical development. In more radical approaches, the lack of apparent objectivity of observational data is regarded as irrelevant as all knowledge is to some degree relativistic.

However, although phenomenologists are more likely to use observation to develop theory, in many cases this involves using observation alongside other approaches, such as in-depth interviewing, to provide a fuller picture. As noted in the introduction (Section 3.3), this is often the form taken by ethnographic studies.


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