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 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, 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
3.3.3 Critical social research and observation Introduction Critical ethnography Observation to deconstruct culture Observation to deconstruct myths Observation in critical community studies

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

3.3 Methodological approaches

3.3.3 Critical social research and observation Observation in critical community studies
Sainsbury's (2002) study of community care in a Welsh town is another example of critical ethnography. Again the study goes beyond exploring meanings and attempts to link the interpretation of meanings to an understanding of the nature of community.

Her study focused on children with learning difficulties and how best to care for such children within the community. Salisbury examined the meanings held by parents and professionals. However, the study was more than an exploration of the meanings the subjects ascribed to their experiences. As a means of discovering how communities operate, Sainsbury probed the broader concept of community and what that meant for the people in the Welsh community in which she took up residence for four months.

Sainsbury's ethnographic study of a case-study community used a large array of techniques. She lived in the town and used its facilities along with everyone else. She undertook observation of meetings, school settings, training centre activities, sometimes participating and discussing events. She undertook a large number of semi-structured interviews, drew on local official statistics, available documents such as minutes of meetings and local newspaper reports.

The outcome of her research was not just an account of people's perceptions but how different ideologies about community and learning difficulties led to different perceptions of how to cope with children with learning difficulties within the town. There were differences of opinion between the professionals in charge of the community care and the parents of the children over the best approach to learning difficulties. The former favoured encouraging independent living while the latter favoured greater involvement of relatives, reflecting different perceptions of the notion of community.


Next 3.3.4.Access