Participant Observation

Social movement studies have grown widely in the last few decades. Philip Balsiger and Alexandre Lambelet explain in their paper how the methodological practice of participant observation and ethnography is useful to gain insights into mobilization processes as they take place, and understand activism from within. The paper aims, at presenting this method and offering a practical guide to doing participant observation in social movements. After defining the concept of participant observation (and they put forward three core aspects that are first-hand collecting data, moving the observation scale and experiencing), a second section addresses how participant observation has been used in social movement studies. The authors then guide the reader through the different stages of a typical piece of research using participant observation. They explain then how to get contact with the field, prepare observations, take notes and finally how to leave the field. In conclusion, they insist on the fact that the validity of participant observation is closely linked with the explicitation of what the researcher is doing in order to adopt a critical posture and, thus, avoid a normative discourse.

Résumé : Emilie Pasquier

Balsiger Philip
Lambelet Alexandre

Balsiger, P., & Lambelet, A. (2014). Participant Observation. In D. Della Porta, Methodological Practices in Social Movement Research (pp. 144-172). Oxford : Oxford University Press.