We have seen that ethnographic research is a judicious mix of observation, interviewing, and archival study. Since other volumes in this series will treat the latter two in some detail (see Kvale, 2007; Rapley, 2007), we will take a closer look at observation here, both in its participant and non-participant aspects.
The key role of observation in social research has long been acknowledged. Indeed, our human ability to observe the world around us forms the basis for our ability to make commonsense judgments about things. Much of what we know about our surroundings comes from a lifetime of observation. However, observation in the research content is considerably more systematic and formal a process than the observation that characterizes everyday life. Ethnographic research is predicated on the regular and repeated observation of people and situations, often with the intention of responding to some theoretical question about the nature of behavior or social organization.
A simple dictionary definition may serve to help us situate observation as a tool of research. That is:
Implicit in this definition is the fact that when we make note of something, we do so using all of our senses. In everyday usage, we often restrict observation to the visual, but a good ethnographer must be aware of information coming in from all sources.
Source: Angrosino Michael (2008), Doing Ethnographic and Observational Research, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.