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Using Participant Observation in the Study of Organizational Culture

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Angela MazzettiORCiD


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In this case study, I explore the advantages and disadvantages of adopting participant observation as a research method in an organizational setting. The case study is based on my personal research experiences of adopting participant observation as the main method of research during a long-term research project with three fire and rescue services and an independent fire training company. I put forward the case that participant observation is an appropriate research method for investigating complex organizational concepts such as “culture” because the method enables the researcher to better connect with the everyday realities of organizational life. Nonetheless, I reflect on the practical, ethical, and emotional challenges I encountered during my research, which included gaining and maintaining access, gaining informed consent, and dealing with mixed emotions throughout the research process. I set out some recommendations for those wanting to engage in participant observation as part of their undergraduate degree research, such as formalizing access agreements, being realistic about the emotional impact of their research, and looking for shorter-term approaches that better fit in with the timeframe of an undergraduate degree.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mazzetti AS

Publication type: Online Publication

Publication status: Published

Series Title: SAGE Research Methods Cases

Year: 2023

Access Year: 2023

Acceptance date: 02/04/2022

ISSN (electronic): 9781529627978

Publisher: SAGE Publication Inc.

Place Published: London

Access Date: 26 May


DOI: 10.4135/9781529627978