Ethical and practical challenges of participant observation in sensitive health research

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2010). Ethical and practical challenges of participant observation in sensitive health research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(4) pp. 301–312.



Participant observation is now increasingly used within qualitative health research and has been found to offer opportunities for the collection and synthesis of rich data about health and illness experience. This method, often used over an extended period, enables the researcher to build an in-depth understanding of the research context and can be the basis for the development of relationships between the researcher and the 'researched'. Researcher familiarity in the field, however, can give rise to ethical and practical tensions. This article reports on the ethical and practical challenges of participant observation at a cancer drop-in centre focusing on issues connected to the dual role of the researcher as both volunteer and researcher. It highlights the methodological practice of reflexivity as one way of the researcher maintaining an ongoing ethically engaged presence in the field.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 23230
  • Item Type
  • Journal Item
  • ISSN
  • 1464-5300
  • Keywords
  • cancer; ethics; ethnography; participant observation; practical challenges; researcher and volunteer roles
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2010 Taylor & Francis
  • Depositing User
  • Jacqueline H. Watts