Core Practice 5 — Observation: Seeing and Being Seen

Observation is one of the core methods of ethnographic data gathering, yet the reciprocity and vulnerability of ‘seeing’ AND ‘being seen’ are rarely addressed. Is eye contact comfortable (and appropriate)? Can you find descriptive rather than judgemental language for what you observe? How is it to be at the receiving end of equally focused ‘observation’? How might your research participants feel when you observe them? Although this Exploration can be adapted for solo-work by using a mirror, we recommend that you find someone to do this inquiry with. This will be more realistic and therefore have a stronger impact. Perhaps you can ask a fellow student, a research colleague, or a friend to share this inquiry.


Further Reading

Behar, R. (1996) The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks your Heart. Boston: Beacon Press.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. London: Britisch Boradcasting Corporation and Penguin Books.

Crapanzano, V. (1992) Hermes’ Dilemma and Hamlet’s Desire. On the epistemology of interpretation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Fraleigh, S. (1991) ‘A Vulnerable Glance: Seeing Dance through Phenomenology’, Dance Research Journal, 23(1), pp. 11-16.

Fraleigh, S. (1999) ‘Witnessing the Frog Pond’, in Fraleigh, S. & Hanstein, P. (eds.) Researching Dance. Evolving Modes of Inquiry. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 188-224.

Hume, L. and Mulcock, J. (2004) Anthropologists in the field: cases in participant observation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Madden, R. (2017) Being ethnographic: a guide to the theory and practice of ethnography. 2nd Edition edn. Los Angeles and London: Sage.

Musante, K. (2015) ‘Participant Observation’, in Russell Bernard, H. & Gravlee, C.C. (eds.) Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 251-292.

Reeve, S. (2011) Nine ways of seeing a body. Axminster: Triarchy Press.

Rosaldo, R. (1986) ‘From the door of his tent: the fieldworker and the inquisitor’, in Clifford, J. & Marcus, G.E. (eds.) Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Tedlock, B. (1991) ‘From Participant Observation to the Observation of Participation: The Emergence of Narrative Ethnography’, Journal of Anthropological Research, 47(1), pp. 69-94.