Participant Observation

What do you see?

Dr. Antony LaBeau, tenured professor of Anthropology, addressed his first freshman class for the semester.

“Participant Observation is a finely honed skill of being able to write down what you see when you’re actually participating in the scene. If the gentleman in the rear with the beige hat on were to write down everything he sees, he would record desks, whiteboards, 17 students, a balding middle-aged man standing, photos of presidents on the walls, black and red markers, everything he sees. He makes no assumptions about what he sees. Yes, there appear to be 9 males and 8 females but that’s preconceived notions, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

“Now, I want all 17 of you to go to the window and tell me what you see outside. We’re looking for observable facts. Go.”

Unsure exactly what to do, all 17 students rose and made it to the window, believing this is what he told them to do.

“What do you see?” Dr. LaBeau asked.

“A windy day,” a girl said.

“How do you know?”

“Flag is parallel with the ground. Very windy day.”

“Tree branches swaying a lot.”

The professor asked, “What else do you see? Describe the flag more.”

“Red and white stripes, white stars in a blue background, flapping in the wind.”

“What else?”

“Lots of concrete. A flag pole. A fountain. Two students walking.”

“How do you know they are students?”

“Two people, one carrying books close to the chest, wearing a dark pants, brown sweater.”

“The other carrying a briefcase, wearing a suit, a dark brown or black suit, white shirt.”

“What else do you see?”

“Oooo,” said several students at once.

“What are you seeing?” asked Dr. LaBeau.

“It looks like a gust of wind.”

“No, definitely a gust of wind, blew her two feet sideways. She’s having a tough time standing upright. Come on, you can do it!” another girl said.

“Don’t talk to her,” Dr. LaBeau said. “She can’t hear you. What else?”

“She just gave her books to the guy with the briefcase. She grabbed his arm to stay upright. They’re both struggling to walk now. It’s crazy windy out there. Those two are close to the fountain and seem to be getting wet from the spray. Oh oh oh, the wind just pushed them into the fountain. They’re both struggling to get up to get out because they’re drenched now. He’s trying to help her but he’s a mess too. Books are ruined and who knows what’s soaked inside that briefcase. The wind is continuing to push them both.”

“Yeah, she’s probably 100 pounds dripping wet. Eh, no pun intended. Thin as a rail. Her blonde hair is also almost straight out, even as wet as it is. They’re both leaning into the wind just to walk a few feet forward. Seems like it’s a full time job. Come on, you can do it. Get under some shelter, people. Get warm.”

“All right, all right,” the professor said. “Let’s return to your seats. What have we learned from this exercise, besides me picking the wrong day to observe the campus courtyard?”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *