Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Participation Observation

I've been contemplating on starting a blog for quite a while now.  I thought now would be a perfect time, because I am currently living abroad (in Taiwan) as a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University.  Being physically in the field gives me the opportunity to not only mingle with the locals but also observe their activities, political and social events.  It has been a very fruitful experience so far.

So, why name the blog "The Participant Observer"? Participation observation is a research method often utilized by social scientists.  The researcher would take on a role under a social or political circumstance and immerse herself in the setting under study.  The goal of participation observation is to obtain intimate knowledge on a given group of people or organization, on a political or social situation, on political and social actors or even on a particular individual.  The researcher aims to experience events in the manner in which the subjects under study also experienced.  

Social scientists use this research tool to discover the nature of the social and political phenomenon by garnering close familiarity, often through close relationship and usually over an extended period of time, with the subject.  By doing so, the researcher can then understand the subjects' interpretation of a social and political situation and the subject's chosen behavior.  American political scientist Richard Fenno pioneered this particular method for political science, which usually referred to as "soaking and poking".  Instead of relying on data sets or quantitative data, the political scientist undertakes empirical observation of movements of political actors in different situations.  The researcher, though, most keep a certain level of objectivity in order to analyze and explain the circumstance under study.

I see my position in Taiwan as a journey of participation observation.  Since I arrived Taiwan, I discovered many political and social issues prevalent to my main research subject (Quality of democracy and regional security), and I have been familiarizing myself with the many actors involved.  

This blog will be a documentation of my journey and my life as a participant observer here. 

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