This text was elaborated from the experience of doing a research project. The methodology used is participant observation1, which is being developed at two public schools of the municipal district of Londrina. We are four students of Psychology at Londrina State University, and we are developing this project in pairs. Each pair has established contact with one school, in its own time and way: Cláudia and Patrícia are working at the Prof. Antônio Moraes of Barros State School, while Rodolfo and Fabiana are at the Prof. Vicente Rijo State School. Considering the quality of the experiences here explained, we chose to maintain the original texts, and to insert, in the text boxes, some theoretical information regarding the research process.
When we read João Batista's research project and approached the methodology of participant observation we became confused, without knowing how we would act in the school. Our first work, then, was to study the characteristics of participant observation and to understand why that methodology had been chosen to guide the research.
Today we understand that participant observation is part of a group of qualitative and ethnographic methodologies. This process of analysis can be represented as a spiral. Because we start from observation of the phenomena that happened at the school, pondering them and creating hypotheses concerning that reality. Then, we go back to the school and analyze these new observations that either confirm and/or (re)formulate the hypotheses. Thus, our analysis is constantly (re)constructed. (This perspective was developed by Wadsworth, 2001).
Martins (2000, p.10) says that participant observation is surrounded "on the one hand, by the use of the categories built by the social sciences for the understanding of reality (such as social class, ideology, power, etc...) and, on the other hand, by the creation of new categories that are constructed/reconstructed in the relation between researcher and school." And it's in this movement of construction and reconstruction that we progress in our analyses; each contact with the school introduces something to be (re)thought, which provides us with the idea that the knowledge produced from the observed phenomena will be always unfinished and multi-determined.
We also thought that participant observation provides a group of suppositions that bases the science on a "new paradigm"3, in contradiction to the suppositions of traditional science or of the "old paradigm."
These new suppositions emphasize the importance of social and collective processes in the identification of the problems: the influence of the researcher's implication4 when studying the research problem, which reaffirms the compromising of the research and of its results (not its neutrality); the validity of the locally built knowledge, positioning us against the assumed universality of knowledge; and the impossibility of the observed phenomena being decomposed into several elements, because we believe these are always interlinked5, in other words, they are inserted in the order of complexity.
The objective of the research is to "verify how social agents that are part of the school become agents of its historical process, how these due to the several institutional boundaries that produce/reproduce the cultural contradictions (dominant culture, popular culture, etc.) that are present in our social context." (Martins, 2000, p.9). The methodology used for this project was participant observation, because the observation of the everyday school context presents historical elements in which the school is constituted and structured. Participant observation also allows the researchers to verify the encounter of the several segments involved in this daily routine. This encounter can show the contradictions that are intrinsic to the social relations established among the several segments of the institution.
We began to frequent the Prof. Antônio Moraes de Barros State School considering aspects of participant observation. The sensation we had when in contact with that reality for the first time was of extreme confusion: we wondered which would be our role in that place (and we were even afraid to be asked this question); we also feared to approach the students, teachers and administrative staff; we felt uncomfortable to go to school, and sometimes we didn’t. Some of our field journal reports exemplify our first conflicts in the school.
We arrived at the school, it was the first visit and I was a little anxious and afraid of facing the director, but we couldn’t postpone the beginning of the research any longer, so we had to begin to face our fears... I felt welcome, but insecure and doubt hovered in the air; although the project was in the director hands, it was not clear to the director nor to us what we would do at the school. Then she asked us to meet teachers to explain the project, alleging that they would be curious about our presence in the school. I trembled, looked at Pati and we spoke: it would be better to explain the project next week, because we would be better prepared (Cláudia).
(...) Angélica suggested that we presented the project to the teachers during break, that would be at 21:15. Again, my anxiety increased - I asked if we could do it next week, because we wanted to get better prepared (now, I think we could have done it then, however, our fear made to postpone the situation) (Patricia).
That was a true escape, that gave us some weeks to understand our function inside the school.
Our first move in relation to the students was to observe them from a distance, from a long distance:
... In the covered court, where physical education classes were happening. We were observing them from a distance and vice-versa. We were in the entrance of the court and didn’t get to sit in the seats. Our first contact was with a boy that passed by us after the ball that had come in our direction, he smiled and invited us to join in. Immediately we refused the invitation. During the break the same thing happened, we observed the students from a distance and we thought they were speaking about us, everyone was looking at us, some were commenting, and talking about us. There was a boy that was even annoying us, he followed us and kept staring at us wherever we were, I felt very annoyed (Cláudia).
Our first stop was at the sports court. There were youths playing basketball (...) Our presence drew the attention of many of them - one of them invites us to do the class, some girls look at us and I noticed that we had become the subject matter (I need to learn6 how to cope with being observed, I become quite bewildered...) (Patricia).
Today we question ourselves if all of them were really looking at us or if we were just threatened by the unknown atmosphere.
These and other questions emerge when we reflect about our implication with the research. This happens because we understand that it is not possible to separate ourselves form our research object: the fact that we chose to observe inside the school and the hypotheses that we raised concerning that reality and that guide the routes along which the research is proceeding, are necessarily permeated for our own existences, experiences, thoughts and feelings.
Wadsworth (2001) says that action research made possible the understanding of the practical and ethical implications of the "driven-value" and the "action-effects" on the problem studied; we believe that these principles that include the researcher's implication are also applied to participant observation, and could be summarized as:
· the effects of electing some issues and not others;
· the effects of involving some people in the process (or even seemingly, just one of them) and not others;
· the effects of reaching a specific conclusion to the problem and not alternative ones; and
· the effects of choosing one action (or none) as a result of that conclusion instead of any other action and so on.
When we began to go to the school, however, these principles were not totally clear to us: our field journals7 mixed impressions and personal feelings in relation to the school with real information and observed facts. Obviously, we were soon caught up in our own implication in the research, because our involvement in the daily routine of the school forced us to face it.
This happened as we experienced things such as, for instance, the sensation of being flirted with the students of night period (fact that generated extreme discomfort and that was seen as an obstacle in our relationship with them).
We were in a small group playing volleyball with two girls, when one of the boys from the academy and one of his friends came and asked us to play, they were joking around, gazing into our eyes. They wondered if we were new students and paid attention to our conversation when we were leaving, I think they were flirting us, what an uncomfortable situation! (Cláudia).
We went for a walk and, as always, we were noticed and closely observed - the boy who invited us to participate in the physical education class wouldn’t stop staring at us (I think he was flirting with me and I felt very weird...) (Patricia).
Implication also appears when we recall our disappointments, frustrated expectations and excessive concerns. We had an example when we went to the school to explain our research to teachers: we spent that whole day thinking about our meeting with the teachers, we elaborated and typed important topics that in our opinion should be presented to them. We were apprehensive even on how we should dress.
Today I went to the school "prepared" to talk with the teachers and to present the project during breakl, as director Angélica had requested. In order to be prepared for any questions, I carefully read all our project again (I say ‘our’ because I already think it is a little bit mine). I felt anxious about how should I dress. I couldn’t decide if I should go as a "psychologist" or as a "student". The first time we were at the school, I went as a “psychologist", wearing a shirt, high heels, sober clothes... I felt bad, because it might be the factor that made the students find me strange and stay away from me. Then, in the second time at the school, I radically changed my look: I put on my tennis shoes, my sports wear and I went to school... I felt much better (we were even invited to play volleyball...!) But today, it was different, because I would be exposed to the teachers and wanted to cause good impression (oh, our eternal need of being accepted...). Well, after thinking better, I appealed to the tennis and sports wear again, and I sincerely don't know why... (Patrícia).
However, all that preparation was useless, because the meeting with the teachers never happened. It was so frustrating8 that we didn't feel encouraged to do anything else at the school, and we wanted to leave. This was registered in our journals as an extremely disappointing day.
I was frustrated, because we had already planned to explain the project to the teachers and we couldn’t accomplish it. The evening director wasn’t able to talk to us. I think he was solving some problem with some boys, and we hoped he would introduce us to the teachers. I even think that he didn't recognise us, he passed by us several times in the hall, and I tried to greet him, but he didn't even looked at us (Cláudia).
I became a little upset, because I had prepared myself, invested a lot of "energy" in this activity, and then we got there and nobody even looked at us! It was so frustrating... (Patricia).
Considering the whole route and starting from our implication and considering the time spent at the school, the facts took on new meaning which led to a new form of perceiving the school and of looking at ourselves.
After the first project group meeting, when some explanations about the project were given to us, such as its objectives and methodology, I started questioning myself about two concepts that I consider opposed: scientific neutrality and implication.
We heard we would go to field in the Vicente Rijo School to observe the students' groups, teachers and employees of the school. Besides observing, we would have to write down what we saw. I thought: "This will be a pain!" I remembered an assignment I had done in the first year in which we had to do a continuous registration of everything that we observed, taking a lot care with the language, because we should only tell what we saw, without considering our subjective impressions.
I confess that I was a little scared and lost when our teacher João Batista, author of this project, told us that we could, and should put ourselves in our journal, expressing ours perceptions, opinions and feelings about what we were observing. I started asking myself how I would do that, also questioning its validity, in other words, the scientific of the research’s project, because I’ve learned throughout the psychology course9 that for a research to be considered scientific, the researcher has to adopt a neutral position. However, in the research field, I noticed how complicated it would be to distance myself from the object of study” considering they are children, teenagers and adults living in a school context. In other words, as I was going through things that I’d already undergone, became almost impossible for me not to see myself or see my own younger brothers in those boys playing soccer. I believe that I started to incorporate the concept of implication in the scientific research unknowingly. This way to understand that knowledge is not only built on rationality, but also through motivations, identifications and the researcher's personal experiences I came to.
I tried to express10 in this text, how much the external factors linked to the researcher influence his/her "vision" of the object.
As Muchielli tells in l'Observation Psychologique, it is possible to observe a phenomenon under just two conditions: starting from a "certain point of view" to consider the given reality, and possessing a group of concepts and general knowledge, that allows the recognition of those phenomena or their definition.
Despite the vicious circle (to observe it, it is necessary to know what it is about, but for the knowledge, it is necessary that the researcher has observed it), we admitted that the formation and the knowledge go hand in hand, as a permanent coming and going between observation and the process of conceptualization.
August of 2000 - suddenly I see myself participating in a research project in a public school institution, properly authorized as a "trainee" (of the course of Psychology). Very excited, but aware of the responsibility of building up "psychological knowledge."
Then, in my first visits of participant observation, I respect this autonomy that I possess for choosing aspects that most attract my attention. Of course, my mind went back to the performance expected of a Psychologist in a school, according to our third year Psychology subjects, desiring to see how that knowledge was processed in practice. A passage of my field journal can exemplify this movement:
(I)relevant reflections (or trips of the day): I've being thinking a lot about the psychologist's role in school. It is somehow comfortable to work with a pedagogic team, as well as with L., whose apprenticeship is only and exclusively with the orientation. The pedagogic team is engaged (after all, it is its function!) and sketches an attempt (at least) of change. But the question is: what is the school? Where and how are the school relationships formed? Is only the pedagogic team responsible for the teaching and/or learning? Where and how is the interdisciplinary concept put into practice?, etc.
It should be emphasized that the observation under discussion concerned daily routine at school. But what of this excerpt? Is it really an observation? What is it, anyway?
Well, let us understand a little more: after those first visits, I was attached by a nostalgia of my times of school. In this sense, I remembered my school, a big public school, like the one where today I develop this research. Now the possibility of, for one moment, being a student again and reliving the distant past assails me.
Now this school is made present before me. I don't have that obligation of frequenting it anymore, but is a pleasure wakened up again by the desire of belonging to it, of making me present, the projection of that school that marked me a lot.
In this same movement, I identify with the students that there are and I am welcomed in the middle, starting to see the school with my student eyes and all their current implications. Even objective reality reinforces thes view, for instance, when the director requested my frequency identification card, which only students carry.
This year, Psychology course has an implement: teaching trainning subjects. I admit that I am beginning to review my own beliefs and to formulate other ones from this new point of view, now as a teacher. I am sure that I will worry, in my observations, about teachers role, their difficulties and uncertainties.
The view11 changes because the object changes too, and this is a worthy aspect of our work. In this way, neither the object becomes exhausted, nor the observer, unless they want to stay inert, observing the dynamism and complexity of object ecstatically.
This text debates epistemology issues in the context of education research. It approaches researcher’s implications, considering that construction of knowledge starts from the inter-subjective encounters that occur in the research field. We understand that subject and object interfere and react to investigation and analysis devices mutually and mediate their relationships.
Such a fact leads researchers to confront their implications in the research - the political, social, cultural and libidinous engagements that are implicit in their view over the researched reality. Further, as they are involved in a inter-subjective relationship, they are before imponderable, uncontrollable and incommensurable. This means that our view is “polluted” by our existence, our anguishes, fears, insecurities and by anxieties due to contact with one another.
Considering that researched reality - the school - is an institution that composes our social imaginary, we can say that participant observation causes a “strangeness” feeling to people involved in the research process, making them to rethink about social practices.
Ardoino, J. Abordagem multirreferencial: a epistemologia das ciências antropo-sociais. Palestra proferida na Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul - Faculdade de Psicologia, no dia 14.10. 1998
Barbier, R. A pesquisa-ação na instituição educativa. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1985.
Haguete, T. M. F. Metodologias qualitativas na sociologia. 4ed. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1995.
Malinowski, B. Argonautas do Pacífico Ocidental. 2ed. São Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1978.
Martins, J. B. A escola pública como um espaço sócio-histórico-cultural. Projeto de Pesquisa apresentado à Coordenadoria de Pesquisa e Pós-graduação da UEL, 2000. mimeo.
Morin, E. Ciência com consciência. Lisboa: Europa-América, s/d.
Velho, G. Observando o familiar. In: Velho, G. Individualismo e cultura: notas para uma antropologia das sociedades contemporâneas. 2ed. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1987. p. 121-132.
Wadsworth, Y. What is participatory action research?. Action Research International. Disponibilizado através da Internet no endereço: http://www.scu.au/schools/gcm/ar/ari/p-ywadsworth98.html. Visitado em 21.03.2001.
1 - Participant observation is an anthropological methodology that was developed at the beginning of last century. It was Malinowski (1978) who systemized methodological rules for anthropological research. According to him, the anthropologist should suffer a transformation process in which, ideally, he would become a native. However that experience is not systematic, the anthropologist should elaborate it, transforming it into an objective (scientific?) description of culture. The result of this "transformation" consists of ethnographic text, where the anthropologist presents an elaboration of their experiences.
2 - Considering that researchers have lived different routes in their insertion in the work field and that the objective of this text is to discuss those routes, we present here how each one has evaluated themselves in this process. Those routes were surrounded by vicissitudes of collective discussions that occurred inside of the research group. That movement concerns history of each researcher, which is updated in the construction and reconstruction of the identities of those who are involved in the process.
3 - We have defended the idea that methodologies characterized as qualitative ones (according to Haguete, 1995), break up with scientific paradigms structured around rationalism and positivism. Qualitative research is characterized by focuses such as participant research, action research, ethnographic research and case study. It involves the description of the data obtained by researchers in their contact with the situation studied. Thus, process is more emphasized than product and there is a concern about retracting the perspective of participants about facts involved in social context. The researcher's interest will be linked to subjective aspects of human behavior and, to render their investigative interests and to understand the meaning of events and social interactions that happen in his daily life, he should take as study object the conceptual universe of the subjects.
4 - The implication is understood as "... researcher's personal and collective engagement, and as his scientific praxis, in function of his family and libidinal history, of his last and current positions in relations of production and class, and of his sociopolitical project in action, so that resultant investment unavoidably of all this is integral and dynamic part of all knowledge activity" (Barbier, 1985, p. 120). This notion suggests that the knowledge construction process is executed starting from several plans: from the researcher's deepest motivations (unconscious?), from his desires, from his personal projections, from his identifications, from his personal path, etc. With the implication idea, it is assumed that the produced knowledge belongs to the order of the intersubjectiveness, that means to recognize that the knowledge production implicates a "negotiation" process among the multiple references that compose the group of representations of each individual involved in the process.
5 - This perspective approximates us of multi referential approach developed by Jacques Ardoino. It is a posture that aims to approximate several languages, approaches..., several fields of knowledge in such a way that assure the understanding of educational phenomena in its complexity, without reducing it. Such posture is understood as an answer (among several) for education problems - as much in its practical sense as theoretical - whose intention is to overcome the dissociated e "views" over educational phenomena.
6 - In a certain way, the presented reports express two movements: an encounter with the other and an encounter with themselves. In that sense, we can say that the process of knowledge construction is only possible at this time - what implicates intersubjectivation - and that the resultant elucidation (with the built knowledge) concerns that moment - an elucidation that implicates everyone involved in the process.
7 - Field journals were the support where we deposited our impressions. We understood that this is an extremely important resource for knowledge elaboration of educational phenomena because, as a support, it is susceptible to be read over and over, re-interpreted, etc... and make us enlarge our perception of reality and of ourselves.
8 - We assume that the knowledge takes place exactly where the Cartesian and positivist science doesn't recognize it: in the relationship between subject and object - in the inter-subjective relationship. In other words, instead of having an object that is supposed to be objective, we will have, actually, an object that is at the same time subject. In that sense, we can affirm that in the research's extent the alive beings, especially the humans, when submitted to any of the determinism (economical, social, cultural etc.) the condition and explain their operation ways, have in itself a denial power and against-strategies that give them, at least partly, the intelligence of these determinism and a certain capacity of reacting and of adapting, or even of transforming them. Ardoino (1998) denominates this capacity as negativity, what means the recognition of a certain opacity of the objects that are under investigation. This means that the man - so much individual as collective - is not indifferent to the knowledgement productions that concern him and will react before them, he will constantly interfere in the analytic and investigative devices applied on him, disturbing its operation.
9 - The situation in the field not only experimented while a personal implication, but also as a problem epistemologic... - such situation tensions with knowledges already established, taking us to recognize that the knowledge also is built.
10 - VELHO (1987) affirms that approximate character of the knowledge due to a portion of the researcher's subjectivity, affirms: "The 'reality'... it is always filtered by the observer's certain point of view, it is noticed in a differentiated way. (...) I am not proclaiming the bankruptcy of the scientific rigidity in the study of the societies, but the need to notice it while relative objectivity, more or less ideological and always interpretative”. (p.129)11 - We can say that for Morin, the paradigm of the complexity neither "produces" nor determines the intelligibility: "he can incite the searching subject's strategy/intelligence to consider the complexity of the studied" subject (Morin, s/d, p. 334). In other words, for Morin, as well as for Ardoino (1998), the complexity is not in the object, but in the glance that the researcher is using to study his/her object, in the way he/she approaches the phenomena. It is here we met the turns again with relative subjects to the implication.