Exercising participant observation skills

Post by Cat Wilkinson – first year ESRC NWDTC CASE funded PhD student in Geography at the University of Liverpool with co-supervision at University of Manchester.

My PhD research project ‘connecting communities through youth-led radio’ looks into how a community radio station can connect communities in times of social, economic and political uncertainty.

My research involves 12 months of participant observation at KCC Live, a youth-led community radio station situated in Knowsley. Upon first entering the field-site I assumed that participant observation would involve sitting at a desk in the office, watching the everyday activities of the young volunteers and jotting down notes vigorously in my over-sized notebook. How wrong could I be! During the last few months that I have been based at KCC Live, participant observation has definitely involved participation as well as observation.

I have taken part in all sorts of activities, including a fundraising bag pack at Asda, a 12 hour ‘bowlathon’, and I have even undertaken broadcast training and am now co-presenting a weekly show on Wednesdays. However, my most recent contribution to the station really took my ‘participant observation’ to a whole new level.

As part of KCC Live’s Healthy Living Month the weekday morning presenters were set the task of producing a short fitness video, this was a competition in which the presenters would battle it out to get the most views. Myself and my co-host Rob decided to do a dance video – our own rendition of Eric Prydz ‘Call on Me’. We kitted ourselves out in headbands, leg warmers and took to the stage. You can watch our video here.

I hope other researchers doing participant observation also fully immerse themselves in the research setting! It’s certainly a lot of fun.

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