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An Observation Situation: When the Researcher’s Scenes Interact

Contributions from European Symbolic Interactionists: Reflections on Methods

ISBN: 978-1-78441-854-0, eISBN: 978-1-78441-853-3

Publication date: 9 March 2015


In this paper I reflected on managing my emotions during a study I conducted of the police in Brussels which consisted mainly in observation. Emotions became problematic because on the one hand, I tried to restrict my observer’s role and did not wish to intervene in the work of those I observed. On the other hand, within my family, friends, or colleagues the issue of police practices sparked emotionally tense discussions because of negative experiences some of them had had with the police. How could I maintain a distance from all the emotion “in” the field and “out” of the field? How could I manage this uncomfortable situation? This paper is based on material from an observation carried out between October 2010 and November 2011 in the context of my doctoral thesis: Police Officers and Youth: the Social Organization of Interactions in Public Space. This paper will not address questions about police officers because the focus is my research experience while remaining relatively involved in my daily social life as a young mixed-race woman in her thirties. I realized that fieldwork consists in a learning-by-doing process and that I had to abandon my confidence in the positivistic ideal of the rational and distant observer who has a full control over herself in the situation under study. The researcher’s challenge is to use her emotions knowingly.



De Man, C. (2015), "An Observation Situation: When the Researcher’s Scenes Interact", Contributions from European Symbolic Interactionists: Reflections on Methods (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 44), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 43-60.



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