Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Field work

core definition

Fieldwork refers to the observation made by researchers of people in their naturalistic setting.

explanatory context


Fieldwork refers to the observation made by researchers of groups of people in their normal, surroundings, sometimes supplemented by informal, unstructured interviews with people in the group.


The term was originally applied to anthropologists studying the culture of unfamiliar societies, but is now applied to the work of social scientists in modern western society.


The term ‘field work’ is often limited to ethnographic research. However, in its widest sense the term includes all forms of first-hand data collection.


Field role

The field role is the role adopted by a researcher in fieldwork (usually ethnography).


A researcher cannot be present in a social setting without playing some part in it. The researcher must decide on an overall strategy. There are several possible roles.


Researchers in field roles should be aware of their actions and consider the possible effects these actions may have on the field under investigation and on the findings.


A researcher may be a participant observer or a non-participant observer. The field role adopted by a participant observer is important and is directly related to the covert or overt nature of the research. In general, open research allows for a less stressful and more flexible role than secret observation. A more flexible role allows greater freedom of enquiry and less assumption by the subject group that the researcher will be aware of group taken-for-granteds.


Participant observation involves several levels of participation: complete participation; partial participant observation; associate participant observation. See the entry on participant observation for details.


Field notes

Observations should be recorded in written form during fieldwork or very shortly after, while the data are still fresh in the observer's mind.

analytical review

The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines fieldwork as:

A methodology used by symbolic interactionists and other sociologists that involves venturing into the field (the day-to-day social world) to observe and collect relevant data.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Participant observation

Researching the Real World Section 3


McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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