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name: Gabriela Sokolova

Participant observation The intent of this essay is to analyse a certain workplace through participant observation. Before continuing it is imperative to define what participant observation is, and what able to gained by the researcher by looking at this topic. Participant observation allows one to be able to: “…enter into another person’s world through communication,” (Tedlock, 1991, p.70)

It also depends: “upon ethnographic dialogue to create a world of shared intersubjectivity and to reach an understanding of the differences between two worlds.” (Tedlock, 1991, p.70)

As stated, participant observation is one of many qualitative research methods serving the researcher to uncover specific manners, habits, rules and priorities of a specific group of people. This in turn, can allow a more in-depth understanding of some valuable data. Data analyses can lead to noteworthy findings which might be helpful to understand individual identities or a vague range of social classes. In this case, participant observation is a really adequate qualitative method to choose due to the fact that the researcher can discover, through their observation, much more than through a more quantitative measure such as a questionnaire. Analyse can also be used as a secondary sign for non-verbal communication, gestures and body language which can also help one to improve one’s thesis. The intention of this specific observation is to highlight the main factors which may affect achievement at workplace through the interaction between employees working in a buffet restaurant as waiters. The observation is mainly focused at how male participants accept or interact with female colleagues at work, and how female colleagues are different in their relations between men and themselves i.e. how male behaviour changes in accordance to female presence. The male part of the working team is the main focus group of observation, but two female participants play an extremely important role concerning how the behaviour of the male is shaped in the workplace. Moreover, observation focuses at how is hierarchy of authority imposed at the restaurant, and how cultural aspect, class, identity and social status may affect the relationships between the colleagues and whole workplace itself.


name: Gabriela Sokolova

A salient point is that whole observation process was accomplished as a covert participant observation, because it allows researcher to obtain true data with natural behaviour, without any effort from the participants’ side to create different identities, which could seem more appealing for them to be represented. Furthermore, for ethical reasons, all names and places are presented under aliases thus, are completely anonymous. The sample size contains twelve participants, ten males and two females, from a vast and diverse cultural background ‘reunited’ in England. The age of participants ranges from early twenties to mid thirties and the observation was taken place in first half of December 2011; five times a week during the evening shifts. After the pilot observation, three main themes appealed as the best topic to focus on, these are: hierarchy of authority, male-female interaction and contact between different cultures. The First theme to concentrate on was the way interaction between male and female colleagues occurred. As it is widely portrayed, the male population working as restaurant staff is approximately five times bigger than female however, this doesn’t factor in kitchen staffs which is predominantly a purely masculine role. These two points clearly display the influence of masculinity and male dominance in this workplace. Hierarchy at floor lever is as follows: General manager ‘Mr. Money Manager’, floor manager ‘Mr. Senior’, older waiter ‘Mr. Cool’, there is one other position which is intriguing and refers to one specific member of group: ‘Mr. Bossily’. ‘ Mr. Bossily’ did not achieve his authority status because of working rules, but is in a rather more hypothetical authoritative position; his authority is due to the fact that he is a blood-relative to the one of the owners, so by default established his authority through his family, which stands in stark contrast to common rules or the definition of workplace authority defined as:

“some degree of legitimate control over other people’s work [which] refers to the extent to which an individual has the work organization’s mandate to guide and control the work of others.” (Hultin, M., 1998; p. 100)

Mr. Bossily was constantly making comments on the others’ work, changing orders that were given by Mr. Senior as floor manager, and moreover making fun about Mr. Senior’s gestures and way of speaking. The consequence of Mr Bossily’s actions resulted in 2

name: Gabriela Sokolova

lowering Mr. Senior’s authority and increasing Mr. Bossily’s social status. In addition, Mr. Bossily would also deride fellow workers in a multitude of ways ranging from nicknames to name-calling; he did this to underline his superiority. When Mr. Bossily felt supported by at least by one of the floor staff he started to be louder and attracted as much of an audience as he could, joking about a lot of random things; commenting on girls’ clothing or questioning younger members of floor staff about possible romances at the workplace. Mr. Bossily would always pay more attention to trivial matters such as gossip; this resulted in other members of staff having to complete customer queries. Scepticism about his work ethic was pondered by all staff and after while, they started to ignore his entertainment stories at work. The negative effect of being too passive to Mr. Bossily’s stories had younger members of the team, in a less authoritative position penalized. If Mr. Bossily were dissatisfied from a workers shift he would usually find some superfluous work to do for the workers who didn’t laugh or conform to his management style. On the other hand Mr. Senior’s authority was taken as something to be granted, dedicated by the restaurant policy. He had built social status as floor manager and he had right to ask staff members to carry out with his orders. But, following T.M. Newcomb theory, positions and roles which have been prescribed do not need to be necessarily confirmed by the actual behaviour of individuals. (Newcomb, T.M. cited in Marshall,T.H.; 2000) And this refers to the fact that Mr. Senior’s orders should have been accomplished by junior colleagues because of their working status at restaurant. And they have been accomplished, unless, his junior colleagues did not come up with better solutions, which he was open to discuss, or the orders given by Mr. Senior have not been dismissed by Mr. Bossily. Otherwise, if junior colleagues would not follow Mr. Bossily’s orders, they would be denigrated at Mr. Money Manager who had biggest authority at workplace. For example: “this guy.. look at him (pause which allows Mr. Money Manager to observe one of junior colleague named Michel), even his face is not good for restaurant business. He’s staring at customers. His not good for work at floor...” (Mr. Bossily)


name: Gabriela Sokolova

Result of Mr. Bossily´s effort is Michel´s transfer to the places where he cannot stay in contact with customers, in this case it means kitchen, where his new duty involves polishing plates and cutlery. Next topic which was observed is talking about interculturality and social status at work place. Six of participants represent Hindi culture, four are English, one participant has Bulgarian nationality and one participant is from Singapore with Chinese - Italian background grown up in English speaking household. However it is difficult to deny that there is no complications at workplace caused by this intercurtularity. First problem which influenced relationships between group members were language skills. The fact that English native speakers were not able to understand their Hindi colleagues as result of their accent or vocabulary was undeniable. Their commonly used expressions in Hindi language translated into English often did not make sense, or they were misunderstood. Especially ‘Miss English’ with pure English background was repeatedly directed into situation, when she needed to ask couple of times their non English colleagues to repeat or rephrase their demands, questions or stories which have been designed for her. Subsequently, Miss English simply stopped paying attention on her colleagues’ stories and followed only conversations with her English coworkers, what separated her from the rest of the group. Controversially, Mr. Rugby familiarised himself with his Hindi co-workers very quickly. He was always keeping conversation simple, and agreeable. He introduced random expressions into conversations as “Yeaah buddy” or “Calm down mate” which were quickly adapted by rest of the working crew and used in every possible situation. Mr. Rugby builded his social status at work through the amusement of his colleagues and he was regarded as friendly ‘buddy’ who could get well with every single person working at restaurant. His ideas became respected and given into practice. Thus, as Marshall states, status is hypothetical link between structural element of social system and psychological part of personality and motivation. (Marshall,T.H., 2000) Another aspect, which have been exposed through the participant observation was change of social identity at restaurant. Lot of restaurant staff members was forced to change their identity in relation to gain better social status or controversially lower their academic social status, to afford to live.


name: Gabriela Sokolova

According to Woodward, “it is not only the poverty that is relative and relational: throughout the income scale people define and experience their economic position ideas about the incomes and opportunities of others. Our identities are, therefore, influenced by the shape of the income distribution.” (Woodward,K., 2000; p.87)

Thus, if we are looking at the fact, that incomes and economies in different countries have different values, an interesting matter is present in this particular group of participants. Money is all that matters. Such as Mr. Senior, person with really high academic status of university professor in Nepal, but unfortunately low compensational and economic benefits for him and his family, arrived to England and accepted post of restaurant floor manager in visualisation to gain more money and improve his economical status and identity after return to his motherland. He became a member of ruled class in terms of English economy, all because of his vision to acquire ruling class social status after return to his country. Furthermore, three participants are international students, who are working to afford to pay their university fees and obtain higher education which leads to higher social status and identity. Although, every from the research participants mentioned ahead, is taking new identity at work. Each of these participants becomes common part of working labour.

Third topic uncovered through participant observation was sexuality at workplace. Male participants had except football games hobby another diversion in common: women. They have been constantly commenting at dress code and body shapes of female customers and above all they have been perceiving them as sexual objects of their interest. Such as Mr. Selfconfident’s comments behind females’ back: “Ooou.. Hello pretty-bum!” or “Did you see her? I haven’t seen such beautiful boobs for a while...” Mr. Selfconfident and other four waiters were creating nicknames for ladies even for two female colleagues. Wide range of nicknames from ‘chico’, ‘darling’, ‘my love’, ‘sweetheart’, ‘beautiful’, etc., which were referring more to names designated for intimate heterosexual relationship, than to work environment. On the other hand, male participants were always excluding their female colleagues from the ‘hard work’ as moving heavy objects. Female participants were witnesses of their verbal fights who is going to marry one of them. Male participants were offering hugs to their


name: Gabriela Sokolova

female colleagues, some of them were trying to provoke some way of physical contact in form of touch or taking their female colleagues by hands. Male participants created some sort of the flirting competition, where the centre of their attention was one or both female colleagues. Male behaviour was trenching upon sexual conduct. Although, speaking in terms of sexual conduct, it needs to be clarified, that sexual conduct at workplace does not require to be understood as objectionable. Furthermore, many case studies proved that sexual behaviour or sexual conduct at workplace is often regarded by women as a desire for inclusion, moreover, they found it enjoyable.(Collinson and Collinson, 1996; Giuffre and Williams,1994; Jensen and Gutek, 1982 used in Denissen, A.M, 2010) To conclude, female participants in this specific restaurant mostly appreciated attention which was given to them by male participants. If male’s behaviour crossed the border they started to act indifferently and their communication became reserved, what was the signal for males to ‘calm down’. In conclusion, according to the particular participant observation and as well as gained data above; the authority, class, social status and sexuality at workplace do have influence on specific working environment. Relationships between colleagues are often shaped or betrayed by authority. As junior colleagues were often threatened by Mr. Bossily, what dismissed his popularity. Besides they were more likely to accomplish his demands instead of Mr. Senior’s orders who supposed to have more power than Mr. Bossily. Class and social status of participants divided them into small groups with different identities, i.e. English, students, females, etc. Furthermore, signs of sexual behaviour at workplace initiated certain form of competition between male colleagues. Intention of flirting competition might have real meanings or it could simply be some form of amusement. Females’ different reactions directed male participants to operate in a different ways. If female colleagues were not accurately ajar to their games they needed to find new work ‘hobby’. If female participants were open to flirt as form of amusement or because of real intentions atmosphere at workplace changed. Moreover, when male participants were taking female customers as sexual objects, conduct of female participants transformed as well. Bring it to a close, everything matters. It is not important if it is sign of authority or one look given by colleague to colleague as secondary sign, all factors are important if concerning interaction between colleagues. Each aspect is capable to change whole structure of relationships, furthermore whole structure of workplace.


name: Gabriela Sokolova

Appendices 1: Self reflection: Participant observation is one of more complex qualitative methods in qualitative research. However, Covert participant observation is reflecting on some defection. From one hand Covert observation is great opportunity to observe participants in their natural and notfake behaviour. On the other hand, researcher needs to collect his data very carefully, it means, he cannot start making notes or field sheet next to the participants. Usually, he audio records their conversations, which can be missing secondary sign as face and body gesture of participants. In my case, my collecting data system was audio recording of participants which was really difficult transcripts because there were long passages in Indi language, which I couldn’t understand. Moreover, some of meanings got lost as I did not recorded secondary signs as body language, etc. An interview or anonymous questionnaire would be helpful, but the data gained from questionnaire did not need to reflect participant’s real statements and believes. My participant observation is missing field diary but according to records I created list of topic which were mostly discuss between participants.


name: Gabriela Sokolova

Appendices2: List of topics discussed by participants: Women Football Female customers dressing code Female colleagues look changes Mr. Bossily and his ‘great’ ideas Inreasonibility of manager’s orders Relationships at workplace Possible love-stories at workplace Food Customers


name: Gabriela Sokolova

Bibliography: Blackman, S.J. (1998); “The School: ‘Poxy Cupid!’: An Ethnographic and feminist account of a resistant female youth culture: the New Wave Girls” in Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Culture, ed. Tracey Skelton and Gill Valentine, London: Routledge, p. 207-228 Chang, C. (1998); Men, Masculinities and Management; Masculinities in Organization, Public Productivity & Management review, JSTOR [online], (Accessed 09/01/2012) Craib, I. (1998); Experiencing Identity, London: SAGE Publications Denissen, S.M. (2010); Crossing the line: How Women in the Building Trades Iterpret and Respond to Sexual Conduct at Work, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39:297, SAGE [online], (Accessed 01/12/2011) Du Gay, P., Evans, J., Redman, P.(eds.) (2000); Identity: a reader, London: SAGE Publications Howit, D. (2010); Introduction to Qualitative Methods in Psychology, Harlow: Pierson Education Limited Seidler, V.J. (1994); Unreasonable Men, Masculinity and Social Theory, London: Routledge Woodward, K.(ed.) (2000); Questioning identity: gender, class, nation; An Introduction to the Social Sciences: Understanding Social Change, London: Routledge


Participant Observation