Stress is a universally known phenomenon and in stress situations everybody acts and behaves differently; some people stay calm in certain situations while others completely freak out. Stress situations occur every day, but not all are recognised as such. There are stress situations which appear regularly, such as an overstuffed schedule; and there are those stress situations which primarily have nothing to do with a tight schedule, because they only occur once in a while. Imagine the following: You are at an airport and about to fly home, on holidays or away for work and at the airport there is nothing but total chaos because almost all flights have been cancelled due to unpredictable incidents such as bad weather conditions or a volcanic ash cloud, which both occurred in 2010. How do you think would most people react? There are not many ways to find out how people behave in this specific stress situation. Interviewing people at the airport would be an option, handing out questionnaires would be another option; but without a doubt people would not be in the cheer to answer questions or fill out a form; and collecting data afterwards would probably distort the results, because it is not contemporary enough.
This paper deals with the research method observation; in order to understand how observation can be used in research, chapter two sets the theoretical background on observation methods, including error sources and application possibilities. The third chapter gives a theoretical approach of evaluating data through observation. This approach deals with people’s behaviours while being stranded at an international airport such as Heathrow, Frankfurt or Paris. How do people deal with such a stressful situation? What kind of reactions and behaviours can be observed when people find out that there flight has been cancelled? This kind of stress is not comparable to everyday stress; therefore the working definition of a stress situation used in this work, which is based on the ideas of Barton Cunningham (2000), is as follows: Stress is a universally appearing human response which resulted from the apperception of and distressing and intense experience. It may also be referred to as conflict, anxiety, frustration, conflict, emotional trauma and pressure. Last but not least, the paper concludes with a short review and possible chances and difficulties in chapter four.
2 Theoretical foundations of observation methods
Observation has ever since been important in the social sciences. Psychologists such as Irwin (1980), Brandt (1981), Liebert (1995) and educational researchers such as Foster (1996) have shown great interest in observation. Adler and Adler (1994), who came up with a more sociological perspective presented five observational paradigms, “which can be distinguished in the way observational methods have been used” (Punch: 2005, p. 178). These five paradigms are formal sociology, dramaturgical sociology, public realm, auto-observation and ethnomethodology which are explained in the following:
Formal Sociology goes back to the ideas of Simmel, who analysed the structures, patterns and forms within social interaction derived from his own observations. Formal sociologists prefer using recordings of observations which had been fully videotaped (Slattery: 2003).
Dramaturgical Sociology traces back to Goffman, who described his method as “unsystematic naturalistic observation” (1971, p. xv). Within his studies he concentrated on how people behave and interact, build up relationships and present themselves to others. Nevertheless, dramaturgical sociologists have mainly focused on naturalistic and unstructured recording techniques; and are more “attentive to the observation method than Goffman” (Punch: 2005, p. 178). This method shows similarities with participant observation.
The studies of the public realm are an extension of the just mentioned dramaturgical approach. It addresses an extremely wide range of topics, covers a lot of public places and makes use of observational strategies (Lofland: 2009).
Within auto-observation sociologists study themselves and their colleagues. Using oneself as a research tool goes back to the very beginnings of sociology. Auto-observation offers a greater depth, yields higher insights about experiences and core meaning, as well as it raises questions concerning the role and relationship between the observer and researcher (Miller and Brewer: 2003) .
Ethnomethodology sets a focus on the structure of everyday life. The interest of ethnomethodologists is in the party of processes of conscious awareness that are below the surface. Therefore, observational methods are being preferred over interviewing and self-data reporting (Braun: 1997).
Observation deals directly and scheduled with situations and behavioural patterns which are not being documented by questions and answers. Therefore, observation is not reliant on the willingness to provide information of the observed. The observed usually provides the observer with information by not knowing so; as long as it concerns human beings. They offer valuable clues to buying and usage behaviour, selling behaviour, attention-effect, job performance etc. (Mathis and Jackson: 2008) through photomechanical gadgets, tape recordings or swift-selection platform (Jung: 2006). The whole observation process can be divided into three steps/tasks: Gathering data, organising data (with regard to social science concepts, issues and questions) and finally analysing data (including the write-up) (Lofland et al.: 2006). The order just given is not a fixed order; it is more a general one and can be seen as a guideline. Focusing and analysing usually takes place at the same time, while gathering data needs to be done before. The analysis “emerges as a synthesis or social scientific output of the interaction between gathered and focused data” (Lofland et al.: 2006, p. 2).
In the very beginning, after having chosen the research topic and after having decided on using observation as a method of research a couple of further decisions need to be made in order to start the actual observation process. There are, just like to questionnaires or interviews, various approaches to observation. When combining these approaches, different observation forms arise.
There may be observations which only take place once, so-called non-recurring observations; but in some cases it might be essential to repeat an observation. It then is a recurring one (Denzin: 2009), which usually takes place when a process or improvement/deterioration is being analysed.
It can also be distinguished between structured and unstructured observation. In a structured observation situation and observation criteria are determinate, whereas unstructured observations are more comprehensive (Jung: 2006). According to Punch “observational data can be highly structured without being turned into numbers” (2005, p. 279). Hence, quantitative and structured; and on the other hand qualitative and unstructured are often put on a same level. By not having a strict schedule more individuality and uniqueness can be reached which leads to a higher quality; but nevertheless, it takes up a lot of time analysing each observation material.
Sometimes it is only about a single person or animal and therefore there is no need for a group observation, but an individual observation; which means that the observer concentrates on the observation of only one person.
When observing people (or animals) the reason for the research may not only be one. Therefore, the researches need to decide between a one-object and a more-object observation.
Subjective issues such as opinions and attitudes as well as objective attributes such as occupation, income or education are beyond the observation. Therefore, the application possibility is extremely limited. Additionally, a compilation of a representative sample is nearly impossible; which is why observation is less likely used in market research (Jung: 2006). Observation does not only include looking, it also includes listening; therefore audio- and videotaping is usually being used in order to gather data which then can be analysed at a later stage. Since language is the fundamental base of social order and communication, contemporary ethnomethodologists have focused on conversational analysis in connection with observation (Punch: 2005).
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