How to Observe

It is impossible to record every detail observed in the field, and the large quantity of data recorded will be too much to handle. Therefore, the researcherhas to narrow down what and how to observe before entering the field.

Estrangement as a technique

 A useful technique to decide how and what to observe is estrangement (Gobo, 2008). This is similar to the experience of feeling out of place as strangers in an unfamiliar environment, or when we travel abroad to experience a new culture.

The “stranger” attitude allows us to look at ordinary things differently. Two more strategies may be considered: thought experiment and observing the marginal subjects.

Thought experiment 

Thought experiment is “an attempt to solve a problem using the power of the human imagination and the head as a laboratory.” (Gobo, 2011: 151)

This strategy is to use a different lens to make sense of what happened and why.



When a child shouts with amusement when seeing a fast food shop sign, we can ask:

  • Why does a child raise her voice when seeing a fast food shop sign?
  • How does the child show her amusement?
  • Is it the same as other children on the road?
  • How do other people react to the child’s behaviour?
  • Will the child’s reaction be different if her parents are around?