Dilemmas and Challenges in Participant Observation: Lessons From Research on Community-Based Rehabilitation in Rural Sri Lanka


The aim of this case study is to reflect on and discuss critically the participant observation used, based on my field notes from rural Sri Lanka, while focusing on the dilemmas and challenges in field work. I applied participant observation to explore the inclusive practice of religion and spirituality in community-based rehabilitation for disabled people from February 2013 to January 2015 in the Anuradhapura district, working as a social worker on an overseas volunteer program. Through self-reflection using field notes, dilemmas and challenges that I faced were summarized into three aspects: insider/outsider perspectives, researcher/practitioner positionalities, and emotional and health conditions. These lessons from my field work shed light on a field reality of participant observation, arguing the complex and non-linear process, and the importance of self-reflection and the learning process.

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