Participant observation or participation mystique?​




In cultural anthropology, a mode of directly observing a household, community, individual, or situation is called participant observation (PO). Its aim is to gain close, intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals through intensive involvement with subjects in their natural environment. This observation is usually over an extended period of time. Originating through the fieldwork of students of Franz Boas and at the Chicago School of sociology, a key principle of PO is not mere observation, but to find a role within the group from which to participate in some way, even if only as an outside observer. Hence, participant observation is limited to contexts where the community under study understands and permits it. Critics of participant observation argue that the study is subsequently restricted to the public fronts socially constructed by actors. PO emphasizes spontaneous pure observation, with more data gathering from informal interviews, participation in the life of the group, collective discussions similar to focus groups but of a more ritual or relaxed nature, analysis of personal documents, life histories, and self-analysis to learn what is reflective and what is truly outside oneself.. It can proceed for several weeks, months, or years since behavior and ceremonies that are unfamiliar may make sense only over significant time and study.


But, there is another corollary of observation that is called participation mystique (PM). PM appears to be a link between contemporary ethnography/anthropology and the study of intentionally invoked synchronicity that is being reported on here. Marie Von Franz, a colleague of Jung, has explained it: "Participation mystique is the observation of synchronistic events, observation of signs, not acting without first observing inner and outer symptoms and signs, or, as it has been defined, the constant, careful attention toward unknown factors." According to this reasoning, this spiritual/religious attitude--of which qualitative research like cultural ethnography can be included when done at the highest level of one's calling and expertise--means never acting just in accordance with conscious reasoning, but with constant attention and consideration of the unknown participation factors, signs, signals, and coincidences. This has been termed superstition, but to anthropologists, it is a mode of observation that allows one to concentrate and receive significant signs from the Self or the outer universe. This is tantamount in Chinese philosophy to paying constant attention to Tao. PM has been assumed to be part of indigenous beliefs and perceptions--synchronistically, based upon cultural anthropologists' ethnography using the more methodological participant observation--but PM now appears to have a strong connection to the view of an alternate reality called synchronicity. What is interesting is that PM can be entered into and observed personally through the more direct methodology of PO.


I would be interested in comments relating to participant observation and participation mystique....if anyone else finds their association of some value.


Note: I'm italicizing participation mystique because it's a French term and is also used by French anthropologists like Levi-Strauss, while participant observation is an English/American research method.