Gold's Typology of Partipant Observer Roles

Gold's (1958) Typology of the Participant Observer Roles

  • The complete participant - takes an insider role, is fully part of the setting and often observes covertly.
  • The participant as observer - the researcher gains access to a setting by virtue of having a natural and non-research reason for being part of the setting.  As observers, they are part of the group being studied. This approach may be common in health care settings where members of the health care team are interested in observing operations in order to understand and improve care processes.
  • The observer as participant - In this role, the researcher or observer has only minimal involvement in the social setting being studied.  There is some connection to the setting but the observer is not naturally and normally part of the social setting.
  • The complete observer - the researcher does not take part in the social setting at all.  An example of complete observation might be watching children play from behind a two-way mirror.


Gold, R. (1958). "Roles in sociological field observation."  Social Forces, 36, 217-213.