Participant observation is one type of data collection method by practitioner-scholars typically used in qualitative research and ethnography. This type of methodology is employed in many disciplines, particularly anthropology (incl. cultural anthropology and European ethnology), sociology (incl. sociology of culture and cultural criminology), communication studies, human geography, and social psychology. Its aim is to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals (such as a religious, occupational, youth group, or a particular community) and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their cultural environment, usually over an extended period of time.
The method originated in the field research linked to European and American voyages of scientific exploration. During the year 1800, one of precursors of the method as Joseph Marie, baron de Gérando already affirming that: "The first way to get to know the Indians is to become like one of them; and it is by learning their language that we will become their fellow citizens." Later, the method would be popularized by Bronisław Malinowski and his students in Britain; the students of Franz Boas in the United States; and, in the later urban research, the students of the Chicago school of sociology.