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Immersion

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The best way for a researcher to understand a group, a subculture, a setting, or a way of life is to immerse themselves into that world. Qualitative researchers often use immersion to gain the best understanding of their topic they can by essentially becoming a part of the group or topic of study. In immersion, the researcher immerses themselves into the setting, living among the participants for months or years. The researcher "goes native" to get an in-depth and longitudinal understanding of the subject.

For example, when professor and researcher Patti Adler wanted to study the world of illicit drug trafficking, she immersed herself in the subculture of drug traffickers. It took her a great deal of gaining trust from her subjects, but once she did, she became a part of the group and lived among them for several years. As a result of living with, befriending, and participating in activities of the drug traffickers, she was able to get a real-life account of what the drug trafficking world is really like, how it works, and who the traffickers really are. She gained a new understanding of the drug trafficking world that those on the outside never see or know about.

Immersion means that the researchers immerse themselves in the culture they are studying. It typically mean attending meetings with or about informants, becoming familiar with other similar situations, reading documents on the subjects, observing interactions in the setting, and essentially becoming a part of the culture. It also means listening to the people of the culture and really attempting to see the world from their point of view. The culture does not just consist of the physical environment, but also of particular ideologies, values, and ways of thinking. Researchers need to be sensitive and objective when describing or interpreting what they see or hear. At the same time, however, it must be remembered that human beings are influenced by their experiences. Qualitative research methods such as immersion, then, need to be understood in the context of the researcher. What he or she experienced and interpreted from their studies may be different than another researcher in the same or similar setting.

Immersion often takes months to years to carry out. Researchers cannot typically immerse themselves in a setting and gather all of the information they need or desire in a short amount of time. Because this research method is so time-consuming and takes a great deal of dedication (and often finances), it is done less often than other methods. The payoff of immersion is usually immense as the researcher can gain more information about a subject or culture than through any other method. However, the drawback is the time and dedication that is required.

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