While clearing out an old fling cabinet (not something I normally do but every once in a while I find it therapeutic to interrupt my International Jet-setting Lifestyle to do the kinds of things ordinary  people do. I find it keeps me grounded) I came across a cutting I’d saved about Pat Moore, an American Industrial Designer, and her experimental form of covert participant observation.

In order to gain an insight into the “problems of contemporary life” faced by the elderly, the then 26-year-old didn’t simply observe or ask questions; she physically transformed herself into an 85-year-old woman called “Old Pat”.

Over a 3-year period between 1979 and 1982 Moore played “Old Pat” in three different ways: as a wealthy dowager, as a reasonably comfortable granny and as an almost destitute bag lady (which added a class dimension to those of gender and age).

Her experiences were detailed in a book published in 1985 (Disguised: A True Story) but if you just want an overview of what she did and discovered there are a couple of sites worth visiting:

Designer Pat Moore Learned About Old Age the Hard Way

How an Industrial Designer Discovered the Elderly

While you need to keep in mind this wasn’t a sociological study, as such, it’s a good example of covert participant observation that can be used as a way of getting students to think about the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of the method.

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