Playing in the field: participant observation and the investigation of intersubjective knowledge in jazz improvisation


  • Will Gibson Institute of Education, London



This paper investigates the use of intersubjective knowledge in the production of improvised jazz performance. I describe an approach to participant observation in which recordings of the researcher and research participants improvising musical performances together were used as 'texts' for framing discussions. A key methodological challenge in this investigation involved encouraging informants to provide sufficiently detailed verbal accounts of their common-sense knowledge. Through using these musical texts, the informants were able to provide a contextually rich commentary; in this way, our 'play' became a topic of conversation which shed light on the very practices I was interested in researching.

Author Biography

Will Gibson, Institute of Education, London

Will Gibson has worked as a qualitative researcher on a diverse range of projects, including the assessment of professional skills, the use of online learning technologies, and the examination of musical performance. He completed a PhD in Sociology at the University of Manchester, entitled 'The Collaborative Process of Jazz Improvisation', and now works as a Lecturer in Social Research at the University of London, Institute of Education. He is particularly interested in interactional sociology and the empirical examination of technology and work practices. He can be contacted at w.gibson(AT)