Historically, ethnography of communication has viewed participant observation as the central and necessary methodological point of departure for any ethnographic endeavor. However, as this article illustrates, this becomes problematic when particular topics of inquiry do not provide ample opportunities for observation. After struggles to participant observe conversations on women's marital naming practices, I was able to research this topic and produce participant observation-like understandings after I incorporated focus groups into my methods. Based upon these experiences and study, this article urges ethnography of communication scholars to step outside their traditional methodological practices, when necessary, and integrate the focus group method into their research protocols.


The author would also like to thank Todd Trautman, Lee Nickoson, and Mary Sheridan-Rabideau for helpful feedback. An earlier version of this paper was presented in November, 1999 at the National Speech Communication Association's 85th Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

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