CFP Special issue of RHM on Mental Health

CFP:Rhetoric of Health and Medicine

2020 Special Issue

“Interrogating the Past and Shaping the Future of Mental Health Rhetoric Research”

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In the inaugural issue of the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine (RHM)J. Fred Reynolds (2018) offered a “A Short History of Mental Health Rhetoric Research (MHRR)” in which he compellingly documented the “significant body of work applying the tools and terms of rhetoric to the world of mental health” that emerged in the 1980s and continues today, if in fits and starts (p. 1). Reynolds’ history raises important questions on how the issues and challenges unique to MHRR create space for the field to set a specific agenda for its development—to make explicit the major epistemological assumptions, the key questions, and the various vantage points that will undergird the future of this important area of inquiry.

As each iteration of the DSM proliferates diagnostic categories and protocols, as various constituents comment on the status of mental health around the globe, and as mental health-related words and phrases enter solidly and uncritically into healthcare practices and popular lexicons, the importance of MHRR is undeniable. While a number of fields study issues of mental health from a humanistic perspective, rhetorical research on mental health distinguishes itself through a focus on discursive and symbolic communication, especially acts of persuasion and identification. Rhetorical approaches are not limited to textual analysis, however, and also account for factors like social conditions, identity, embodiment, power relations, location, materiality, and circulation. MHRR attends to the rhetorics of neuroscience, medicine, and psychiatry in connection with their cultural warrants; places judgments of in/sanity in rhetorical-historical context; follows mental health categories and diagnoses through clinical, professional, and personal settings; considers representations of mental health in medical and professional documents as well as popular media; and connects rhetorical appeals to strategies of activism and advocacy.

In the past, rhetoricians have studied issues of mental health from a variety of (inter)disciplinary angles: technical/professional writing vantages (Reynolds, Mair, & Fischer; Berkenkotter; Holladay); critiques of the linguistic entanglements of the professionals who seek to treat mental health (McCarthy & Gerring; Berkenkotter & Ravotas); examinations of how publics encounter and make sense of mental difference (Leweicki-Wilson; Segal; Emmons; J. Johnson; Price; D. Johnson Thornton); and through studies of “patients’” discursive behaviors (Prendergast; Molloy; Uthappa). The 2020 special issue of Rhetoric of Health & Medicinewill ask writers to engage this important body of research as well as scholarship in RHM more generally, but it will also ask writers to make connections between this area of emphasis and related bodies of scholarship (such as disability studies) and to productively critique, challenge and extend this work.

As MHRR moves forward, this special issue of Rhetoric of Health & Medicineseeks to present RHM’s growing readership with some thoughtful perspectives to consider, for example:

Contemporary Nomenclature

  • What are the exigencies and consequences of labeling a set of behaviors Illnesses? Disorders? Disabilities?
  • What are the dominant models for conceptualizing and treating mental health conditions, and what appeals are used to support them rhetorically? What individuals, organizations, or communities resist the dominant models and/or suggest alternative ways of addressing mental health conditions?
  • Should rhetoricians work to end unhelpful labels or to aid in the amelioration of mental illness symptoms?
  • How do neurorhetorics relate to mental health rhetoric research? Are these things synonymous? Complementary? Adversarial?
  • How do discourses surrounding mental health patients’ compliance/adherence/concordance with treatment plans and protocols impact quality of care?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

  • How might rhetoricians illuminate the changes that occurred in diagnostic categories and criteria between the DSM IV-TR and the DSM V? Between other versions? Between the DSM and the ICD?
  • How might a MHRR scholar bring important insight to ancillary DSM texts and diagnostic tools, such as case books, guidebooks, and protocols?
  • What might MHRR challenge the ubiquity and power of the DSM? What alternatives for diagnostic precision might MHRR and technical communicators offer?

Clinical Practice

  • What can MHRR learn from case histories, patient records and other artifacts from clinical practice?
  • What might we learn from patient “noncompliance?”
  • How might MHRR contribute directly to bodies of knowledge (in psychology, social work, psychiatry, etc.) that inform clinical practice?
  • What exigencies drive pharmacological interventions?
  • What insights might MHRR lend to critical discussions of clinical conversations?

Institutional spaces and places  

  • What insights might rhetorical lenses add to the deinstitutionalization movement and to the wider publics that continue to support or critique it?
  • How might MHRR intervene in or comment usefully on the penal system’s encounters with mental difference?
  • What is the relationship between the “mental hospital” as a monolith and a real, brick-and-mortar site?

Intersectional Perspectives on Mental Health

  • How can intersectional approaches to academic research add critical depth to studies in MHRR?
  • In what ways do experiences of race, disability, gender, sexuality, class, and other marginalized identities affect the rhetoric of mental health?
  • How do such experiences and identities affect the delivery of mental health and psychiatric treatment?

Disability and MHRR

  • How might theories and scholarship from disability studies inflect MHRR, including studies of normativity, disabled embodiment, disability policy, social stigma, and disability justice?
  • What are the intersections between mental health rhetorics and disability rhetorics?
  • What can rhetoricians add to the neurodiversity movement? What are the limits of neuroatypicalities?
  • Where can rhetorical theory help illuminate and analyze the lived experiences of people with mental and psychiatric disabilities?

Mental Health in Public(s)

  • What models of public rhetoric and public health might be usefully employed to investigate the rhetoric of mental health?
  • How does medical rhetoric about mental health figure into debates on public policy related to education, social welfare, employment, and the criminal justice system?
  • Where can MHRR make connections between discourses of mental health and its representations in popular media such as fiction, television, film, and social media?
  • How can MHRR illuminate the processes through which people are interpellated into self-diagnoses in non-clinical forums and media?

These themes are meant to be generative rather than exhaustive. Please do propose essays and hybrid pieces that extend, challenge or otherwise engage with this call in unexpected ways. The editors and guest editors look forward to reading proposals for traditional academic articles, but are also eager to hear your ideas for other RHM genres—persuasion briefs, dialogues, commentaries, and review essays.  If you are new to this topic or work in a field outside rhetoric, we encourage you to consider reading Fred Reynolds’ 2018 article on MHRR mentioned above and reviewing some of the research listed in the bibliography below.

This special issue will be co-edited by Cathryn Molloy & Drew Holladay in consultation with the RHM co-editors. Special issue proposals will be reviewed and ranked by the journal’s editorial board, and manuscripts will undergo the same rigorous peer review process as regular submissions.

Cathryn & Drew are very willing to answer email queries: molloycs@jmu.eduand

Please email 500-1000 word proposals (excluding citations) to by December 10, 2018.

Completed manuscripts for accepted proposals will be due March 25, 2018.

MHRR Bibliography

Berkenkotter, Carol. “Genre Systems at Work: DSM-IV and Rhetorical Recontextualization in Psychotherapy Paperwork.” Written Communication, vol. 18, no. 3, 2001, pp. 326-349.

—.Patient Tales: Case Histories and the Uses of Narrative in Psychiatry. U South Carolina P, 2008.

Broderick, Alicia A. “Autism as Rhetoric: Exploring Watershed Rhetorical Moments in Applied Behavior Analysis Discourse.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 3, 2011, n. pag.

Emmons, Kimberly K. Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-care. Rutgers UP, 2010.

Heilker, Paul, and Melanie Yergeau. “Autism and Rhetoric.” College English, vol. 73, no. 5, 2011, pp. 485–497.

Holladay, Drew. Classified Conversations: Psychiatry and Tactical Technical Communication in Online Spaces. Technical Communication Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 8–24.

Jack, Jordynn, and L. Gregory Appelbaum. “‘This Is Your Brain on Rhetoric’: Research Directions for Neurorhetorics.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 5, 2010, pp. 411–437.

Johnson, Davi. “‘How Do You Know Unless You Look?’: Brain Imaging, Biopower and Practical Neuroscience.” Journal of Medical Humanities, vol. 29, no. 3, 2008, pp. 147–161.

Johnson Thornton, Davi. Brain Culture: Neuroscience and Popular Media. Rutgers UP, 2011.

Johnson, Jenell. “The Skeleton on the Couch: The Eagleton Affair, Rhetorical Disability, and the Stigma of Mental Illness.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 5, 2010, pp. 459–478.

—.American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History. U Michigan P, 2014.

Kopelson, Karen. “‘Know Thy Work and Do It’: The Rhetorical-Pedagogical Work of Employment and Workplace Guides for Adults with ‘High-Functioning’ Autism.” College English, vol. 77, no. 6, 2015, pp. 553-576.

Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia. “Rethinking Rhetoric through Mental Disabilities.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 22, no. 2, 2003, pp. 156–167.

McCarthy, Lucille Parkinson, and Joan Page Gerring. “Revising Psychiatry’s Charter Document DSM-IV.” Written Communication, vol. 11, no. 2, 1994, pp. 147–192.

Molloy, Cathryn. “Recuperative Ethos and Agile Epistemologies: Toward a Vernacular Engagement with Mental Illness Ontologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 2, 2015, pp. 138–163.

Prendergast, Catherine. “On the Rhetorics of Mental Disability.” Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture, edited James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Southern Illinois UP, 2001, pp. 45–60.

Price, Margaret. Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. U Michigan P, 2011.

Reynolds, J. Fred. “The Rhetoric of Mental Health Care.” Rhetoric of Healthcare: Essays toward a New Disciplinary Inquiry, edited by Barbara Heifferon and Stuart C. Brown, Hampton, 2008, pp. 149-158.

Reynolds, J. Fred, David Mair, and Pamela Fischer. Writing and Reading Mental Health Records: Issues and Analysis in Professional Writing and Scientific Rhetoric. Erlbaum, 1995.

Uthappa, N. Renuka. Moving Closer: Speakers with Mental Disabilities, Deep Disclosure, and Agency through Vulnerability. Rhetoric Review,vol. 36, no. 2, 2017, pp. 164–175.

Walters, Shannon. “Autistic Ethos at Work: Writing on the Spectrum in Contexts of Professional and Technical Communication.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 3, 2011, n. pag.

Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Duke UP, 2017.

RHM Researchers Connect at First VCRHM

note: this is a guest blog by Rachael Lussos, who shares with us a summary of the VCRHM. It’s wonderful to be able to share RHM activities and events. RHM is a vibrant community and events like VCRHM help raise our profile and are experiences with one another. Thanks, Rachael, for writing this up

On June 9, 2018, researchers in rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM) met at George Mason University (GMU) to identify mentorship and collaboration opportunities at the first Virginia Colloquium on the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (VCRHM).

Led by Heidi Y. Lawrence and Elizabeth Ferguson, VCRHM was created to connect RHM researchers of varying levels of experience, by providing a dedicated space and time to share RHM research interests, needs, and goals. By partnering with scholars from Virginia Tech—Bernice L. Hausman, Kelly Pender—and from James Madison University—Lori Beth De Hertogh, Michael J. Klein, Cathryn Molloy—Heidi Lawrence won a $16,500 Collaborative Research Grant from 4-VA to help fund the event. Due in part to this explicit goal of mentoring student researchers, the majority of the grant funding went to honoraria for student presenters and to compensation for GMU students—including Lourdes Fernandez and Rachael Graham Lussos—who helped plan, prepare, and conduct the one-day event.

The event kicked off with a keynote address by Kirk St.Amant, on the topic of the cultural context of care. He explained that different cultures—both internationally and locally—prioritize the point of intervention in healthcare in different ways. He then provided a heuristic for a “chronology of care,” to help RHM scholars and technical communicators consider user experience in healthcare contexts across cultures.

After the keynote and other presentations throughout the day, VCRHM participants engaged in lively and cumulative Q&A discussions with speakers and other participants. Jenny Moore’s presentation on her archival research of discourses by the La Leche League’s founding members generated questions and anecdotes on participants’ personal experiences working with the breastfeeding advocacy and support group. Elizabeth Ferguson’s presentation on the rhetorics of outbreaks and epidemics in Morbidity Mortality Weekly Reports sparked a discussion about the changing meaning of “epidemic” when applied to health conditions or activities instead of viral or bacterial diseases.Kelly Scarff’s presentation on citizen advocacy for construction of an Appalachian pipeline generated a conversation about the difference between rhetorical empathy and identification. Sarah Singer’s presentation on health literacy and Lyme disease led to a discussion about the construction and valuing of medical and scientific knowledge. Finally, leading a panel with two undergraduate researchers, Neil Feste and Prerna Das, Bernice Hausman started a conversation about collaborative research that involves faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from multiple disciplines.

In addition to the prepared talks and presentations, VCRHM included two semi-structured opportunities for participants to exchange ideas, grow their professional networks, and learn more about the wide range of RHM scholarship happening in Virginia and nearby states. Assigned groups met during lunch to make introductions and share observations on topics of professional development. Then a lightning round of informal presentations allowed researchers to briefly pitch current research projects and concerns, which were met with immediate feedback from researchers doing similar work.

Before closing, Heidi Lawrence solicited ideas from the VCRHM collective on how to help participants stay connected throughout the year, keep the day’s conversations going, and create a space for generating collaborative research efforts. After collecting suggestions for possible tools and processes, Heidi Lawrence closed the event with the expressed hope that having connected RHM researchers within and near the Commonwealth, we can look toward future collaborative efforts to engage community partners, perhaps beginning at the next VCRHM.

To learn more about VCRHM and see pictures from the 2018 event, visit

To learn more about how 4-VA funds collaborative research efforts, visit

Orientations and Embodiment

The goal for the next academic year is to get more content posted here. on the blog that specifically engages with ongoing work or ideas related to the community of RHM.

Since it is often helpful to have models of what we mean, the following is an example of the type of content we would like to host here. If you would like do an interview or participant in one, please contact us. 

It is an interview that Sushil Oswal did with Lisa Melonçon about her work that draws on the theories of Sara Ahmed and pays particular attention to embodiment.

The interview came about because of Lisa’s contribution to a special issue that Sushil edited on accessibility and disability in the business and professional communication classroom. Since these issues cross disciplines and the latter part of the interview moves directly to RHM, we decided to post it here. The end has specific directions of research that RHM can move toward that incorporates the work of Sara Ahmed.

Lisa Melonçon discusses with Sushil K. Oswal her recent project on “a theory of Intersectional Orientations” in the company of Sara Ahmed

SKO: Could we go back a bit to trace the genesis of the project? When and how did you start thinking of Sara Ahmed’s work in relation to this project for the special issue of Business and Professional Communication Quarterly

LM: Ahmed’s work has been on my mind for some time. She’s one of those scholars whose work I had read because I appreciated the way she writes and thinks but I hadn’t tried to apply it in anyway.

In 2017, I was supposed to do a presentation at the CCCCs, “Cripping” the Writing Classroom: Normalcy, Access and Accessibility Statements,” which was a critique of accessibility statements on syllabi. In preparing for that presentation (which I was unable to give due to an illness), I wanted a way to theoretically ground the main idea that forced inclusion of diversity statements was contradictory to the ideas of access and was simply perpetuating a limited view of normalcy. This presentation was the background thinking that led to the BPCQ piece.

Since in technical and professional communication and business communication, we’re starting from scratch in many ways pedagogically and programmatically around issues of access and inclusion, these moves need be theorized as well as applied. That’s when I realized that if you’re starting from scratch and you may be pushing against institutional norms that the first step would be an orientation step. Enter Ahmed. Not only for her ideas around orientation but also her work On Being Included, which is closely analogous to wanting to change policies or make policies more meaningful and actually inclusive. And that idea of inclusiveness is at the heart of this piece in BPCQ.

SKO: Could you also provide the RHM audiences with some background of this research? What sort of entrepreneurial scholarship was involved in taking up this topic?

LM: What I like about this question is that it forced me to think through the steps of weaving multiple strands of scholarship—even quite disparate scholarship—together. Few people would put together business and professional communication and Sara Ahmed and disability studies, but that was one reason I wanted to do it.

Ahmed’s work is highly relevant and it does exactly what good theory is supposed to do: encourage you to think differently. I had been wanting to find a way to theoretically ground this idea of that we needed to shift our pedagogical and even programmatic focus. Tanya Titchkosky’s work on access in higher education was what I thought of first, but then I realized I could move from the practical aspects of accessibility and usability to Titchkosky’s access to Ahmed. In my head, it worked seamlessly because I knew what broader intellectual traditions they were coming from. It was a little harder, well, a lot harder to weave that together in a way that would make sense for the more practically applied context of BPCQ.

There is a growing number of folks in RHM who approach RHM from a disability studies background, so in some ways the movement of including Ahmed or various divergent strands of scholarship are sort of par for the course. But, this project and my own work in RHM underscores the need to read wide and deep in a way that can truly ground RHM work in multiple domains. You use the word entrepreneurial, which is a pretty good way of talking about it. In RHM, we’ve had to be entrepreneurial in not only establishing the space for this field, but also, and more importantly, in showing how the work we do is actually a “thing” that no longer comfortably fit into other areas within the large rhetoric and writing studies umbrella.

SKO: You draw on Ahmed’s broad institutional critique in On Being Included and then you also engage her more identity-centered scholarship on queer theory: Could you quickly synopsize Ahmed’s thought in these areas for our readers who might not be familiar with her work?

LM: Well, Sushil, that’s a big, huge question that is setting me up to really not do justice to Ahmed’s work. [insert laugh here.] But what I will do is a version of Melonçon bottom line, which is how I explain complex ideas and scholarship to students as a way to get them initially interested and to prompt questions. So since there won’t really be a chance for a lot of follow-up questions here, I ask readers to understand that I do know I am oversimplifying for the sake of space and time.

In On Being Included, Ahmed makes the claim that once policies are institutionalized they often advance the same behavior they are trying to counter. While on the surface, this claim seems backward, Ahmed actually makes an astute observation. The moment we create a policy about, say diversity, we have institutionalized it to the point that often people simply point to the policy rather than doing the work of the policy. Her stance really resonated with me because I had seen this happen many, many times when I worked as a consultant. I would be brought in to fix something and often one of the first things people said or gave to me was the company’s policy on the very thing I was there to address. So the takeaway there, which is particularly relevant to a lot of policies ripe for analysis in RHM, is that we—scholars and citizens and employees and community members—need to consistently question and more importantly, to consistently do the work of actually making change. Of putting the work of the policy into action.

Ahmed’s other work on queer theory, identity, and emotion has been instrumental to the way that I approach research questions. So to again take her work down to the lowest common denominator, I am reminded of her description in Queer Phenomenology about how racialized bodies move through space and how their orientations take up space. Her premise is that spaces become racialized in how they are oriented and different bodies are allowed to move through them. This idea alone can be used in a lot of different ways, as evidenced by my taking only a small sliver and using it in the BCPQ piece.

But this whole idea of the multiple versions of orienting has tremendous potential for asking different questions about the spaces of healthcare, and in particular to some of my own research around health literacy and health disparities, how people move through these healthcare spaces. There is something about the way Ahmed writes that enabled me to see and to understand issues of race and gender (that can also be ported onto class) in ways that I had not seen before.

SKO: Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Ahmed’s scholarship in the area of diversity, inclusion, and identity politics. Could we now move over to some of the key connections you are making in this BPCQ article and why do they matter for academics working in the general field of technical and professional communication?

LM: If folks read the BPCQ piece the one thing I want them to take away is that Ahmed’s concept of orientation is useful to remind teachers in technical and professional communication that we need to consciously consider inclusion and diversity at the start of our planning. Higher education is so diverse with how students see themselves and their identities. We’ve also known that people learn differently, but what we’ve (in all of higher ed) have not done as well is to recognize that student identities impact how they learn. Being more open and inclusive in our classroom pedagogies is essential. Ahmed’s work helps us see how to open up our pedagogies. The BPCQ article is the start of that by encouraging faculty to simply start to think differently, more inclusively in some practical and applied ways. What technical and professional communication has always done well is put theory into practice. This is just another example of that: taking Ahmed’s theoretical work on identity and putting it into meaningful practice in a way that can impact students.

SKO: You advocate for a “concept of an embodied orientation to access/ability” in your article for the TPC classroom: could you expand on this concept and explain how your concept of “embodiedness” shifts our perception or perspective of the body from Nirmala Erevelles’ conceptualization of “unruly bodies” and Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s idea of “extraordinary bodies”?

LM: Over the last few years, I’ve really thought a lot about bodies and embodiment. While I don’t completely buy into the “posthuman” turn running through writing studies, what I do take away from those moves is that we have to always consider the material, physical aspects of things. For me, that plays out in wanting to advance this idea of an embodied orientation to access/ability. What this means is that faculty and administrators cannot lose sight of the actual physical bodies and lives of our students.

We talk so often about students and we do that with such sincerity and care, but embodied orientation is asking faculty and administrators to take that a step farther, to push the boundaries of where we are comfortable and address the hard things. So for example, Sara Goldrick-Rab, who is a higher education policy and sociology scholar, has been doing some really solid work on food and housing insecurity in higher education. That’s such a lived instantiation of embodied orientation because it shows her own personal embodied commitment but it also highlights the needs of students in embodied ways. Talking in our programs about these taboo and stigmatized topics are vastly important, but it’s a shift in the way many of us in writing studies and in technical and professional communication have looked at our work. Incorporating an embodied orientation to access means we can’t forget our students have bodies and those bodies are vastly different from one another and from our own.

Embodied orientation is also a quite simple concept. How do we as faculty and administrations literally position ourselves—our physical and mental and emotional—selves in relation to our administrative work that guides programs, trains teachers, and directly impacts the access/ability of our students? Orientating our own stance to start with the question: how can we provide safe access to all our students with varying abilities and varying identities and varying lives? How can we create a classroom (and a program) that ensures an embodied orientation to access/ability? As you and I have previously discussed and it’s a project I hope to get back to, is what concrete steps can we take? That’s a key and essential part of embodied orientation because it means we’re taking some sort of action to ensure access.

This concept of embodied orientation is a complement to Nirmala Erevelles’ “unruly bodies” and Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s idea of “extraordinary bodies.” I say complement because I see embodied orientation as a broader term that can house the views of “unruly” and “extraordinary” and whatever else others come up with. What I’ve always appreciated about disability studies scholars and their nuanced work with theories and terminologies around bodies and embodiment is that they make us—other scholars—think through bodies in different ways. Historically, dating way back to documents I’ve read from the 1300 and 1400s, learned men and women have consistently grappled with ways to understand the body because we live in it. That duality of being and living makes it difficult to theorize the body and even more difficult to understand the body when it is different from our own. So Garland-Thompson and Erevelles’ bodies really force scholars to grapple with this uncertainty. Embodied orientation is a way to frame these different bodies from a theoretical standpoint—a literal standpoint, a literal place, a specific orientation—and work through what diverse bodies mean for inclusion. It’s a way to try and put into practice what you and I have talked about, “an ideology of inclusion,” and that ideology needs an embodied orientation.  

SKO: Could you now also speak to how is this “embodiedness” different from, or not different from “embodiedness” as we tend to employ it in the rhetoric of health and medicine discourse?

LM: It’s actually the same. The idea of embodied orientation just shifts based on context. But I didn’t realize that at first. I was working on the final edits to the BPCQ piece at the same time I was working on a piece situated within RHM on something I call patient experience design (PXD). Part of PXD and the importance of it in designing health communication and information is that it has an embodied component. It wasn’t until I re-read both of these pieces recently that I saw the overlaps between them. I hope to continue with the idea of embodied orientation specifically in RHM, particularly around a study where we are “testing” patient/caregiver education materials in a number of diverse settings and with diverse populations.

SKO: How would you differentiate your current thoughts on “embodiment” from your earlier explication of the theory of “technological embodiment” (2013a)? 

LM: It’s funny that you ask this question. In a class I just finished up teaching, I had students read Technological Embodiments. Typically, I wouldn’t have them read work I’ve written, but in this case, I wanted to use this chapter to also talk about the academic writing process. While I still love this chapter for a number of reasons, it has some pretty big flaws in it. One of which is that I did not adequately define “technological embodiment.”

I made the early career scholar mistake of using too much of the existing literature to define the term. But I did write a sentence that I still like: “by destabilizing categories of the body, technological embodiment erases differences by focusing on the dispersal of embodiment through technologies” (p. 68). The key difference between this view and my more recent work is that I’ve shifted to just talking about bodies and embodiment without totally addressing the technologies that continue to push on, or disperse embodiment. So in the big ways, I don’t really see a big difference—at least not in my own head and thinking [insert laugh]—between this earlier work and my later work on embodiment.

SKO: So, in which direction is this work moving?

LM: What I need to return to, and what I hope others pick up, is the critique and analysis around the intersections of technology, in all its definitions, and embodiment.

An important strand, in RHM and technical and professional communication, is to use embodiment—an embodied orientation if you will—to think through audiences, which was a point that I made in technological embodiments (pp. 74-76). Merging an embodied orientation to include a consideration of technologies holds promise in ensuring that we have addressed the diverse needs of our diverse audiences. This sort of deliberate and thoughtful starting places ensures a type of inclusion that is necessary in both fields.  

I do want to point out that this interview has made me think of all of my work in and around embodiment, which I didn’t realize until quite recently was something that I had consistently done. In other words, writing about embodiment has just become something that I do. But in having to think through this interview and the project I mentioned above on patient education materials, I realized that embodiment was a theme central to my work. Absolutely, my work on embodiment can be critiqued and should be, but what I like about it is that you can see the arc in thinking from the original foray in Technological Embodiment to my most recent work “Bringing the Body Back Through Performative Phenomenology“. That arc is important as an example of continued thinking around a subject and learning to push your own thinking in different directions. It’s also important in RHM and technical and professional communication because, as I’ve said a couple of times throughout this interview, scholars and teachers have to consider the lived, real body. That line hasn’t changed in all the work I’ve done on embodiment because that’s why I was drawn to that line of intellectual inquiry from the beginning.

SKO: What are some of the specific cross over issues from the BPCQ article that you believe are awaiting translation by another entrepreneurial scholar into RHM research?

LM: Orienting is such a lovely word, and particularly the extended and nuanced ways that Ahmed uses it. I really didn’t do her work justice when I used it, but at the same time, she may appreciate bringing this term and it’s many layers and nuances into different fields. For RHM, orienting intersects with something that I’ve briefly written about and am writing about in a larger project, and that is, context. Even though RHM scholars and rhetoric scholars in general have long understood the importance of context, I’ve written recently that RHM has a context problem, which means we need to consider in more nuanced and specific ways the contexts of use for health and medical information and communication. Orienting is a key starting place on understanding the contexts that impact how health and medical information is designed, but more importantly, used.

Orienting is also a key term that folks in RHM should think through in terms of their own relationship to their research practices. Many scholars come to RHM through some sort of personal connection to the subject either personally or through someone that they know. While these connections can bring with it important insights, RHM has not begun to think through what these sorts of connections mean methodologically. At RHM the journal, we’re working on starting this conversation through developing a dialogue around the issue, but this is an area that has great potential, particularly through this concept of orienting.

SKO: Working from Ahmed’s theories, you not only develop your theory of orientation for the classroom but you also interpret it for the contexts of disability and access. What applications do you see for your theory of “orienting access” in your future work in RHM?

LM: RHM scholarship has always had a pretty close connection with disability studies. In the project I’m editing (with some great folks: Rhetoric of Health and Medicine As/Is), we have a section on the relationships between RHM and other areas. One of those essays focuses on the connection to disability studies. Access (like orienting) has such great potential to employ in RHM because access gets played out in so many ways. Beyond the important work of access from a more traditional viewpoint for those with disabilities, access to care is a huge issue and problem that move across different populations and communities. Access is connected to race, class, gender orientation, cultural issues, and literacy so there is so much potential for and in RHM. The great thing about a new field like RHM is that the possibilities are so great not only from a scholarly research perspective but the potential to put the work into practice in localized situations is one of the reasons I have worked in this area.

SKO: As we wrap up, could you provide your wide-ranging view of how Sara Ahmed’s work is relevant for some of the primary research questions facing the field of RHM at this time? What possibilities can you outline tentatively?

LM: As I suggested above, Ahmed’s work on orientation has much potential for RHM from a number of perspectives. But if I’m thinking through all of Ahmed’s work, I would suggest that there are four potential avenues that RHM scholars could pursue.

First, Ahmed’s work as seen in the Cultural Politics of Emotion could be used to better understand experiences of patients, caregivers, health care providers, and other stakeholders in health and medicine. RHM scholars are starting to explore the senses (Meloncon, 2018), which is directly connected to emotions and embodiment. I can see a fruitful conversation between Ahmed’s work and questions around the sensorium, different types of embodiment, the stigma of emotions, and a number of other questions about what emotions do within healthcare encounters.

Second, building on the idea above about orienting, Ahmed’s actually adds the terms “objects” and “others” to the title. Those two terms in conjunction with orientation offers RHM much potential. While RHM scholars have focused on new materialism and materialist rhetoric, Ahmed’s use of objects is different because she uses and views objects as a way to understand orientation and otherness. This particular move is vital for RHM scholarship to understand the many instances of “objects” and “others” and “orientation” that pervade the health care complex.

Third, RHM scholarship needs to move in practical directions around policy work. While scholars often claim that their findings can influence practice, often times that influence is done in limited and local ways. I am not at all critiquing that important work. But what I am saying is that examining policies is a way that can have broader impact. Health communication scholars have done this to a degree so its important that RHM scholars—not everyone of course but we do need to nurture some scholars in applied work—enter into policy debates. The concepts in Ahmed’s On Being Included can help scholars situate an approach on how to critique and then potentially implement policies in action.

Finally, current RHM scholars have engaged with and used much work from feminist theories and methodologies, but Ahmed’s latest work, Living a Feminist Life, has a focus on the everyday experiences of being a feminist and the idea of complaint. Since patients become patients because they have a “complaint,” Ahmed’s work suggests a ripe avenue of research around what a feminist version of complaint may look like in RHM and what that version may mean for patients and their families. Moreover, this stark attention to feminist theory can also expose areas within healthcare where a rhetorical approach can provide insights into how to provide better care. In particular, feminist theory at work in the Ahmed lays out can help with the growing number of field based projects or community based projects by providing researchers a different way of seeing the research site.

RHM is a broad and diverse field that at this moment doesn’t have set boundaries, which is a good thing. At the moment, the field is bound by its connections to rhetoric and rhetorical theory and its methodologies (see Meloncon and Scott, 2018). But in more practical terms, what binds RHM together is its attention to the experiences of people. So as I approach thinking through any research question or themes of research that RHM scholars should pursue, it all comes back to how can we better understand the variety of lived experiences. And that’s really what Ahmed’s work is about.

SKO: Thank you for sharing your reading of Ahmed and your vision for how her theory can be a useful lens for exploring the problems we are presently trying to tackle in the rhetorical fields of health and medicine.


Ahmed. S. (2006a). Orientations: Toward a queer phenomenology. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 12, 543-574.

Ahmed. S. (2006b). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ahmed. S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham. NC: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Erevelles. N. (2000). Educating unruly bodies: Critical pedagogy, disability studies, and the politics of schooling. Educational Theory, 50, 25-47.

Garland-Thompson. R. (1997). Extraordinary bodies: Figuring physical disability in American culture and literature. New York. NY: Columbia University Press.

Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., Schneider, J., Hernandez, A., & Cady, C. Still Hungry and Homeless in College. Wisconsin HOPE Lab. (2018)

Melonçon, L. (2013a). Toward a theory of technological embodiment. In L. Meloncon (Ed.), Rhetorical access ability: At the intersection of technical communication and disability studies (pp. 67-81). Amityville. NY: Baywood.

Melonçon, L. (Ed.). (2013b). Rhetorical access ability: At the intersection of technical communication and disability studies. Amityville. NY: Baywood.

Melonçon, L. (2018). “Orienting Access in Our Business and Professional Communication Classrooms” Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81.1, 34-51.  

Melonçon, L., Graham, S., Johnson, J., Lynch, J., and Ryan, C., Eds. (under contract). Rhetoric of Health and Medicine As/Is. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

Oswal, S. K. (2018). Special Issue: Enabling workplaces, classrooms, and pedagogies—Bringing disability theory and accessibility to business and professional communication. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81(1).

Sushil K. Oswal
Sushil K. Oswal

Sushil K. Oswal is an Associate Professor of Accessible Design and Technical Communication at the University of Washington in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Tacoma and a faculty in the Disability Studies Program in Seattle.



Lisa Melonçon
Lisa Melonçon

Lisa Melonçon is an associate professor of technical and professional communication at the University of South Florida and the founding co-editor of Rhetoric of Health and Medicine. Her research focuses on the rhetoric of health and medicine, with an emphasis on disability studies and programmatic and professionalization dimensions of the field of technical and professional communication. She is the editor of Rhetorical AccessAbility and with Blake Scott the editor of Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine.

CCCCs Activities

For those that will be attending ATTW and/or CCCCs convention, following are some RHM specific activities.

Happy Hour and SIG Thursday March 15

Happy Hour, 4:30-: will precede the SIG meeting. We’ll be gathering at the Flying Saucer, 101 E 13th St, Kansas City, MO 64106, which is about .3 from the Marriott.

Standing Group Business Meeting: 6:30-7:30
Kansas City Marriott Bennie Moten B


If you’ll be there for ATTW, here are the sessions for

March 13 and 14.

Tuesday, March 13

 Session A6: Tools and Approaches for Inclusively Engaging Users

 Community-Engaged Patient Experience Design: Addressing Medical Paperwork’s Impasses for Somali Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Kari Campeau, University of Minnesota

 Poster and Exhibit Session 11:15am-12:30pm Wyandotte Ballroom 2

Practical Possibility for Increasing Health Access in a Time of Precarity

Barbara Heifferon, Louisiana State University

 Session B2: Visual Design and Design Thinking Wyandotte Ballroom 1 Panel Chair: Deborah Balzhiser, Texas State University

 Precarious Data: Crack, Opioids, and Visualizing a Drug Abuse Epidemic

Candice Welhausen, Auburn University

 Session B5: Critical Discourse Analysis of Technical Communications in Capitalist Medicine Shawnee 2
Panel Chair: Scott Mogull, Texas State University

Medicine as a Business: Contentious Objectives in Medical-Business Genres
Scott Mogull, Texas State University

 The Letter of Medical Necessity as Genre: Who Creates it and Who Controls It
usan L. Popham, Indiana University Southeast

 Techno-scientific Commodities in Late Capitalism: A Shift in the Message from the Pharmaceutical Industry
Ronald F. Lunsford, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Christopher Lunsford, M.D., University of Virginia

Wednesday March 14

 Session D4: Contemporary Public Health Issues Shawnee 2 Panel Chair: Molly Hartzog, Frostburg State University

Pills, politics, and possibility: Communication practices surrounding OxyContin, 1995 to 2007

Michael Madson, Medical University of South Carolina

 Negotiating Addiction Publics with Health Ecologies
eter Cannon, University of South Florida

 Neglected Tropical Diseases: Leveraging the Topos of Definition to Create Exigence
Molly Hartzog, Frostburg State University

 Defining Medical Privacy and Patient Rights: The Case of Nurse Wubbels
Calandra Blackburn, Frostburg State University

  Session E4: Health and Medicine Methods Shawnee 2 Panel Chair: Dawn Opel

Culture, Traditional Beliefs, and Healthcare in Global South Contexts: Lessons for Technical Communicators
Godwin Agboka, University of Houston-Downtown

 “Because nobody should be alone in a dark place”: Mental Health Literacy, Sentiment Analysis, and Enacting Depression
Katie Walkup, University of South Florida

Outbreak at the Vale of Leven: The Technical Storytelling Work of C-Diff Justice
 Kyle Vealey, West Chester University

Charting as Writing: The Role of Writing Stewardship in Improved Healthcare Quality and Outcomes for Underserved Populations
Dawn Opel, Michigan State University
Bill Hart-Davidson, Michigan State University

Thursday, March 15


Where Does It Hurt? Medical Rhetoric and Its Fraught Language

Analysis of the language of medicine and its effects on body, gender, and cultural expectations.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Bennie Moten A

Speakers: Jessica Jorgenson Borchert, Pittsburg State University, KS, “Labor in Language: Technical Communication, Articulation Theory, and the High-Risk Pregnancy”

Marissa McKinley, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, “The #Languaging of the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Body”

Kelly Whitney, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, “Textual Boundaries of Evidence: Making and Erasing Bodies in Medical Statements”

Multilingual/Multimodal Interactions in Context: Dis/ability, Race, Community, and Culture
This panel illustrates the negotiation of languages, modes, and identities enacted by individuals from intersectionally diverse communities.

Kansas City Convention Center: 2504 B

Chair: Stephanie Kerschbaum, University of Delaware, Newark

Speakers: Rachel Bloom-Pojar, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee,

“Navigating Language Variation and Medical Translation with Latinx

Ronisha Browdy, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, “What’s Love

Got to Do with It?: Re ections on Black Women’s Language, Labor,

and (No) Love”
Janine Butler, Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, “What We Learn

from Teaching Hearing, Hard-of-Hearing, and d/Deaf Composition

Laura Joffre Gonzales, University of Texas, El Paso, “Navigating

Language Variation and Medical Translation with Latinx Communities”

Medical Speak: Diversity, Coauthorship, and Ethos

This panel’s research and theory focus on rhetorical diversity, coauthorship, and ethical considerations in the medical health eld.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Yardbird A

Speakers: Yvonne Lee, Kent State University, OH

Dawn Mellinger, Kent State University, OH Sommer Sterud, Kent State University, OH

3:15-4:30 Poster sessions

Languaging and Laboring to Transform Healing

My poster presentation examines how graphic medicine provides a type of third space to subvert biomedical ways of understanding illness.

Speaker: Jessica Lee, Portland Community College, OR

Friday, March 16


Composing Health Data: Research Practices, Policy Impact, and Personal Testimonies
Integrating Kenyan cultural register into research methods, analyzing illness narratives and public policy, and understanding affective dimensions of wearable tness technologies.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Bennie Moten A

Chair: Cheryl Caesar, Michigan State University, East Lansing

Speakers: Miriam Mara, Arizona State University, Phoenix, “Leveraging

Cultural Register to Sharpen International Health and Medicine

Rhetorical Research Methods”
Logan Middleton, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “‘Earning

Your Steps’: Developing an Affective Rhetorical Framework for

Wearable Technologies”
Caitlin Ray, University of Louisville, KY, “Empowering the ‘Wounded

Storyteller’: Arts Organizations, Health Policy, and the Healing Public”

10:20–10:40 a.m.

#StorytellingSavesLives and Sparks a Revolution: Negotiating Intersections of the Personal, Professional, and Academic Writing about mental health for the community and in the classroom intersects with the personal, professional, and academic identity. Speaker: Laura Guill, Purdue University Northwest, Hammond, IN


The Cure That Ails Us: Medical Tropes in Composition Pedagogy

This speaker will explore the signi cance of medical tropes in founding the progressivist writing pedagogy.
Speaker: Edward Comstock, American University, Washington, DC


Rhetorical Listening Approaches in the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine

This panel applies rhetorical listening analysis in medical contexts to generate cross-cultural engagement and communication.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Jay McShann A

Speakers: Janene Amyx Davison, Texas Tech University, Lubbock

Mary De Nora, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
Sheri McClure-Baker, Texas Tech University, Lubbock

Tell Me Where It Hurts: Writing about Health

Eye-tracking study of diabetes patient manuals; patient education to improve cardiac care; analyzing narratives in hospital reviews.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Lester Young A

Speakers: Teresa Henning, Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, “Why the Language and Labor of Heart Failure and Patient Compliance Needs Transforming”

Brandon Strubberg, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, “Laboring through ‘Patient-Centered’ Language: Investigating How People with Diabetes Experience Information about Diabetic Complications in Patient Manuals”

Katie Walkup, University of South Florida, Tampa, “Constructing Health Narratives: Identity and Advocacy in Patient Health Writing”


Medical Rhetorics Roundtable: Examining Intersections and Connections within and beyond Our Field
Sponsored by the Medical Rhetoric Standing Group
This interactive roundtable features short presentations that explore ways that we can foster intersectional connections within our eld.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Truman Room B

Chair: Candice Welhausen, Auburn University, AL
Speakers: Janene Amyx Davison, Texas Tech University, Lubbock,

“Foundational Knowledge in Rhetoric of Health and Medicine”
Laura Jackman, Iowa State University, Ames, “Beyond the Intersection of

Paternalism and Neofeminism: Managing Risk and Birthing Decisions” Michael Madson, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston,

“Connecting RHM and Interprofessional Education: Pilot Data from an

Academic and Scienti c Writing Course”
Cathryn Molloy, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA,

“Methodological Approaches to Gaining Access and Recruiting Human Subjects for Health Research in RHM: Making Connections with Research Sites and Participants”

Terry Quezada, University of Texas, El Paso, “Medical Rhetoric and Teaching Technical Writing to Health Professionals”

Responding to Challenges in Healthcare through Varied Methodological Approaches
Scholars working across methods and sub elds will offer a toolkit for work in healthcare research and activism for a general audience.

Kansas City Convention Center: Bartle Room 2207

Speakers: Timothy Amidon, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
Erin Frost, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Andrea Kitta, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Annika Konrad, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Maria Novotny, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
Dawn Opel, Michigan State University, East Lansing
Respondent: Michelle Eble, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC



Languaging Stories: Health, Narrative Work, and Research Ethics

This interactive roundtable will engage the challenges of nding, documenting, interpreting, and circulating health stories.

Kansas City Convention Center: Bartle Room 2207

Speakers: Janel Atlas, University of Delaware, Newark
Mary Knatterud, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis

Sarah Singer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Emi Stuemke, University of Wisconsin, Stout


Healthcare Rhetorics: Culture, Intuition, and Gender

Studies of intercultural communication, the role of embodied intuition in medical documentation, and DIY gender transformation.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Andy Kirk B

“Intuition in Medical Documentation: Exploring How Healthcare Providers Translate Embodied Knowledge”

Chair: Bridget Kriner, Cuyahoga Community College, Westlake, OH

Speakers: Elizabeth L. Angeli, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI,

Lillian Campbell, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, “Intuition in Medical Documentation: Exploring How Healthcare Providers Translate Embodied Knowledge”

Avery Eden eld, Utah State University, Logan, “DIYHRT: Gender Transformation and Tactical Technical Communication”

Henrietta Shirk, Montana Tech of the University of Montana, Butte, “Medical Miscommunication: A Case Study on Teaching Intercultural Competencies in Professional Communication”


Authentic Voices: Language Choices, Multimodal Projects, and Medical School Narratives
Students disrupt academic language conventions, create engaged and personal multimodal projects, and re ect on illness narratives.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown: Julia Lee B

Chair: Philippe Meister, Iowa State University, Ames
Speakers: Emily Ferris, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA,

“Patient Stories: Narrative and Re ection in Medical School Personal

Shuwen Li, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, “Authenticity and

Expression: A Student’s Dwelling in a Multimodal Project” Michael McCamley, University of Delaware, Newark, “A Way with

Words: Disrupting Academic English and Unleashing Students’ Language Choices”





Past to Present Historical Case

by Lisa Meloncon

I love when my different fields converge in really, really interesting ways, which was the case this past week when an intriguing internal training document from 1996 (that I have not been able to 100% verify) popped up on social media.

The merging of fields is that this training material (which is clearly a form of technical/professional writing) is all about how to sell Oxycontin (rhetoric of health and medicine). It’s absolutely fascinating on so many, many levels. From it’s use of “good storytelling” (also known a narrative) using the Wizard of Oz (yes, the Wizard of Oz, which raises all sorts of its own questions and concerns) to focusing in on the need to make a clear and persuasive pitch to physicians. The plan for the presentation is classic rhetoric and it highlights in some really tried and true ways of how to get your message across. The ending with the finding the pot of gold is just priceless!

These materials also contain the oft-cited sentence about the addiction potential of the drug: “Delayed absorption as provided by OxyContin tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug.” (it’s on the top of the second page, end of first paragraph). This one sentence was not only in the marketing materials, but allowed to be printed in the drug’s FDA approved “label.” It’s been the highlight of several lawsuits filed. Thus, it furthers the area of the rhetoric of health and medicine to legal and policy

Beyond just this one sentence, the marketing materials are a classic case study in how to use language to persuade people. Ala rhetoric! I don’t have the time right now to do even a mini-analysis that would do this document justice. But, it’s absolutely something that I will use in a number of different classes as an historical case that has lots to teach us about the creation and production of current health communication.

But, of course, there are all sorts of other issues raised in this short document not to mention the wide number of ethical issues and concerns related to the drug itself but also in the approach to marketing. Hindsight some 20 years later makes us read this document differently, but it also provides us some important insights into how we should be approaching current complex communication situations ethically.

The American Journal of Public Health article,The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy, gives some history and current info (with a good bibliography) on the marketing of the drug.

Enjoy the short read of the training materials–and I’d be happy to post an analysis if someone with more time wants to do one! 🙂





Decision Process for RHM special issue

28 December 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

Happy Break Everyone –

I hope that you’re finding time to rest and recuperate during this down time between terms. Over at the journal, Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, we’ve been working hard on getting the first issue moving forward (look for more details coming in the early part of January!) and we’ve also been working through proposals for RHM’s first special issue (in 2019) on the rhetoric of public health.

And that’s what I want to talk about today. The process we went through for the special issue proposals.

Every journal handles special issues a little differently, and we’re no different at RHM. In our case, we developed our system based on feedback from our editorial board. The system is created to avoid some of what editorial board members—and the editors—felt are problems that sometimes affect special issues, such as less rigorous review standards/easier to get into, the feeling that only friends of the editor were invited, and issues that don’t cohere.

So we adopted a three step review process that we want to explain. This explanation does three important things: (1) it continues RHM’s dedication to making the review and publishing process as transparent as possible; (2) it provides a type of accountability to the editorial board, the readers (or technically future readers since we’re working toward our first issue), and to the broader RHM community; and, finally, (3) it simply explains the process for those who submitted to this special issue and those that will, hopefully, submit to the journal in the future.

We received 48 proposals, which is a healthy number for a special issue of any journal, and considering the broadness of the topic (public health), we were quite pleased with this turn out. Contributors spanned a number of RHM related fields (e.g. bioethics, English, communication studies, law, etc.), represented a number of different health related institutions (e.g. medical research centers, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, etc.), and held a variety of different ranks and titles (e.g. graduate students, grant-funded researchers, tenured professors, healthcare practitioners, etc.). Jennifer Malkowski, special issue co-editor, and I independently read and ranked the proposals. We then compared rankings and notes to advance 16 proposals that were clearly connected to the topic of public health, publics theorizing, and included a direct engagement with Rhetoric. (See our captioned video or transcript on what we mean by rhetoric). Keep in mind, too, that following RHM’s broader goals of ensuring multiple perspectives, Jen and I have different backgrounds. Jen was trained in communication studies, while I have a mixed bag of a background and am firmly situated within technical writing/communication.

Those 16 proposals were then made anonymous and forwarded to Blake Scott (co-editor of RHM) and two members of our editorial board who are specialists in “publics,” Cynthia Ryan and Gary Kreps. While other members of the editorial board also have expertise, Cynthia and Gary represent the two big “sides” of RHM’s audience: English studies (including rhetoric, composition, technical communication and some linguists) and communication studies (including rhetoric, health communication and applied research methods). The three of them were asked to rank the proposals from 1 to 16, with 1 being the best. Each reviewer was familiar with the CFP, but beyond that no other ranking instructions were given because we wanted their responses to be based on their own readings of the information presented in the proposals and their own perspectives of the proposals’ relevance and timeliness.

I collated those responses, while Jen ranked the blinded proposals herself using a table to compare each contribution’s theoretical contribution, health issue/topic of interest, research method, disciplinary affiliation, and the nature of the artifact being examined. Jen did not see the rankings from the three reviewers when she was making her rankings. As co-editor of the issue, one of Jen’s jobs is to set the focus of the issue. Therefore, she ranked the proposals based on how things talk to each other holistically. A guiding factor, therefore, was how well each individual proposal worked toward a coherent issue that gets a bunch of things represented and shows the breadth of RHM work and influence. To do this, she prioritized diversity in methods, issues, theory/concepts, and sites of study and application.

In the end, we accepted seven proposals and have invited those contributors to submit full manuscripts that will be sent through the regular peer review process. This means the proposal acceptance rate was 14.5%, which is lower than many special issues and also a tad lower than many of the acceptance rates of most journals. It is important to note that even though these proposals were accepted, the odds are that at least two of the manuscripts will not make it through the peer review process. Unlike many special issues, RHM does not have to fill pages (so to speak), which means that we can maintain our rigorous standards and we will not accept and publish an essay that is not actually ready. We will circulate a revised special issue manuscript acceptance rate at the time of publication.

We are excited about the potential this issue holds and look forward to sharing it with you!!

Until then, wishing you health, peace, and joy!






RHM Bibliography Project

We’re working toward getting our bibliography in a better working order. This has been a need and desire of folks in the community for some time and is now an official project of the RHM journal and the CCCCs Standing Group on Medical Rhetoric.

So the first thing that we need from you is to help us crowdsource getting the bibliography up to date by adding your work (from 2015 forward) to our google doc:

Then, if you’re willing to help out with tagging some of the existing list (there’s over 800 of them) then get in touch with Ellie Browning <>. She’ll gather together a list of volunteers and then we’ll get those folks together who want to help out in early November and lay out a more detailed plan of action.



Upcoming Meet and Greets

To keep building our wonderful community (and so we have an excuse to chat about medrhet over adult beverages), we are offering two conference meet-and-greets in the fall.

One is for the Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference and the other is for the Conference on Community Writing.

If you situate your work in the rhetoric of health and medicine, and will be at either (or both) of these conferences, we invite you to join us! 🎉 🦄

The meet-and-greet for FemRhet takes place Thursday, October 5th from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in The Marriott at the University of Dayton lobby. Whether you are a seasoned scholar or just want to learn more about intersections between feminist and medical rhetorics, we encourage you to join us for an hour of casual conversation, mentorship, and collaboration.

The meet-and-greet for CCW will take place during the conference’s “Networking Happy Hour” from 4:00-5:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 19th in Ballroom East.

We’ll send out reminders about each meet-and-greet via social media as we get closer to each conference date.

If you have questions, please email Medical Rhetoric Social Media Co-Directors Lori Beth De Hertogh at and Maria Novotny at


Symposium Planning, 2019

Having just completed another successful symposium, it’s time for the community to think about and work on what the next iteration of the symposium will look like.

Just a brief overview. The current model of the symposium is not easily sustainable since it has been wholly funded from University of Cincinnati sources. What that means is that folks don’t pay a registration fee and a continental breakfast, lunch, snacks, and all day coffee/drinks are also provided to the participants for free. Funding pays for the room and the technology,  and it has also paid the expenses and an honorarium for some of the keynotes and featured speakers (this has varied widely per year but at minimum all invited featured speakers had their expenses paid). What this means is that the current model limits the number of participants that can attend since the symposium is charged per person. The average cost has been ~$15,000.

At the 2017 event, we had a session specific to talking about and thinking through the numerous issues associated with the planning of the symposium. Most importantly were discussions on what the event should feel like to ensure that we didn’t lose the ability to have engaged conversations with one another.

Following is an attempt at a summary of the comments for possibilities for the next iteration of the symposium.

Staying at every other year, in the early Fall was the consensus of the group. At this point, we are basing our planning on an early September date in 2019.

Financial Model
It seemed there was a consensus around charging a modest registration fee for attending. The fees that most seemed to circle around were

  • 75-150 for full-time faculty (realistically it would need to be at least 100 for the model to work)
  • half the price for contingent faculty
  • graduate students for free

This model does not mean local hosts could not attempt to find funding or that we couldn’t try another model (say through sponsorships of some type), but it did seem we needed to start charging a fee to give us more flexibility in planning.

feedback was split on whether the symposium should stay in Cincinnati or be moved. The rationale for keeping it in Cincinnati was the inclusive of the Kingsgate Conference Center and Hotel; it’s location within the city; it’s central proximity geographically and ease of getting there. All of these make it a reasonable choice. As Lisa mentioned as a related model, medieval scholars have gathered in Kalamazoo, MI for over fifty years.

The alternate idea of moving locations and having interested folks take over as local host also had its appeal. The biggest rationales for this was to move it around for convenience of geographic location; grow the community by inviting others to take on leadership roles; and inject new ideas into the planning.  Until the financial aspects are situated, it is difficult to see how to move the location.

There were numerous suggestions to determine a financial model in Cincinnati (working with the known entity) for 2019 and then move it in 2021.

As noted above, the size has been kept relatively small (40-60 people) due in large part to finances. There seemed to be a relative consensus of growing the number of people who could attend to up to 120, but most thought 80-100 was more reasonable to shoot for, at least in the 2019 iteration.

There was also agreement to keep the graduate student to faculty ratio roughly the same as it now. (See below for additional ideas to include both more graduate students and those people whose proposals may not be accepted.)

Leverage connections to other events
There was an interesting idea to work toward a more formalized strategy to extend symposium conversations–particularly around works in progress–to other venues. RHM scholars have created spaces at other disciplinary events so the idea was to formalize those by making time and space to gather and discuss works in progress (to include those who may have been rejected from the symposium). This could encourage more graduate student participation, as well as general participation.

This means we could look to work with those in RSA, NCA, CCCC, etc. to coordinate time and space for RHM scholars to meet and discuss/share their work. This way the spirit of the symposium works-in-progress and continue and nurture our scholarly endeavors.

In addition, in off years, we could hold writing workshops/retreats (in person or online) to move projects forward.

Some other interesting ideas

  • have the symposium CFP be a “live” version of a special issue topic for RHM, the journal
  • include a state of the field at the symposium that would be published in RHM
  • have a session that focuses on a series of recent works and talks about things such as questions that weren’t answered; methodological considerations; how to build on the work (even if we don’t agree)

Action item:

If you are interested in being part of the RHM Symposium Planning Committee, please email Lisa ( OR by October 2.


Talking about CARS and Proposals

by Lisa Meloncon

The impetus for this post is to only have to write something once. Taking two steps back…the Symposium for the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine 2017 generated a large number of proposals. A pretty sizeable subset of those proposals were submitted by graduate students. This makes my heart get all warm and fuzzy because it means we have a strong next generation of RHM scholars. As I usually do, I offered to give them their feedback, but as I was beginning to copy and paste the feedback from the reviewers and prepared to add additional information, I heard my good friend, T. Kenny Fountain’s voice in my head.

See Kenny and I have talked a lot about proposal writing and writing in general. He’s one of my go to resources for all sorts of things (not to mention he’s just an awesome–and funny–human being), and we have often talked about professional development issues around writing.

So when I was reading the reviews for the Symposium proposals, I kept going back to those conversations and realized that many of the proposals (and not just from the graduate students) suffered from a common proposal problem. They didn’t do what John Swales calls CARS—creating a research space, which he talks about in Chapter 8 of Academic writing for graduate students: Essential skills and strategies. 3rd Edition. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

And once you start to understand Swales CARS in relation to your specific area in the larger field, it makes writing proposals for conferences (and getting started on journal manuscripts) so much easier. You can find a short summary of it at the UMass Amherst Writing Center.

The TL;DR version:

  • Establish territory
  • Establish a niche
  • Occupy the niche

It’s this last one—occupy—that was a major obstacle in most of the proposals. There wasn’t a clear occupation, particularly the proposal lacked a tentative answer to the “so what?” question. I get it that as graduate students or when working on a new project that you may not know really what the project is doing or what the contribution or implications may be. But, surely, you’ve read enough and designed your study thoroughly enough that you have a tentative answer to what your research question or problem will do for the field.

Reviewers really like to see the occupation, the move toward telling folks what’s important about your work.  Otherwise, reviewers are left wondering if the presentation will provide any value to participants. See, that’s a big key you have to remember. Reviewers and program chairs have a responsibility to try and provide the best program possible. Proposals are what we have to work with so it’s important as the writer of that proposal to hit all three parts of the CARS model.

(A small disclaimer: is CARS perfect? No. Absolutely, no. But if you use it, you’ll get a helluva lot closer to having something that reviewers can understand and act on.)

When you’re establishing your territory and your niche, it’s also VERY IMPORTANT to be clear about what your actual research question is or what problem you’re trying to solve. Folks need to know what’s guiding the actual research process.

So here are a couple of comments from reviewers. These—and variations of them—were written on almost every graduate student proposal (and many of the not graduate student proposals that were not accepted):

 This is an interesting idea, but the bulk of the proposal focuses on providing the background for the case with very scant discussion of what actual research related to the case will entail…the majority of the content needs to focus on the research questions to be address (which is not explicitly stated), describing eh method used, and the contribution/significance of this research in relation to RHM, which is somewhat implied but not central to this entry.

The details of the proposal are not grounded in the research in the field, and the exact nature of the approach (i.e. why certain things are bing done/proposed to be done) is ambiguous and unsupported….one cannot simply say “rhetorical analysis” and assume the reviewer knows what will be done (i.e., how the actual research and analysis will be conducted).

Keep in mind that every conference has a reviewer pool that has senior and mid-career scholars in it. That means that the reviewers can in some ways figure out what it is you’re trying to do. BUT, when your proposal is being rated against other proposals, the ones where the reviewer has to “figure it out” will surely be rated lower than the others.

It’s your job as the writer/author of the proposal to make it clear as to what you’re doing. This is where something like CARS can really come in handy. It can help you get started and also encourage you to ask critical questions of the proposal once you have it drafted.

What makes the work of organizing something like the Symposium worthwhile is being able to get an insiders view to all the great projects in process. I hope this helps y’all the next time you go to write a proposal (or start an outline of a journal article or book chapter).

Happy summer writing!