Heather Zoller

Heather Zoller

University of Cincinnati


I am at the early stages of an investigation of how workers and activists are promoting occupational health and safety for manufacturing, farm, and fracking laborers. I am interested in innovative ways that these groups connect occupational health issues with larger public health issues including health disparities and economic policy, environmental health, and corporate behavior.

keywords to describe work

Health activism, occupational health, community organizing, public relations and issue management, social construction of health, illness attributions

work in relation to symposium keywords

Connections are of great interest to me as I investigate how different health activist groups can connect to form a stronger public health social movement to advocate for “health in all policies.” Moreover, public health advocacy takes place at the nexus of an overlapping network of public health and medical professionals, NGOs, and members of government agencies.  We need more attention to these networks. Connections are also highly relevant to the conference in terms of the great need to connect scholars from English, Rhetoric, and Communication backgrounds.

Dissemination is of interest at least two levels. The first is the dissemination of the work of health activists and others to promote healthy public policy, which is so often overlooked in public discourse. The second is the dissemination of the work of health communication scholars. As the incoming Senior Editor for Qualitative Research at the journal Health Communication, I am interested in understanding ways to promote qualitative health communication research across health and medical disciplines.

Participation Questions

  • How would you define medical rhetoric or health communication or whatever it is you see as your primary work?

I tend to label my work health communication. Health communication entails the social and symbolic construction of meaning related to human health and medical care. Examples include defining health, attributing illness, developing social norms about health and the body, diagnosing illness, medical interactions, therapeutic talk, and policy development and advocacy.

  • How would you describe the relationship between medical rhetoric/health communication (however you see yourself) with other fields and sub-fields (e.g., rhetoric of science)?  For example, we struggled with what to name the symposium.  Some suggested medical rhetoric, but that doesn’t comfortably fit some from Communication nor from English Studies.  In other words, how do you align what may be a specific focus with broader disciplinary concerns and tensions?

Having been exposed to the field as a communication undergraduate, I have long defined my research area as health communication. I see rhetoric as a strong component of health communication research (at the same time I’m highly aware that others might invert that to view health communication as a form of rhetoric). When I first developed a class in Communication and Health Politics the title was the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine. Moving back and forth between using the label “rhetoric” and “communication” may be easier for me because I take a critical and qualitative approach to the field. Scholars using more quantitative, social sciences approaches might be more likely to see these areas as significantly different. I believe strongly that disciplinary boundaries prevent theoretical developments and so we should not draw unnecessary distinctions. However, I do take some issue with using “medical rhetoric” as an overarching term because I think there is an important distinction between medicine and public health (along with their many overlapping functions). Western countries tend to over-emphasize the often curative and individual approach of medicine and de-emphasize the preventive, population, and often political approach of public health.

  • What other keywords would you add to the list above (connections, dissemination, ethics, methods, and theory) and why? (no more than three additions)

Advocacy. I am interested in talking about how scholars, particularly those who take rhetorical and other qualitative approaches to health discourse, advocate for social change as a part of their research or as an outcome of their research. What have participants found to be effective methods of using their research to promote health with different audiences outside of the publication process? How does that advocacy fit within existing institutional roles and expectations? What might we do as a discipline to promote advcocacy, particularly with respect to health and marginalized groups?

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