Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition
The University of Texas at El Paso
My research over the last two years has focused on innovative approaches to communicating health and risk information with the aim of enabling or encouraging social or behavioral change.
My doctoral dissertation, which I completed in August of 2011 explored Positive Deviance through a rhetorical lens. Specifically, I analyzed its use in Northern Uganda for the reintegration of child soldiers, and I conceptualized it as a highly rhetorical example of action research. Positive Deviance is both an inquiry and intervention-based methodology, with a grassroots ideal, that looks at local assets and amplifies local solutions to seemingly intractable problems. It has been used in almost all sectors to address highly complex problems for which other solutions have been attempted unsuccessfully, e.g., healthcare, child protection, education, and business.
Post-dissertation, I was invited to participate in the facilitation of a Positive Deviance intervention to mitigate the spread of healthcare associated infections in a Dallas hospital. Through my participation in this project I got hands-on interventional experience and was able to get a more realistic sense of what I had previously only analyzed and reported on as a project evaluator. This project is still loosely underway as data is under analysis. In the mean time, I have been gaining experience in Positive Deviance as an inquiry methodology through a study that looks at pre-medical student success at my university where graduation rates tend to be low and which is primarily Hispanic-serving. This study was designed in the context of a pilot program to cut time-to-degree for pre-med and medical students. The study is unique because instead of looking at barriers to success, we are looking at successful behaviors and practices despite the odds.
Concurrent with this research, I am part of the dissemination team on two healthcare initiatives. One, an AHRQ complexity science-inspired consortium, has been ongoing and calls upon our UTEP team’s expertise on an as-needed basis. The other initiative is part of an NIH grant that is evaluating the effectiveness of an online program used to counsel parents with children in the oncology units of four U.S. hospitals when it is compared with their long-running face-to-face counseling program. While the bulk of our assessment will not begin until next year, I have been involved with my mentor and colleague Arvind Singhal, at UTEP, providing input regarding user-centered design and Edutainment.
I have also worked on technical communication assignments (a program evaluation and a systematization report) for Minga Peru, a non-governmental organization in the Peruvian Amazon that broadcasts a highly participatory, intercultural radio program called Bienvenida Salud (Welcome Health) daily. Minga utilizes the radio to communicate health risks (e.g., HIV and violence) in an entertaining way–Edutainment. Its work is also highly participatory and has helped me learn about the rhetoric of intercultural engagement. During the last year I have applied what I have learned from all of these projects to devising ways cooking can serve as Edutainment to teach nutritional literacies.
Keywords to describe work
Engaging, innovative, risk/health communication-oriented, design with the end in mind, complexity-inspired, rhetorical
work in relation to symposium keywords
Although all of these words resonate with me, my work is definitely intimately tied to methods. I am currently on a quest to make connections between methods and theory. So while methods and theory resonate the most with my work, perhaps what I am most curious about are the connections between them.
- 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?
Most recently I have been describing my work (to colleagues in rhetoric and composition or rhetoric and writing studies as risk communication, health communication, and/or having to do with health literacy/nutritional literacy. So far, I have found this to be more favorable than my previous approach, which often focused on the innovative methodology itself, usually situated outside of the discipline and innovative and important to a more global audience. At first I found this difficult, or ironic. I was working on translational research projects and then having to “translate” what I was doing back into the jargon of my field. Now I see that it is necessary, but it “feels” like more work than an accepted or conventional research focus would require.
- What do you see as the primary distinctions between a “humanities” orientation to research and a “social sciences” orientation? what is at stake in these different orientations?
Although for some time I aligned myself with the social sciences, after reading Latour’s Reassembling the Social I started to become skeptical of the “scientificity” of the social. This lens points out the inadequacy of a social scientific approach— virtually any social scientific approach—by virtue of the fact that encapsulating the social is not possible and studying the social scientifically is not possible. So instead, I embrace social research that takes on a more systemic approach. This change in my way of thinking also prompted me to embrace the humanities as perhaps a more viable way to study the social. While I had previously relegated humanities to mostly theory-building, I think there is room for humanistic orientations to study science and social situations. Further, I think this lens can be rather interesting. What I don’t know yet is methodologically how it plays out. I have more questions than answers. Are actor-network and activity theory social scientific (despite Latour’s resistance) or humanistic? Or is a hybrid emerging?
- What are some of the most pressing questions in health and healthcare that health communication/medical rhetoric scholars can help answer?
I think the rhetoric of science is apt for discussion, but perhaps a translational version of the rhetoric of science is in order. We have so much to offer, and yet we can easily be misunderstood. Today, people are not just asking questions of their health providers, they are looking for answers on their own. The client- provider relationship is changing rapidly, and as healthcare organizations seek better translational and dissemination practices, we can play a mediating role negotiating the type and ways information is exchanged amongst healthcare clients, insurance providers, government, non-governmental organizations, and healthcare organizations.