Jen Malkowski

Malkowski_PhotoTitle: Assistant Professor of Communication

University: California State University Chico


Twitter: @JenMalkowski

Description of Work:

Broadly, my research focuses on the rhetorics of public health and medicine and pays particular attention to how understandings of identity, biotechnology, and inequality influence the health care decision-making process. In this regard, witnessing how the intersection of theory and practice can improve our current situations motivates and informs my ongoing work as a socially engaged communication scholar. I regularly fuse my scholarship as a qualitative researcher with my training as a rhetorician to target health problems and issues that hold public significance. For example, I designed my ongoing line of research to make sense of how system-level factors come to be represented in specific policies that delineate “best practices” for U.S. medical professionals. Specifically, I examined vaccination controversy occurring within healthcare communities to consider how dominant rhetorics of health citizenship influence everyday medical interactions. I chose to begin a programmatic line of research there because of the utility that such research can offer for health systems, patients, and health advocates, and because of the opportunity it presents to showcase how attention to rhetorical theory can improve everyday health expectations and outcomes. I constructed texts for analysis using a variety of sources including policy documents, interview transcripts, online communication, visual rhetoric, and news media to theorize relationships among medical publics, health professionalism, and policy debate and to consider the functions of public debate/controversy in relation to the status of U.S. medicine. Findings have inspired a book length project focused on the rhetorics of professionalization, public life, and risk more generally wherein I theorize a concept I call “bioanxiety,” a critical lens intended to describe and interpret anxieties prompted by everyday living in a risk society. Tracking vernacular and official rhetorics of public health and medicine across a series of recent biomedical controversies using the critical lens of bioanxiety can, I suggest, offer pragmatic strategies for public health officials tasked with communicating new public health security initiatives amidst biotechnological uncertainty and advance, and I am actively drafting grant proposals with this outcome in mind.

 Symposium Submission

Theorizing Bioanxiety for Contemporary Public Health Participation