CFP Special issue of RHM: Chronicity

Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (RHM) Special Issue:  Rhetoric of Chronicity

Guest Editors Lora Arduser and Jeff Bennett

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2019), 6 in 10 adults in the United States has a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have two or more chronic conditions. By 2020, this number is projected to grow to an estimated 157 million, with 81 million having multiple conditions (Lancet, 2009; National Health Council, 2014). These illnesses have become the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and cost $3.3 trillion annually in health care costs. As such, chronic illness is one of the major health crises of the 21stcentury.

This exigence suggests that we’re not only at a pivotal point in how health care is delivered—focusing on long-term rather than acute issues—but how and when we communicate about health. These material and discursive conditions surrounding chronic illness and chronic care are connected to larger rhetorical concerns.

How chronic diseases and conditions get rhetorically defined as “chronic” and who has the power to make these definitions have ramifications about how both individuals with chronic illnesses and rhetorical scholars engage with “chronicity.” These engagements–from personal healthcare management to patient advocacy efforts to medical protocols and research–highlight tensions around rhetorical definitions of agency, power, and identity.

Current scholarship in RHM has taken up chronic illness as a topic (see, for example, Arduser, 2017; Bennett, 2019; Emmons, 2010; Graham, 2015), but it has been distributed across a number of books and journals and typically focused on single illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS (Bennet, 2009), diabetes (Arduser, 2017; Bennet, 2019) or cancer (Teston, 2017). The special issue editors see the publication as an opportunity to create a robust and cohesive body of scholarship on the rhetoric of chronicity. The special issue will build on this existing RHM scholarship as well as foundational concepts in the field–such as ethics (Teston, 2017), rhetorical characters (Keranen, 2010), and patient-provider communication (Segal, 2005)–to focus on how chronic illness can help rhetoricians of health and medicine think about theory building and methodologies in RHM, impacting healthcare practices (e.g., through patient advocacy, clinical practice, personal healthcare management, policy), and gaining a greater understanding of the variety of texts and artifacts and sites that RHM scholars investigate.

The special issue editors are interested in work that examines a variety of chronic illnesses, including but not limited to mental health, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, asthma, auto-immune illnesses, addiction issues, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury. Questions contributors might address include the following.

Building Theory

  • What makes a health condition chronic? How do we talk about and “do” chronic illness differently than acute medical conditions? What ramifications do these differences have for rhetorical theories of health?
  • What theoretical openings are available to a rhetoric of chronic health?
  • How does living with chronic illness or caring for chronic illness influence rhetorical theories of risk?
  • How do narrative theories influence concepts of chronicity?
  • How does a rhetoric of chronic illness engage with/build on/re-invent other rhetorical notions (e.g., rhetorical ecologies, metis, etc.)?
  • How can a rhetoric of chronic illness build upon and inform theories of embodiment?

Examining Identity, Agency, and Power Relations

  • What can insights gleaned from the rhetorical practices found in specific illness communities help us expand or challenge our understanding of distributed rhetorical agency, other specific illnesses, and chronic illnesses more generally?
  • How does living with/caring for chronic illness challenge/build on ideas about expertise and/or rhetorical agency and/or decision making in health care settings?
  • How do the emotional situations of invisible suffering, such as psychic disorders, trauma, autoimmune diseases or cancer, affect how we re-interpret rhetorical in situations of chronic illness and care?
  • What assumptions about patienthood do online chronic patient communities extend, challenge, or upend?

Impacting Practices

  • How do rhetorical practices in chronic illness settings challenge/expand/change the medical language of compliance, shared decision making and/or patient-centered care?
  • How does chronicity affect rhetorical practices from a patient, care giver, doctor, and/or system perspective?
  • What are the implications of intersections between holistic health rhetoric and the rhetoric of chronic illness?
  • How can RHM scholars impact health literacy practices of chronic illness?

These themes are meant to be generative rather than exhaustive. 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.

This special issue will be co-edited by Lora Arduser and Jeff Bennett in consultation with the RHM co-editors. Special issue proposals will be reviewed and ranked by members of the journal’s editorial board, and manuscripts will undergo the same rigorous peer review process as regular submissions.

Submissions (500 to 850 word proposals not including citations) should be made to Questions should be directed to the special issue editors at or


Proposals due: March 31, 2020

Decisions sent out to authors: April 14, 2020

Drafts due: September 7, 2020

Revisions due: February 2021

Publication: October 2021



Arduser, L. (2017). Living chronic: Agency and expertise in the rhetoric of diabetes. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press

Bennett, J. (2009). Banning queer blood: Rhetoric’s of citizenship, contagion, and resistance. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (2014). Chronic diseases in America. CDC. Retried from:

Emmons, K. K. (2010). Black dogs and blue words: Depression and gender in the age of self-care. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Graham, S.S. (2015). The politics of pain medicine: A rhetorical-ontological inquiry. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

The Lancet. (2009) Tackling the burden of chronic diseases in the USA. The Lancet, 373(9659):185.

Keranen, L. (2010). Scientific characters: Rhetoric, politics, and trust in breast cancer research. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.


National Health Council (2014). About chronic diseases. National Health Council. Retrieved from:

Segal, J. Z. (2005). Heath and the rhetoric of medicine. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Teston, C. (2017). Bodies in flux: Scientific methods for negotiating medical uncertainty. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

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