Mulling Over Methods: Grant Proposal, Part II

For the SSRC Dissertation Proposal Grant, I need to think about what new method(s) I want to experiment with for my dissertation. This is the really hard part. YIKES. Instead of freaking out about what I might write and not sleeping for a few days, I’m going to try to draft some ideas below…. If nothing else, doing so permits me to wait until tomorrow to grade my students’ unit projects….

And I’m going to limit my time so that I don’t mess around on Facebook while I’m supposed to be “working.” 9:00pm-9:30pm. GO!

What techniques of investigation might you employ to carry out your research, and how do you expect they will enable you to collect, identify, interpret, and analyze the sources of information (interviews, texts, images, surveys, etc.), for your dissertation research? (up to 400 words)

I guess I should break this down into two parts:

a) “Techniques of investigation”:

Right now, I’m thinking about visual ethnography and interviews as techniques of investigation. I guess it would be good if I picked up all those books I reserved from the library about these things. I think that many rhetorics of health and medicine texts are missing visuals for a good reason: they are expensive to print in  monographs. However, scholars from related fields (like communication design) are thinking about the importance of visuals as part of designing useful texts for patients, displaying disease information, etc. I think it would be helpful to look at Lyme visuals. Notably, there are pretty much no notable Lyme visuals circulating on the internet. Most of the pop science articles about it use stock-like photos of ticks and/or the Lyme rash…which, in my opinion, are not very rhetorically effective. I’ve been inspired by looking at Instagram photos of illness selfies (particularly the very gendered ones of women with chronic conditions in bathing suits), but they aren’t that specific to Lyme. Recently, Avril Lavigne and Yolanda Foster (the woman from Real Housewives who has Lyme) have posted pictures of themselves sitting on exam tables and hooked up to electro-node-things, but I don’t think that they’ve been very rhetorically effective either. This presents a few issues.

1. I think that Lyme discourse is missing pictures of ill people–people’s ill bodies–and that these photographs are rhetorically powerful and thus would help effect change.

2. I’m saying that the photos I have seen of people’s bodies haven’t been very rhetorically effective/useful. A paradox?

I’ve been thinking about this other thread–Lyme and the environment–and I’m wondering if this is a place where visuals can illuminate untapped arguments about Lyme. I’ve read some research in environmental studies journals about how Lyme is spread. Apparently, Lyme is not only passed through deer ticks, and is in fact present in many other small animals who come into contact with humans in areas with a lot of building/development. One article, I think it was the NYT, suggested that it’s unclear if your geographic location or socio-economic status is a better determination of whether or not you might get Lyme. The author didn’t back this up with any supporting research, but the correlation is striking. In any case, I think we’re left to wonder about what Lyme LOOKS like as well as what people who have it LOOK like. If that makes any sense. A bullseye rash is not a person. In fact, it’s completely disembodied (since the photos usually only show an ambiguous body part with the bite/rash on it). Maybe what I’m missing is that the recent photos of Avril and Yolanda are seemingly average/unexceptional–what that’s what Lyme patients look like?

b) How will these techniques help me collect/identify/interpret/analyze these sources of information?:

Right now, I’m trying to have a lot of different source of information:

  • Photos/visuals: A visual ethnographic research method would allow me to create an archive that I could study through rhetorical analysis. I’m not sure if this is what they’re asking.
  • Interviews: MAYBE? I’m going to read Allie Cashel’s (sp?) recent book about Chronic Lyme. In it, she interviews many fellow Chronic Lyme sufferers…I can’t say much more because I haven’t read it. Maybe she’s got that part of it under control. It seems like interviews might be helpful, but I’m not sure what for yet. It would be exciting to talk to clinicians/field experts like Amy Koerber does in her book, but I’m not sure that I have enough ethos to get on their radar. There are also first-person testimonies via Kathleen Hanna’s film, The Punk SingerUnder Our Skin, etc…so maybe this wouldn’t be a fruitful direction?
  • Texts, texts, and more texts: I imagine that I will spend most of my time doing rhetorical analysis of texts about Lyme. Specifically, naming/definitions of Lyme from major interest groups,

Summarize as best you can where you feel most confident in the progress you have made thus far in developing your dissertation research project and what issues or questions you must still resolve in order to prepare a dissertation research proposal. Explain how you hope participating in the DPDF Program might help you to resolve these issues. (up to 250 words)

I am confident that I am going to do a rhetorical analysis/use a rhetorical lens to study Lyme Disease. YAY! Most of all, I want to shift my focus on Lyme and ill women to Lyme and gender and how it plays out. In the same vein, I want to study the everyday practices/rhetorics of people with Lyme in order to honor their experiences and perhaps make more capacious claims about the state of chronic illness in the U.S. I want my project to be explicitly feminist. And I know it’s a good project–there’s a lot of under-analyzed stuff out there (both professional discourse, online forums, etc.)–so I’m joining a conversation, so to speak. Questions that I’m still thinking about that maybe this project could help with:

  • How is Lyme Disease overly/covertly gendered? How? I know that Lyme isn’t gendered in ways that we expect because the largest population of people in the U.S. diagnosed with Lyme are young boys (ages 5-11 maybe?), yet we hear the most about chronically ill women who think they have Chronic Lyme or Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome and have been misdiagnosed repeatedly and area suffering greatly.
    • I think Lyme Disease is also a race and class issue, and I’d like to explore it using an intersectional approach. I’m not sure how I want to do this. I want my work to be explicitly (and deeply) intersectional, but is this a fruitful direction? 
  • How do ill people with Lyme Disease experience their condition as part of their everyday life/practices? We can easily read snippets of people’s experiences in newspaper articles, magazine features, etc. about their experiences with Lyme Disease, but I want to know more about what it means in their everyday lives. What are we not seeing through our currently available means? 

What preliminary research do you propose to conduct this summer with a DPDF fellowship, and how do you anticipate this research can contribute to the development of your dissertation project? If you have already conducted preliminary research for this project, what further do you hope to learn from additional research this summer? (up to 400 words)

Oops. Time’s up! More tomorrow.

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