The Logic Train

I’m starting/attempting to organize my thoughts about how all of these things fit together. I am going to have to make a clear case for:

a) why visual ethnography is a useful rhetorical research method and how it is, in fact, itself rhetorical;

b) if/why digital stories are an optimal product/end result of my visual ethnography case study;

c) how using visual ethnography rhetorically will engage AND supplement current research trends in rhetoric of health and medicine, feminist rhetoric, and visual rhetoric;

d) why Lyme Disease is a particularly appropriate case study for this situation (vs. any other contested condition out there)

e) situating my project as attentive to both rhetorics of health and medicine and disability studies, which can be done but the fields are sometimes at odds

and who knows what else.

I started organizing all of these concepts in a google slides presentation so that I could easily move them around, but I’m getting bogged down with notes from different texts (which take up their own slides–sometimes more than one).

In turn, I’m going to do some informal writing here about a few of these main concepts, which will help me generate some text. (And you know how paralyzing it can be to have to finally *start* putting words down on paper or the blank digital document). I think I’ve been having trouble doing the writing because I feel like I don’t know enough yet. I haven’t finished the Sarah Pink book, I haven’t read all of the recent studies about visual ethnography as a method for studying health and medicine (though I have found and wrote down a bunch of them, so that’s something), I haven’t reviewed the germinal or current visual rhetoric texts, I’ve barely read up on digital storytelling and what it actually is…the list goes on. However, instead of spending more time cleaning my house (which I’ve already done for two hours today…) and hiding under my bed, I’m going to give it a go!

a) why visual ethnography is a useful rhetorical research method and how it is, in fact, itself rhetorical;

So far, visual ethnography has only been used in one scholarly article in the field of rhetoric, composition, and literacy. This article (2013), written by Brian McNely and his team at Purdue University (need to recheck that), documented a recent course that they taught, which was pretty nontraditional. To participate in the course, which was about game development, students had to be selected by staff members via an interview process and agree to trek out to an off-campus mansion owned by the university. Using visual ethnography (along with notes, interview transcripts, maybe some video–a bunch of methods of documentation), the team was able to really get a sense of what the game development process looked like and how using an off-campus, non-classroom-looking property facilitated congeniality and connectivity among the students. (There are some cool pictures of piles of the students’ shoes in the house foyer and students drinking coffee, working the the house kitchen and in the grand dining room–that sort of thing). The team described their visual ethnographic research method as “quantitative,” which I don’t really understand, but I might have to email them and ask.

In any case, with the help of my writing group (#teamrhetoric), I came up with a idea to do a project that studies how visual ethnography can be a rhetorical research method. Rhetoric scholars have a long history of studying visuals. For the most part, these visuals have been pretty static. We “read” (i.e. assess and analyze) them much like we would a text and look at concepts like form, composition, content, contrast, etc. (again, similar to an alphabetic text) in order to produce an evaluative”reading” of it. Rhetoric scholars have studied film in similar ways (I think–need to recheck this). It’s not that these “readings” aren’t deep or evocative or fruitful. It is only because people have done these readings that I can claim that we should continue to investigate them and consider creating them. Also, rhetoricians who study health and medical topics have begun to use multiple, mixed, and/or interdisciplinary methods via multiple modes in order to sufficiently account for the complications inherent in dealing with these topics. For instance, in Jordynn Jack’s recent book about autism, she analyzes peer-reviewed scientific articles, films, online forums, blog posts, websites for nonprofit organizations, health behavior pamphlets, and more. Amy Koerber combines interviews, archival research, focus groups, and public policy analysis to better understand the evolution of the breast vs. bottle feeding debate  in the U.S. T. Kenny Fountain does an ethnography of a gross anatomy lab in order to understand how visual and haptic experiences with cadavers train future medical professionals to have a “trained vision” that will inform all of their future work in medicine. To fully account for these complications, many scholars are taking care to name group and individual identities and are sometimes claiming an intersectional approach.  J. Blake Scott specifically discusses how identity is constructed rhetorically in the HIV testing and diagnosis process. Robin Jensen claims an explicitly intersectional approach to her study of nineteenth century health rhetoric, since different women rhetors leveraged aspects of their identities to talk about sex in more explicit yet publicly acceptable ways.

Relatedly, visuals have always played an important part in health and medical settings: seeing print and in-person images helps medical students learn about anatomy (per Fountain’s analysis), diagnosis of disease is somewhat visual (since clearly visible symptoms are less contestable), medical illustration has a significant history in the development of medical knowledge and scientific progress, etc. Recently, scholars in medical and visual anthropology, sociology, nursing, occupational therapy, exercise and sports science, toxic tourism, and more have begun to use visual methods as primary methods of research. The studies are quite diverse in terms of who initiates them, the methods used, the individuals who participate, how the researcher/participant gap is bridged or not, etc. I think some of the recent studies about individuals with medically unexplained, chronic, and/or highly contested conditions (such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome) provide a useful opening into the conversation. Most of these studies try to put the making and doing into the participants’ hands and engage them at every step of the process, asking for their feedback, interpretations, and analysis. Most of these studies use similar kinds of visual research methods (i.e. photovoice), but some are especially explicit about how they have adopted these methods for their particular purposes. Sarah Pink argues that researchers need to work this kind of reflexivity into their method and that doing so makes the results  more honest and richer. (Since “objectivity” can no longer be a feminist-oriented goal anyway).

SO: because visual rhetoric is starting to be used as a research method in rhetoric per the McNely et al. study, because it extends current conversations about the use of images in visual rhetoric, because it complements the trend toward multiple, mixed, interdisciplinary, and otherwise nontraditional rhetorical research methods in the rhetoric of  health and medicine, because visuals study is key to the practice of medicine, and because other fields have recently taken up visual methods to study health and medical problems….I think this is a good idea.

I think this idea also lends itself to feminist research practices and priorities. Feminist rhetorical historiographers have been…

MORE LATER! Time to get ready to teach. 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: