One of my wise advisers from my days as an undergraduate at University of Maryland recently gave me some important advice. As usual, I was complaining about my various projects, particularly about my inability to select useful and appropriate research methods. My adviser said something to this effect: “Why don’t you figure out your research questions before you select your research methods? You can’t figure out how to answer the questions until you’ve chosen them.” SO SIMPLE, YET SO BRILLIANT. (I guess this is why we have advisers). In turn: I’m writing this post because the time has come for me to really nail down my research questions (at least for my dissertation proposal. I know that they will change along the way, but I can’t get the proposal approved without a version of these questions, so here goes…).
I have been working on these questions for some time. Almost a year, in fact. When I teach my students about the research process, they are always frustrated by my assertion that research IS a process–one that is recursive, reflexive, and constantly evolving. (I mean, it’s called “re-search” for a reason!) However, none of that means that the research process isn’t frustrating. It’s hard to keep coming up with versions of the same questions (and some new ones), but hopefully my questions get better and better as I continue to revise them. Here are a few versions:
- What does it mean to receive a Lyme disease diagnosis?
- What does that diagnosis allow/not allow? Legitimize/not legitimize?
- Who is able to receive a diagnosis, and who is not?
- What do you have to know about lyme in order to self-advocate or receive appropriate treatments?
- If diagnosis matters so much, what are we to do if we feel that our healthcare providers have misdiagnosed us?
- In general, what does it mean to have a chronic condition or to live as a chronically ill person? What kinds of evidence are required for women’s chronic illness symptoms to be believed or taken seriously?
- How do women’s stories complicate our understanding of how they navigate the world while living with disease?
- When disease names and language change, what happens?
- How is illness language being turned and nuanced?
- When ill women are given access to communicate (i.e. online?), what happens?
- What kinds of rhetorical strategies do chronically ill women adopt to navigate their illness experiences? What kinds of illness language do ill people, scientific, and public communities create, and how does it influence the ways patients are cared for and treated?
- KEY QUESTION: What is the (if any?) rhetoricity of being “chronic,” and how can chronically ill people (specifically women) leverage their diagnoses, treatments, and long-term care to their advantage (i.e. to get the least harmful, most effective treatments and experiences)?
- How does a diagnosis change the ways in which an ill person lives, perceives, acts out, and discusses publicly their symptoms/condition?
- For whom is a diagnosis important, and what does it do? (Patients vs. doctors vs. insurance companies vs. big pharma, etc.).
- How do patients weigh the risks of particular treatments? (Meaning, when the list of side effects is longer than the list of benefits on FDA-approved medication, why might patients choose to take/not take them?)
- How are treatments framed differently for individuals with chronic conditions? What does it mean for patients to be treated for psychiatric conditions that occur as a result of chronic illness (forever marking them as individuals with mental disorders)?
- How do chronically ill people sustain themselves even when there is no hope for recovery? How are traditional conceptions of “cure” and “recovery” reframed for the chronic patient?
- What does Lyme Disease look like? (And how does this affect who is diagnosed with it–and appropriately treated–and when?)
- Who circulates images of Lyme Disease? What does the circulation network look like?
- How do Lyme Disease diagnosis health-seekers/patients envision their connection to Lyme? How do they document their experiences of Lyme, if at all? (Or other ambiguous chronic illness/condition).
- How do clinicians who diagnose Lyme Disease and researchers who do experiments to learn more about Lyme Disease *see* it–in the lab, in the treatment center, in the exam room? How do these images circulate?
- What is the history of images of Lyme Disease and their connection to diagnosis?
- And of course…How do Lyme Disease visuals function rhetorically, particularly in diagnosis situations? How might images/visuals be effective argumentative tools for presenting new ideas/shifting the focusing/reevaluating the stakes of Lyme Disease diagnosis?
- What is the origin of the standard Lyme Disease images, and how have they molded and circulated between professional and patient communities?
- In the midst of complex arguments about how long the Lyme infection remains active and if intravenous antibiotics cause more side-effects than healing, four standard images accompany discussions from all ideological perspectives: one or more ticks, EM rashes, Lyme spirochetes, and maps that chart Lyme diagnoses across the United States. Why d0 these images continue to be taken up and recirculated? How have they have played a covert but significant role in making paradoxical claims about Lyme persuasive?
- How might visual ethnography reveal new complexities in the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from Lyme Disease? What happens when we ask integral but invisible stakeholders (i.e. Lyme patients) to become producers of visual discourse about Lyme?
- How might visual ethnography create new images that provide an alternative, patient-centered perspective on the condition?
- How might language, objects, and social actions (including scientific “facts”) function as persuasive tools (which are inherently impartial)?
- How might a rhetorical analysis of the visual rhetoric of Lyme Disease offer new ways to understand a condition that science of medicine have not yet figured out?
- How have (and how do) images of Lyme Disease shape(d) popular, medical, and scientific discourses and the practices of Lyme diagnosis, treatment, and recovery?
As you can see, this project has already gone through many shifts…and I haven’t officially started it yet. I guess I should also think about my intended interventions:
- Lyme Disease–like many other (particularly controversial conditions and diseases)–is rhetorically constructed. This impacts health seekers’ diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, as well as the ways that knowledge about the disease is constructed, circulated, and contested.
- Analyzing visuals (i.e. through visual rhetorical analysis) can help us understand Lyme (and other conditions and diseases) as rhetorical phenomenons. As Jeanne Fahnestock argued in her groundbreaking book, Rhetorical Figures in Science, linguistic figures of speech translate to visual figures in scientific writing.
- Guiding Lyme health seekers through the creation of their own images through participant-solicited visual ethnography and digital storytelling (?????) allows them to intervene and perhaps make a difference in Lyme Disease knowledge production. (TBD if I do some kind of study. We shall see?)
I guess I need to go back through and narrow down/select which questions will work for me…but since it’s almost 4:00pm, I guess I should shower or exercise… To be continued!