Tag Archives: gender

Questioning the Lyme Disease Dissertation Project

I’ve been working on finalizing my dissertation proposal for a few weeks now, and I keep having crises of ideas. Despite wonderful support from my friends, parents, #TeamRhetoric colleagues, and advisers, I remain tormented by the following questions:

Should I make Lyme Disease the focus of my study, or is that too limiting? My adviser is probably right when she says that a book about Lyme Disease, like Autism or another particular condition, may be attractive to presses because it will interest a specific population of people and thus might be more marketable. However, I can’t even think that far ahead right now. I’ve read so many articles on the ChronicleVita, and in other places about affirming that your dissertation is NOT a book and that it may not become a book, so even though my advisers think the project is promising in its current form, it’s still hard to imagine it transitioning into a book.

Is it rhetorical enough? WHAT IS RHETORIC? Why am I using rhetoric as a method and lens for analysis? Much of the research about chronic illness, gendered experiences with illness, the value of patient narratives, etc. is coming out of medical sociology and anthropology, social history, history of science and medicine, etc. I know that rhetoric, which studies how arguments are constructed and thus create ways of knowing and making meaning, is a useful way of looking at data. (By “data,” I mean any ideas, facts, or knowledge that can be investigated as a way of answering a question–which can range from narratives to images to lab tests). BUT STILL. I think what might be confusing me is that scholars and activists from these fields are trying to show how constructed–i.e. not natural–these illness things are, and that’s pretty much what rhetoricians do, so I don’t want to feel like I’m repeating work that’s already been done. I’d like to believe that rhetoricians’ perspectives bring something unique to the table, but thus far it has been difficult to parse.

What archives or primary materials am I going to investigate to make claims, and which methods will I use? When I first started investigating the health and medical humanities, I thought their methods were engaging and presented new and exciting opportunities for rhetorical scholarship. Now, however, I have to be careful that my project will be “read” as rhetorical to future job committees and tenure committees, which is forcing me to reconsider some of my (seemingly) radical methods. I spent a lot of time trying to justify why visual ethnography would make for a compelling rhetorical research method (building off of McNely et al.’s work), but I have long since moved away from the *justification* piece. If I’m going to include nontraditional research methods, I will have to spend time and space justifying it…which means that I need to figure out a) what methods I’m going to incorporate, and b) WHY they’re going to be useful and illuminate something new and exciting and different. Again, although I spent so much time toying with this visual ethnography thing, I haven’t figured out if or how it is going to work and what it might do that might be helpful.

It’s funny how these things work out. My undergraduate rhetorical education focused on feminist rhetorical history. I have since moved away from this focus during graduate school for a variety of reasons, but it’s easy to want to return to those methods because I already know how to do them. For example, I could study local and national newspaper articles to chart a revised history of the emergence of LD, which was “discovered” by researchers at Yale…who never really credited the two mothers from Lyme, CT who alerted them to the phenomena. These mothers, Polly Murray and Judith Mensch, are sometimes named in popular publications, but according to some quick researchers, never in peer-reviewed scientific ones (i.e. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/10/nyregion/taking-a-new-tack-against-lyme-disease.html). This gets particularly interesting because there has been some research about the sexual and in utero transfer of LD (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mothers-may-pass-lyme-disease-to-children-in-the-womb/), which makes me think a lot about the rhetorical characters of LD and how they have informed the LD controversy as we know it. Some sources I’ve read have argued that because LD was discovered by patients and wasn’t easily figured out by researchers of clinicians, it is deeply grounded in community efforts and thus doesn’t easily become the authority of researchers, unlike in many other cases.

Relatedly, I’ve also come upon another conundrum: If chronically ill people with controversial/emergent illnesses are doing collective action work in certain places already, WHY THE F— AM I GOING TO DO MY OWN STUDY?!  Not accounting for and valuing the work people are already doing and doing my own study instead seems to contradict everything I believe about valuing patient narratives and experiences.My preliminary research/internet perusing suggests that ill individuals are hashtagging #LymeDisease, #spoonies, #chronicpain, #chronicillness, and other terms on Twitter and Instagram (and probably other places) to visually and textually document their experiences and get community support. I’m sure there’s more out there, but I’m hesitant to jump in with both feet. What worries me about using social media as a research archive is that it seems ephemeral and might not matter in a few years. (Truthfully, I’m concerned that it will be meaningless by the time I try to publish a book). However, other people (per this Slate article from the other day – http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/users/2016/03/how_spoonies_people_with_chronic_illnesses_use_memes_selfies_and_emojis.html) are taking it seriously, so perhaps I should, too. I guess what’s been hard is that my early searches have been hard to “code,” meaning that sometimes it seems like people are  using these hashtags to gain social capital to sell something or as spam versus using it to build or enter into an illness community. My adviser suggested an interesting solution: come up with a key term or concept to help me “read” (i.e. organize, generate meaning, analyzed) these materials. For example: disability. I could look at all of the Instagram posts with a #LymeDisease tag and try to answer the question, “How do LD patients construct (or not) a disability identity?” With inquiries by disability studies scholars like Alison Kafer about who “counts” as disabled, what terms individuals with disability should or should not take up, and more, I’d like to work on answering this question as part of my dissertation. However, I feel uneasy about using social media to answer it. I could certainly conduct some qualitative interviews with individuals with LD in North Carolina and study them for similar themes. There is very little qualitative research about Lyme Disease AND very little research about Lyme in the American south, so I would certainly be generating new knowledge, but that also doesn’t feel quite right to me.

This has prompted me to consider if I should incorporate digital humanities research tools and methods into the project. LD is very much geographically bound–socially and environmentally–but should I go there?

What ideas might I use for peer-reviewed journal articles vs. THE DISSERTATION? This might seem insignificant, but I think that some of my inner chaos come from trying to narrow my focus for the dissertation but finding perfectly useful, bounded projects that might be interesting to pursue but that don’t fit in the realm of my current project outline. For instance, there are various health poster collections that are perfectly suited for rhetorical and visual analysis, but if they’re not about LD, they probably aren’t a great fit for my dissertation unless I’m directly connecting them back or comparing them with LD ephemera.

***

To begin answering some of these questions, I started playing around (i.e. “researching). I made the following list:

Possibilities for Archives/Materials:

  • Peer-reviewed scientific journal articles about Chronic Lyme Disease/Post-Treatment LD à learn about the emergence of LLMDs and the rhetorical problem of “Chronic Lyme”
  • Interviews?
  • Arts-based therapy ephemera?
  • Hash tag activism on Tumblr, Instagram, and/or Twitter à and/or ChronicBabe.com
    • Leveraging gender and chronic illness – pushing back against traditional patriarchal authorities
    • Femininity as radical, rhetorical reclaiming of authority and identity à paper I wrote for Jane’s seminar

This led me to think about Judith Lorber’s Gender and the Social Construction of Illness, so I used Google Scholar to figure out who had cited her (almost 500 people) and then, with that sect, who had also used the term”rhetoric” in their publication. Here’s a few I came up with:

  • Werner, Anne, and Kirsti Malterud. “It is hard work behaving as a credible patient: encounters between women with chronic pain and their doctors.” Social science & medicine 57.8 (2003): 1409-1419.
  • Sim, Julius, and Sue Madden. “Illness experience in fibromyalgia syndrome: A metasynthesis of qualitative studies.” Social science & medicine 67.1 (2008): 57-67.
  • Willard, Barbara E. “Feminist interventions in biomedical discourse: An analysis of the rhetoric of integrative medicine.” Women’s Studies in Communication 28.1 (2005): 115-148.
  • Bell, Mebbie. “Re/forming the anorexic “prisoner”: Inpatient medical treatment as the return to panoptic femininity.” Cultural Studies↔ Critical Methodologies 6.2 (2006): 282-307.
  • Clarke, Adele E., and Janet Shim. “Medicalization and biomedicalization revisited: Technoscience and transformations of health, illness and American medicine.” Handbook of the sociology of health, illness, and healing. Springer New York, 2011. 173-199.

Note: I got up and got a snack, but I still managed to bite off all my nails. :-/

I’m not sure where it will go from here, but I told my advisers that I’d figure it out by Sunday night…. AHHH!

 

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Revising Lyme Research Questions

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:

April 2015:

  • 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?

July 2015:

  • 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?

October 2015:

  • 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?

November 2015:

  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

 

 

 

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Researching Visual Ethnography

Added to the direct pressures of benefits reform, I felt a weight of expectation and judgement from the images. Neither set of images said much about me, yet they became deeply personal. Since there was no way to escape the heat of the images, I decided to try and make sense of their power. Collating the images, I analyse them here against a backdrop of visual inquiry theory. I consider the process through which their meanings are made, how they shape and reinforce a collective ‘picture in the mind’ of what it is to be a disabled person. I look beneath the surface to examine their real-world impact. Finally, I explore possibilities for contesting these images and for disabled people’s creation of counter images, in order to tell a different kind of story of what it is to be us.

–Liz Crow, “Scroungers and Superhumans: Images of Disability from the Summer of 2012: A Visual Inquiry” in Journal of Visual Culture (2012).

Note: She does not include images in the article because she believes that the images are already culturally embedded.

I think that I need to really get a sense of what visual ethnography is, who does it, how it is done, and why it is done before I move forward. In turn, this morning I did a journal search for visual journals to see who is publishing about it. Without much thought, I typed in “visual” to the library e-journal search page at UNC, and I found a bunch of potentially relevant journals! I’ve listed them here along with some notes about what I’ve discovered thus far. When I landed on the journal’s home page, I first searched for the term “ethnography.” If it did not generate any results, I then looked at 2-10 of the most recent issues of the journal. Sometimes, I also searched terms like “health” and “disability.”

  • Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation = very technical, didn’t offer anything for my project.
  • Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine = focused on medical illustration and clinical medical photography, both past and present; publishes notes from the Health and Scientific Communication Organization; Wellcome Trust Library holdings; particularly attentive to issues of technology, such as if clinicians should take medical images on their cell phones
  • Journal of Visual Culture = humanities and social-sciences oriented–definitely useful for my purposes; queries into ethnography, health, and disability were fruitful; however, most articles about visual representations of health and disability did not discuss ethnography; “Disability-Visuality” special issue in 2006
  • Journal of Visual Literacy = design theories?
  • Visual Anthropology = useful!
  • Visual Anthropology Review = useful!
  • Visual Communication Quarterly = useful! (some articles about photojournalism)
  • Visual Culture and Gender = useful! published annually
  • Visual Studies = searches for “health,” “disability,” and “visual ethnography” failed–might have to return at a later time

Helpful Articles:

  1. Aguayo, Angela, and Stacy Jill Calvert. “Theatrical Bodies: Acting Out Comedy and Tragedy in Two Anatomical Displays” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2013).
  2. Benin, David, and Lisa Cartwright. “Shame, Empathy and Looking Practices: Lessons from a Disability Studies Classroom” (Journal of Visual Culture 2006).
  3. Bossen, Howard, et al. “Hot Metal, Cold Reality: Photographers’ Access to
    Steel Mills” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2013).
  4. Cant, Alanna. “One Image, Two Stories: Ethnographic and Touristic Photography and the Practice of Craft in Mexico” (Visual Anthropology 2015).
  5. Crow, Liz. “Scroungers and Superhumans: Images of Disability from the Summer of 2012: A Visual Inquiry” (Journal of Visual Culture 2014) –> “And we need to create images that confront in more direct and provocative ways. We need images that use the process of meaning-making for effect, working with and subverting the existing binaries in order to create images that confront and disturb the viewer’s familiar readings” (177).
  6. Nead, Lynda. “Stilling the Punch: Boxing, Violence and the Photographic Image” (Journal of Visual Culture 2011). –> discusses photographing the body in pain
  7. Fewkes, Jacqueline H. “The Seductive Gaze Through the Gold Filter: 
    Representation, Color Manipulation, and Technology Choices
    in Visual Ethnography” (Visual Anthropology Review 2008). 
  8. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Ways of Staring” (Journal of Visual Culture 2006).
  9. Gonzalez, Jennifer A. “Rhetoric of the Object: Material Memory and the Artwork of Amalia Mesa-Bains” (Visual Anthropology Review 1993).
  10. Gruber, David. “Theatrical Bodies: Acting Out Comedy and Tragedy in Two Anatomical Displays” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2011).
  11. Johnson, Ginger J. et al. “Drawings, Photos, and Performances: Using Visual Methods with Children” (Visual Anthropology Review 2012). 
  12. Lenette, Caroline. “Visual ethnography and refugee women: Nuanced understandings of lived experiences” (Qualitative Research Journal 2013).
  13. Nelson, Erica, and David Howitt. “When target groups talk back: at the intersection of visual ethnography and adolescent sexual health” (Reproductive Health Matters 2013).
  14. Olszanowski, Magdalena. “Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2014).
  15. Pink, Sarah. “Digital–visual–sensory-design anthropology: Ethnography, imagination and intervention” (Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 2014).
  16. Stadhams, Dianna. “Look to Learn: A Role for Visual Ethnography in the Elimination of Poverty” (Visual Anthropology Review 2004).
  17. Thorson, Bruce. “A Visual Voice Seldom Heard, Seldom Noted” (Visual Communication Quarterly 2013).
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Visuals and Diagnosis: Reflections from FemRhet

Breaking the monopoly of the book tradition is something that should be recognized as valuable not only for future research in rhetoric, but also for examining the study of our past.

–Richard Leo Enos (pg. 47 – Rhetorical Archaeology: Established Resources, Methodological Tools, and Basic Research Methods in The SAGE Handbook on Rhetorical Studies, 2009).

I had an amazing time attending the Tenth Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Tempe, AZ last week/this weekend! I am usually  more productive if I have a deadline, so I actually compiled some research into a reasonable google slideshow (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1HIoo_RNLWP9-ZwQKbSZpivXHsV-qa15ZxP9vtatmSgk/edit?usp=sharing). I kind of knew that our panel would be poorly attended because it was the last possible session at the conference (though shoutout to the two people who came + our chair!), so I wasn’t as worried as usual about making a fool of myself. However, I embarrassed myself a number of times by asking awkwardly phrased questions to famous people in feminist rhetorics. Strangely, I felt like their answers were as perplexing as my questions. (HA! There’s probably a connection. Weird questions call for weird answers?)

Question 1: Are we still invested in recovering WOMEN rhetors, or have we moved on to focusing on recovering gendered rhetorical practices (per calls by Sarah Hallenbeck and others)?

Answer 1: Four matriarchs of feminist rhetoric responded to this question during a panel about creating feminist edited collections. LA argued that we can’t recover gendered practices without recovering women, and GC asserted that these new alternative recoveries aren’t that well known and are beyond our reach (still?). In the context of the panel, maybe my question didn’t make sense–we anthologize people, not practices–but when feminist rhetorical history matriarchs put out an edited collection, people read it like a bible, which in my opinion reinforces the idea that we must recover WOMEN and not people’s (men and women’s) gendered practices.

Question 2: Is a dissertation project about visual ethnography as a rhetorical research method a terrible idea?

Answer 2: JN said that was probably a good idea, since the field seems to be moving away from historiography. DJ noted that I should still keep track of the genders of my participants in case I want to do a gendered analysis if my data/experiment fails.

To a human who inhabits the regular universe, these questions might seem useless or mundane. However, they (albeit inarticulately) highlight a number of the current debates about the future of feminist rhetorical historiography, which will likely impact the research that I do now and in the future. If I pursue a dissertation project that articulates an alternative vision (i.e. recovering gendered practices instead of women for the sake of their gender), could it keep me from getting a job? Probably not, but it’s something to consider. If committees don’t respect my methods, I’m in trouble…so we shall see?

In any case, I had a really productive “office hours” meeting with a prominent scholar in disability studies/rhetoric whose work I really admire. I have a few important takeaways from our discussion:

  • What QUESTION do I really want to answer? (It will make the most sense to select a method based on the question, not the other way around).
  • How did scholars I admire come to identify their focuses? Meaning, everyone does not start out knowing exactly what they are going to write a book about. This scholar suggested that I ask some people how their ideas and focuses have evolved over time and how and why their projects ended up the way they ended up.
  • Medical rhetoric and disability studies can function in opposition. They usually have very different methods, sites of participation, research participants, etc., and I need to take that into account as I move forward. Also, visual research methods might increase access for some people and limit it for others. How can I make my project as accessible as possible? (Maybe descriptions of the images? But I’d want the image-takers/individuals in the image to help me craft the description to keep it from being too slanted? Is that possible in humanities research?)

Perhaps most significantly, this scholar suggested that I turn my project towards diagnosis and visuals, using Lyme Disease bull’s-eyes as a case study. Are there any other defining visuals besides the bull’s-eye? What do health seekers identify as key Lyme visuals based on their illness experiences? (This made me think about the brief moment when I decided to take daily photographs of my knees, which I would typically identify as my most impactful remaining Lyme Disease problem). These are fascinating questions because only 20% of probable Lyme patients get (or notice) a bull’s-eye rash, and yet clinicians see it as the “least subjective” diagnostic criterion–a paradox. In class today, TJ suggested that I might not just think about how people see illness *on* their bodies, but rather *in* (or some other preposition) to represent the felt experiences of illness and emphasize their importance (versus their subjectivity). This was a compelling remark–how would I go about capturing images that narrate seemingly invisible pain? (Or how would I ask people to narrative their seemingly invisible pain? I guess I might just have to see what happens?)

Quasi-Related New Challenge: In (what felt like) my first hundred readings of McNely et al.’s article about visual ethnography and game development, I somehow missed a key phrase: “empirical visual research methods.” Umm…time to read some more to see what other scholars/communities think! (Since I didn’t image visual ethnography to be an empirical research method…which seems so counterintuitive. Isn’t it a qualitative method?)

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Rhetoric and Visual Ethnography: Envisioning the Future of Health, Medicine, and Bodies in Practice

Rhetoric and Visual Ethnography: Envisioning the Future of Health, Medicine, and Bodies in Practice

(Note: Trying out a title for…who knows what? I’m not even sure what “bodies in practice means.” I was thinking about doctors practicing medicine and people practicing their illness chronologies before they go to the doctor…but maybe that’s just something I do).

I’ve thought more about it, and I’m concerned that my investigation into Lyme Disease images is going nowhere. Yes, it’s weird/interesting that there are four main images in circulation (the deer tick, the bull’s-eye, the Lyme spirochete, and Lyme-endemic area maps), but…can I write a whole dissertation on it? Since I’ve never written a dissertation/book before, I clearly don’t really know the answer. It’s worrying me.

I’ve been tossing around Jason’s idea from the #TeamRhetoric writing group meeting a few weeks ago: that I write my entire dissertation on visual ethnography as a rhetorical research method. Here’s what I think this might be good for:

A) Demonstrating that LOOKING at health and medicine texts/images (broadly defined) might reveal something new/different/important about them. My exploratory research led me to sociology of medicine and medical anthropology journals that highlighted how visual research methods often (more effectively) illuminate the lives and experiences of underrepresented and systemically disadvantaged people. I know that there are a lot of these individuals who are sick and who are lost in the system—forgotten by doctors and the public at large. Perhaps a project that uses visual ethnography could shed light on some of those experiences that might not otherwise be put at the forefront.

B) Putting people and their bodies into practice. (Note: this sounds like a good idea but I’m not quite sure what I mean by it). I think what I mean to say is that it involves both the “participants” and the “researchers” in the making of the thing—which is TBD, of course.

C) A fantastic article about research methods (if nothing else)!

Here’s what worries me:

A) That visual ethnography isn’t rhetorical (enough). Jason is sure that it is, but I think I’m still lukewarm on the subject. The McNely et al. team is also sure that it’s rhetorical, and I can see how it would work for documenting/doing the writing process. And yet…I’m not sure about it.

B) I have no idea what I am doing or will be doing. Visual ethnography isn’t my field. In fact, I have very little training that supports this line of inquiry! I can take confidence in knowing that I know about rhetoric and power and practice and that that will take me where I want/need to go. But I don’t even know how to operate most cameras and I take terrible selfies, so I’m not sure if the images would even come out “right.”

C) Coordinating with the appropriate partners and experts. If I get the DPDF, I will have a (funded!) opportunity to do this and to consult with experts from the social sciences. However, without this boost, I will have to do this work completely on my own. I have some connections through the HHIVE and other friendly people I’ve encountered at UNC and UMD, but I don’t (personally) know any anthropologists or scholars who do digital work. (Well, Dan and Todd do, I suppose, but they don’t do visual ethnography…).

D) THAT THIS PROJECT MIGHT FAIL COMPLETELY BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WILL HAPPEN! Theoretically, there is a chance for this to happen in any project. But for the first time, I am honestly not sure about what will come out of this project. In general, when I’ve done text-based research, I always know that there’s something to find that I can use for something, even if it’s not what I originally intended. I mean, there was that one time when I was trying to learn about sex education courses at UMD since it opened in 1856 and the sad archivist had to tell me that no records exist because UMD burned down completely in the early 1900s. At the time, I felt a bit disoriented (and definitely derailed), but the absence of ephemera led me to study something related: home economics. In fact, I probably didn’t have the necessary vocabulary—the search terms and historical language—that would have generated helpful results for my sex education study. (Since they very likely did not call it “sex education.” HA! Actually, I know that it was often called “social hygiene” and went by a few other related names). I am in a similar stage with this project: I don’t yet have the vocabulary to locate the information that I’m looking for…and perhaps it doesn’t even exist.

I guess I’ll find out?

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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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