Tag Archives: visual rhetoric

Organizing My Dissertation Project

There are so many possible ways to conceptualize my dissertation project. It’s exciting to feel like there are so many possibilities, but it’s also overwhelming. What direction(s) do I want to go in? What’s my justification for making this choice? How will this choice frame the project in a useful way for the field? The issue is that I just need to pick SOMETHING. It doesn’t have to be perfect–merely workable–so that I can finish the prospectus and submit it to my advisers…and I had planned to finish it yesterday. (Instead, I napped, played with my cat, and ate delicious pizza from the new pizza truck down the street. Relatively restful, but…yikes).

I’m a writer who likes to have a clear outline from the beginning, which is why I think I’m having so much trouble moving this forward. I know that I will likely change the outline and/or frameworks and quite possibly the chapters, too, but it’s practically impossible for me to start without some semblance of…something. (Also, my cat is high on catnip and making the weirdest sounds…. Not helpful). When my students find themselves in similar situations, I encourage them to “just pick SOMETHING” and get started, since the project is usually relative short in length and the timeframe for completing it is limited. My dissertation project is theoretically bounded, too, but it’s so much bigger and broader and feels like it means so much more. I’ll probably write about most of the same things regardless of the frame I choose, but…UGHHHHHH.

So here are some of my ideas for organizing things….

Idea #1: rhetorical research methods

Introduction: rhetoric of health and medicine –> LD is an interesting case study –> necessitates that we broaden archives and research methods

Chapter 1: “traditional” deep rhetorical analysis of alphabetic text – naming and constructing LD through peer-reviewed scientific journal articles; language = evidence

Chapter 2: visual rhetorical analysis – LD images; images = evidence

Chapter 3: rhetorical circulation studies – examining online social spaces where people with LD collaborate and strategize to  create community and get better care; moving beyond Gries’s circulation of one image to think about the construction/production/distribution of multiple (seemingly) static images; language and questions (?) = evidence

Note: Is this more of a virtual in situ study?

Chapter 4: semi-structured interviews – interview LD health seekers in the south (North Carolina) to learn about experience and possibility of disability identity; interview language and ideas = evidence


Idea #2: patient/activist vs. clinician-researcher/biomedical authority for learning about emergent illnesses

Introduction: rhetoric of health and medicine –> LD is an interesting case study –> construction of ethos –> evidence and authority (see ch. 7 of Segal’s Health and the Rhetoric of Medicine, 2005)

–> IDSA vs. ILADS discourse – the rhetorical problems with LD

Chapter 1: biomedical = what counts as evidence (maps, bull’s-eyes, ticks, spirochetes) vs. “subjective symptoms”

Chapter 2: biomedical = LLMDS – developing LD knowledge/authority through perceived “Lyme literacy”

(Note: not sure which archive I’m going to use here).

Chapter 3: patient/health-seeker = uninterrogated history of LD as a patient’s disease via Connecticut moms who reported it to the CDC and studied their ill neighbors and children; newspaper articles and popular publications (i.e. books by LD patients/witnesses)

Chapter 4: patient/health-seeker = crowdsourcing knowledge via online social networks; examining online social spaces where people with LD collaborate and strategize to  create community and get better care

Note: Putting patient/health seeker and clinician/researcher/biomedicine in opposition feels a little bit arbitrary or simplistic. 


Idea #3: stages of illness

Introduction: rhetoric of health and medicine –> LD is an interesting case study –> tells us a lot about rhetoric and emergent illnesses following the HIV/AIDS crisis

Chapter 1: diagnosis = rhetorical analysis of changing diagnostic guidelines

Chapter 2: treatment =naming and constructing LD through peer-reviewed scientific journal articles

Chapter 3: recovery = examining online social spaces where people with LD collaborate and strategize to  create community and get better care

Chapter 4:

A) prevention = visual analysis of LD prevention ephemera, such as posters and brochures? IDSA vs. ILADS materials?


B) disability = questioning the chronicity/permanence of the condition via interviews?


WHEW. So much to think about. Time for a cup of tea…or a nap….

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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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Scholarly Interventions

I’m so lucky to have such brilliant advisers! I submitted a draft of the literature review section of my prospectus to get some preliminary ideas, and she provided this feedback:

My overall question is whether you want to make the method (visual ethnography) your primary scholarly intervention, or whether it is just one of your interventions. I guess I am thinking ahead to a potential book project, in which case the main topic would likely be Lyme and the method (visual rhetoric and visual ethnography) the tool you use to help us understand Lyme disease better as a rhetorical phenomenon, specifically with relation to the issue of diagnosis and definition of the condition itself. How are diagnoses shaped rhetorically, especially in our current context, where health is increasingly digitized, public, popular–not just narrowly medical or scientific. In other words, diagnoses and definitions of conditions like Lyme are shaped by these various networks, not just by what scientists write in a medical journal. More specifically, images and other kinds of visual rhetoric play a key role, and these circulate through that network in different ways. Thus the question becomes how a visual analysis (using traditional rhetoric but also elements of visual ethnography) can help to elucidate that network.


The second question (and one to think about as you go forward) is whether you’d want to confine the ethnography part to auto-ethnography (and maybe also analysis of other “auto-ethnographic” images people post to blogs or forums), or if you want to do a full-scale study with IRB, recruitment, etc. I think both would be possible but the latter would be a bigger undertaking and might also require more time. Something to ask the committee!

I had a very difficult time putting together the partial prospectus draft because I thought that I could only make one major intervention and I wasn’t sure what I wanted that to be. Thankfully, it sounds like I can make multiple interventions! (Though perhaps this is one of those cases where it is better to do one thing well than half-ass three or four things?) I am trying to think about the prospectus and dissertation as a prospectus and dissertation,–i.e. NOT a book–because I think that the stress of of writing a “book” vs. a “dissertation” will become overwhelming. We’ll see how it goes?

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How to Talk About My Project: Part 1 of 1 million

I had an incredibly productive meeting with BM last Wednesday, so this morning, I’m trying to work on one of her suggestions: to get in touch with some Lyme Disease researchers and organizations (in-person meetings preferable). The first step to doing this is probably sending an email…which is actually pretty challenging for me, since I’m not quite sure how I want to describe my project. I’ve titled this post “Part 1 of 1 Million” because if I take seriously my graduate studies in rhetoric, I know that will need to frame the project in different ways for different audiences…and I suspect that, over time, I will consult with many audiences. Some options for describing my project include:

  • A project about the rhetoric of Lyme Disease diagnosis (meaning, the ways that arguments about the diagnosis of Lyme are created, debated, and circulated)
  • A project about Lyme Disease images/visuals, particularly focusing on the bull’s-eye as the least subjective symptom…which causes problems for ill people who suspect they have Lyme Disease but do not have the bull’s-eye to “prove” it.
  • A project about Post-Treatment Lyme Disease and arts-based research methods. Arts-based research methods and how they can illuminate the experience of Lyme Disease diagnosis?
  • A project about the rhetoric of Lyme Disease in which I am hoping to do a case study with a group of PTLDS people using visual ethnography.
  • A health humanities project about the visual rhetoric of Lyme Disease, focusing on the presence or absence of the bull’s-eye in Lyme Disease diagnosis.
  • Other ideas?

My goal is that my project will appear to be incredibly interesting yet nonthreatening.  So interesting and nonthreatening that these researchers, advocates, nonprofit managers, etc. want to invite me in for brief in-person meetings! But I have to get in the door first. Do I even explain what rhetoric is or identify as an English PhD student? (Would “humanities” suffice?) Do I bring up the visual ethnography stuff? (I think that some people outside of the social sciences know what ethnography is, but will the “visual” piece make it more confusing? I can’t just say that I’m trying to do an ethnography, though, because I’m not trying to do a clinical ethnography, which is what that implies).

One way to vet this might be to send it to some scientist/doctors who I already know and to see what they think. Maybe I’ll even ask my parents for their opinions (since they’re trained as an entomologist/pharmacist and an electrical engineer). I also need to think about what I want from these people. I’d like to consult with them about my research, but I probably need to give them something in return. (Besides running a groundbreaking study that changes the way that clinicians and health seekers diagnose and treat Lyme Disease, of course. HAHA IN MY GRAD STUDENT DREAMS).

Right now, I guess I really need to pick 2-3 descriptions: one for Lyme Disease foundation/nonprofit people (more Lyme-technical but less academic jargon); scientists/clinicians (methods-focused, not as Lyme Disease technical because I am not a scientist/doctor?); and maybe begin to think about how I would explain it to potential study participants?

At the moment, I sense that the term/concept of “arts-based research methods” might resonate with study participants because it doesn’t sound biomedical (and thus will hopefully have fewer side effects and not be as big of a risk?) Visual ethnography is a research method, of course, but I’m not an ethnographer by training and I’m not sure that that term will resonate with non-academic people. (My parents think the whole idea is insane, so that suggests that maybe other people like them will also think it sounds insane…whereas arts-based research method/approach sounds so…clean? Safe? Reasonable? Art therapy-ish?) I think this is also an indication that I really need to nail down my central questions (or at least the first clean-ish version of them) before trying to pull other people into my project. I know that these questions will change along the way, but I don’t think it will be productive to blurt out, “Come participate in my ambiguous research project where we’re going to take pictures of staircases and beds and who knows what else that can’t be measured or accounted for like the “non-subjective” bull’s-eye!” In any case, I think I need to actually read some of the arts-based research materials that I’ve culled thus far if that’s the primary conversation that I want to join. But I don’t yet know the politics of the field. Is visual ethnography taken less seriously than visual art therapy or narrative writing workshops, for instance? I guess I’ll have to try this out on a few people and find out…

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My Reserach and the Health Humanities

I took a somewhat experimental health humanities (HH) research course this semester, and before my brain goes to mush from studying for my comprehensive exams, I want to reflect on my developing sense of what the health humanities is and how it might contribute to my current and future projects. I found the scholarship in HH to be limited by its somewhat paradoxical claims vs. published realities, so I am thinking through my ideas based on some of these contradictions. Of course, I understand that HH is a rapidly expanding field, so perhaps it is unfair to be so critical of some of the research topics frequently studied, goals for research, etc. And yet some of it made me cranky, so it’s hard to resist…

I am also trying to hold myself accountable for my writing process. As the pressure to produce smart, cohesive, somewhat stylish writing mounts, the less I’m able to focus. I’ve recently started reading about the process of dissertation writing, and it sounds like the thing that people have the most trouble with is sitting down and DOING some writing. In general, I tend to be pretty good at the sitting down part when I’m feeling well. I often find myself frustrated on days when I seem to be unusually distracted (i.e. in low to medium level whole body pain). My skin feels sharp and staticky, my bones ache, my scalp is tender from having my hair in a ponytail for too long. I eat snacks, look out the window, wish I was doing something else. If I’m dressed like a human (which is usually not the case), I might leave my house for a while and browse sale items at Steinmart or buy four items at Whole Foods. But I’m usually sitting in my bathrobe at my kitchen table, one knee up against the table, head throbbing from squeezing and overextending my jaw, attempting to sip tea that has long turned cold and over-brewed. Also, I typically only allow myself to leave my house (or shower…working on that) if I’ve met my somewhat arbitrary daily writing goals. (That is, when I’m spending an entire day working from home). It’s funny to think that I used to write for pleasure. Now, it’s part of my job, and if I can’t do it–for whatever reason(s)–I can’t really join this profession. So I’m at a critical juncture in which I need to figure this out. I have been writing while feeling terrible for years now, so it’s annoying that I haven’t gotten used to it, found better techniques for producing better work, etc. Like everyone else, I probably have unrealistic expectations for myself about how much I should be writing and how “good” the writing should be. Ugh. In any case, I’ve been able to produce a lot of words and work out some ideas by writing these blog entries, so I’m going to consider it part of my writing process and move forward, hopefully moving past the obstacles I’m allowing to get in my way.

For me, a “good” research and writing day means that I produce writing that actually moves my ideas/arguments/frameworks/theories forward. This usually means that I produce a lot of writing (often on this blog) that is relatively informal but very clear…or as clear as I can make it. As critical as I am of people who believe that their interdisciplinary work will immediately impact the scholarship of multiple fields, it is helpful for me to do writing in a space where there is a theoretical, thoughtful, and somewhat broad audience. I try to write in ways that non-academic people like my parents can understand. I usually don’t achieve this goal, but my attempt to think and speak simply helps me figure out my key questions: What am I really trying to say? Why is it important? As I reread this section, I’m chuckling at the word “important.” In the scheme of things, my reflection on my course in HH is not “important” for most people. It probably never will be. I guess I’m always hoping that, in some small way, I can contribute to solving some greater social problem or helping meet a need of living, breathing people. Many scholars talk about fulfilling this kind of civic duty via their teaching, but I’d also like to do it through my research. Anyway, I’m going to stop this philosophical meandering and get to the health humanities stuff. After all, I have a short critical reflection to write for the class, and I stared at a blank word document for an hour this morning without any “luck,” so it’s time to get started.

[Nail cutting and filing break. Why do I feel a desperate need to groom myself whenever I start writing something?! Sometimes I also get an urge to clean. I was reading about a study that reported that obsessive grooming behaviors, like skin picking and nail biting, can be related to perfectionist tendencies. I haven’t bitten my nails for more than three months (!!) so can’t I chalk this up to not wanting to start to bite them as I’m thinking/writing? #phdproblems].

What HH claims it does vs. what it actually does (based on what I learned and observed during the course):

#1. Bridging the clinical medicine/humanities divide to better educate healthcare providers and solve large-scale health problems. (Is clinical medicine a real thing, or did I just make it up?) It seems like the medical  humanities (yes, a slightly different field) might have made some progress with bridging the medical/humanistic gap, but in my opinion, this has been most effective when clinicians bridge this gap and then teach other clinicians about it. For instance, Rita Charon’s work on narrative medicine is well respected in many fields, and one reason for this is because, as a medical doctor, she has a trustworthy ethos. Charon is able to rely on her experiences in clinical settings, working with diverse patients, etc. to advocate for the worthiness of humanistic ways of thinking in health and medicine.

Unfortunately, I find it less compelling (and, frankly, kind of annoying) when humanists try to do the same thing. I am not convinced that teaching and discussing Frankenstein or any other specific texts with medical students will or should impart wisdom about empathy, power relations in medical spaces, the value of human life, etc. I do think that these texts include interesting commentaries about health and medicine, but in my sort-of educated opinion, there is not enough statistical evidence to support this kind of HH education for medical students. In our HH class, we read many different literary analyses of fiction, poetry, etc. by canonical authors and explanations about how these texts can help doctors do their jobs better by teaching them empathy, compassion, and more. Sometimes, the close readings were strong and theoretically demonstrative of what doctors and other healthcare providers (a key feature of the HH) could learn from reading the texts. And yet I remain deeply skeptical of both demanding this kind of education/change and the idea that literature can make this change. Perhaps I am just a pessimist. It’s not that I don’t think that some healthcare providers need additional training about these things, and it’s not that I don’t think that medical school is structured in a militaristic way that breaks down people and rewards them for quick (albeit sometimes inaccurate) diagnoses, memorization of body parts instead of holistic analyses of individual people’s bodies, etc. I do. But I’m still looking for some social science-based and/or other scientifically-based research that supports this. I don’t believe that science is objective or always true or anything like that, but I think there is something to be said to testing out different research methods for answering a research question. If nothing else, maintaining a critical perspective when discussing this issue will help us more effectively evaluate all future research about it from both scientific and humanistic perspectives.

[Time to search the kitchen for snacks even though I’m not hungry. I guess I’ll chew another piece of gum and try not to distract myself by looking out the window at my neighbor’s adorably lazy cat].

#2. Reach a broad interdisciplinary audience ranging from clinicians to English professors. It is hard to imagine medical students and practicing clinicians reading our HH anthologies or some of the humanities-interdisciplinary HH articles that we discussed in class. I sense that these professionals don’t care about nor do they have time to read humanities journals, materials, or perspectives. Of course, there is the occasional converted doctor (so to speak) who publishes in both medical and humanities journals, but I can confidently say that it is unclear and/or unlikely that their medical colleagues read their humanities publications. Humanities and some social science scholars actually seem to be the people reading HH scholarship–though many of these scholars do not identify themselves as HH scholars even if their work could be classified at HH scholarship. It’s not that this is a bad thing. It seems like HH has exposed humanities scholars to different research topics, questions, and methods that can expand the range of humanistic work. However, based on our reading this semester, it does not seem to have such a broad reach.

#3. The area of “health humanities” is recognizable to many audiences across disciplines and is significantly different from “medical humanities.” Like any other emerging field, HH is struggling to literally create a name for themselves. According to our two main course texts (HH anthologies/readers), HH is different from medical humanities because it makes more of an effort to study and consider the perspectives of non-physicians and extend beyond medicine as the main issue in question. However, based on all of the readings included in these texts, this is not necessarily the HH reality. Most of the texts still prioritized the doctor-patient relationship and, though some mentioned other health professionals, these individuals were not the main focus. In general, ill people themselves were also not the main focus. The most emphasis was placed on medical education/training and re-training/educating current medical providers. This, I suppose, is one kind of “talking back” to the greater spheres of biomedicine, healthcare broadly defined, western values and perceptions, etc., but I found the lack of focus (and writing) by ill people about illness, by other healthcare providers about other kinds of health and wellness, etc. disconcerting and disappointing.

In any case, I worry about identifying  myself as a HH scholar for all of the reasons listed above. Who will take my work seriously if I am not fully committing myself to more than one well-respected research methodology at a time? (My sense is that the recently published HH scholarship highlights interdisciplinary but still adheres to a single-discipline research method. Rhetorical analysis might be the exception, though they don’t usually call it that in the sciences). I am still much more comfortable trying to join more deeply established intellectual conversations in the rhetoric of health and medicine, disability studies, feminist rhetorical theory and practice, visual studies, ethnography, and more. Despite all of this, I DO think that the HH has great potential. (Though I’m going to hedge and say that I believe this potential is based on the determination of a more focused audience, establishment of more widely respected publications, and new key texts). Here are a few examples:

  • Ill individuals and health seekers gather together to record, revise, and distribute their stories collectively (versus in individual self-help-like manuals or illness narratives). One recent example is Allie Cashel’s Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme Disease in an Age of Denial. As part of a senior thesis project at Bard College, Cashel interviewed a bunch of individuals living with chronic Lyme Disease and wove together her experiences, their experiences, and a cultural analysis about the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease.
  • “Cultural competence” training for clinicians becomes more sophisticated by blending in some health humanities perspectives, leading medical students to take a more intersectional approach to identifying and treating health seekers. I probably don’t know enough about this to make this claim, but it seems like a nice fantasy.
  • Insurance companies, the U.S. government (including NIH and the like), and/or other people with a lot of money and power find the HH to have a strong value-added benefit and incorporate it into their plans, policies, and funded research projects.

In all, I think it was very useful to take a HH course and to explore HH perspectives and how they might relate to my projects. In terms of my dissertation project, I will probably not situate myself as a HH scholar and instead focus my attention on audiences in rhetoric: rhetoric of health and medicine, visual rhetoric, and feminist rhetoric in particular. I hope that my writing and research will be meaningful and easily translatable to other audiences, such as disability studies, ethnography (maybe), medical and linguistic anthropology (maybe), etc. In general, though, I think that I should try to make my writing more palatable for everyone who might read it, so perhaps I will be able to invite in a large audience if I can make this shift. But for now…it’s time to ramp up my exam studying and add to my understanding of HH, since it is my “minor”!




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Joining the Conversation

What’s exciting about doing interdisciplinary research is that there are many conversations to join, as Graff and Birkenstein would say. (Note: this comes from my favorite writing “textbook,” They Say, I Say – http://books.wwnorton.com/books/webad.aspx?id=4294982902). As I pull my ideas together, it’s difficult to figure out how to arrange them. I talk to my students all the time about how your arrangement should be a writing decision that is inspired by your specific audience. In the case of my dissertation prospectus (which Nick says is merely a snobby word for “proposal”), my audience is my 5-person dissertation committee. However, my project will hopefully appeal to multiple audiences–both scholarly and popular (?)–so I’m trying to think expansively from the beginning.

Here is a brief attempt at physically mapping out who I am talking to and which existing conversations I hope to touch upon:


**Where does disability studies go?!

  • Rhetoric of Health, Science, Medicine: A rapidly expanding discipline within rhetorical studies. Importantly, many recent rhetoric of HSM studies incorporate multiple, multi-genre, mixed, and/or interdisciplinary research methods to fully account for the HSM portions of the projects. This means that rhetoricians are reading peer-reviewed science and medical journals, visiting gross anatomy labs, participating in online chat rooms in illness communities, and so on. These new topics, virtual and physical spaces, temporalities (ha! academic word!) prompt us to consider new research methods, engage with literatures across disciplines, etc.
  • Visual Rhetoric: Historically, conversations in visual rhetoric have revolved around analyzing images similar to how we analyze texts (as “objects”). I am trying to move this work forward by thinking about how creating and circulating images (the “rhetorical construction,” so to speak) is important to understanding how knowledge is networked and reflexive and other rhetoric words. I don’t know much about this, so I need to go back and engage with this literature. Notably, most studies have been about student writing–ranging from videotaping and photographing student writers to looking at handwriting–and don’t talk much about the making portion or about other kinds of rhetorical studies/topics/objects.
  • Feminist Rhetoric:
    • Historiography: In my opinion, there is/should be a turn towards studying gendered practices instead of recovering individual women for the sake of recovering women in feminist rhetorical studies. Recent feminist historiographies tend to situate HSM issues from the past in the present (re: Robin Jensen’s book, Heather Adams’s dissertation project, etc.). I think that my project responds to a recent concern about how current women (?) rhetors will soon be lost, too, and thus need to be studied as well.
    • Multiple Methods: New topics and time periods call for multiple/new/combined methods!

Visual Ethnography

  • Visual Ethnography: Sarah Pink says that visual ethnography is specifically about learning about people’s ways of knowing vs. learning about people themselves. She argues that visual ethnographic work should be inherently reflexive, making the work more nuanced and preventing some of the previous ethical issues. Visual ethnography can include studying photographs taken by people in their communities, participant-solicited photography, digital imagery, and more. Visual ethnography specifically prioritizes images as main modes of analysis as well as objects of analysis vs. representative of something or having only one meaning. What’s interesting is that what researchers might find to be fruitful/productive/interesting might be different from what participants find to be fruitful/productive/interesting, so I’ll need to account for that in my project.
  • Visual Studies: Long history of incorporating visual work into multiple fields, including anthropology, sociology, and more recently, public health, but visuals were most supplementary and rarely the main means of analysis (vs. the object of analysis)
  • Ethnography: Long history of doing in situ work to learn about people, but in the 1980s and the 1990s, feminists and others argued against the previously lauded “objective” approaches to these studies, which sometimes included observing and writing about people without their knowledge. Recent work aims to limit these kinds of encounters…or at least be honest and reflexive about them.

Health Humanities/Arts-Based Qualitative Research*

  • Health Humanities: Area of study that has been developing since the 1980s. Contention as to whether or not it originated in the medical sphere or in the humanities. Until this point, most studies have prioritized the doctor-patient relationship and have specifically aimed to improve clinical practice. Recently, some scholars have been pushing the “health humanities” name and claiming that it implies an expanded research agenda (i.e. beyond the traditional doctor’s office related hospital spaces), but very few groups have published on it yet. There are some current publications that might fall under health humanities, but they do not necessarily identify as “medical” or “health” humanities even though they incorporate those perspectives.
  • Arts-Based Research: Nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, and public health experts, among others, increasingly turn to mixed and/or humanistic research methods to account for experiences of illness, biomedical encounters, and disability. Recent examples include asking female chemotherapy patients to document their experiences with illness using cameras, using photovoice, art therapy, narrative writing (Pennebaker et al. and more), etc. From what I’ve read, these methods supplement or respond to other methods, but major projects aren’t initiated based off of them. That might be changing, as I just read about an NIH-funded project at Vanderbilt that teaches teens with diabetes to create digital narratives about their illness experiences (or something–I’ll have to re-look it up), but at this point, there isn’t much beyond that.
  • Digital Storytelling: This is probably the biggest unknown at this moment. Digital stories are one of many potential “products” to come from visual ethnographies. What’s significant about products is that it can be hard to figure out which products will serve researchers and participants, honor the participants for their time and effort, and not harm anyone, even inadvertently. I think that I can use my rhetorical/teacher/ish skills to help people make visual and other rhetorical choices about how to arrange, display, and circulate their images and stories. Per the failed NIH grant, some might consider that to be “salting the mine” (i.e. prompting my participants to do something that they think I will like vs. doing something “authentic”), but Sarah Pink pretty much says that everything we do can be authentic if we honestly account for it in our own documentation and write-ups. Digital storytelling might also allow me to engage with my participants in a different way–I might create a digital story, too, and include images that they take of me. Or something. I clearly need to read more about this.

Lyme Disease: A Case Study

  • Multi/cross/inter-disciplinary: Lyme has been consistently studied in biomedical circles (including but not limited to  tick-borne disease groups, rheumatologists, infectious disease specialists, ecologists, animal scientists/biologists, neurologists, cardiologists, mental health experts, and more). This study has created a lot of contradictory data about the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from Lyme. Also, most of these biomedical-oriented studies miss a lot about the human experience of having Lyme Disease, particularly the experience of being misdiagnosed, inappropriately treated, the expense (psychological, economic, and more) of seeking care, etc.
  • Visual: The main “non-subjective” symptom of Lyme is the erythema migrans rash (i.e. the “bull’s-eye), which is only present in about 20% of infected individuals and only present during the early stages of the disease. Compared to CFS, Fibromyalgia, and other chronic, not-completely-understood conditions with ambiguous symptoms, because Lyme has a clear, uncontested visual symptom, it makes it all the more confusing to treat with the visual symptom is not present. Perhaps accordingly, there are four standard-ish Lyme visuals that have nothing to do with ill, suffering, and/or recovering people and thus continue to shift the focus of Lyme from the human experience to the disease ecology (or whatever they’d call it). Images of ticks, Lyme spirochetes, bull’s-eye rashes, and Lyme endemic maps are seemingly unreflexively taken up by the CDC, activist groups, scientists, and more (beginning with the “discovery”/coining of Lyme by Burgdorfer et al. in 1982, as the article included photographs of spirochetes and a map of probable Lyme diagnoses in Connecticut). In turn, allowing Lyme patients to be makers of images will a) perhaps infiltrate the circuit of standard Lyme images, which definitely don’t help anyone with anything (particularly patients seeking care and treatment), and b) allow ill individuals to become authorities in their own health situations, since Lyme patients are often mis/disbelieved for a variety of reasons. Maybe these images will help Lyme patients leverage something–better care? More understanding from confused or skeptical family members? A way to communicate with other suffers and/or the general public?
  • Rhetorical: The contradictory guidelines for diagnosing and treating Lyme Disease are completely rhetorical. Not much has been discovered about Lyme Disease (in terms of scientific studies), but the statistics and “knowledge” about it changes constantly. For instance, the CDC “updated” the number of suspected Lyme cases in the U.S. from 30,000 to 300,000 in May 2015, which is a pretty huge discrepancy. Since no one can even agree on a name for Lyme/its stages (i.e. “Chronic” vs. post-treatment Lyme, etc.), it continues to be a public health concern that can no longer be investigated only via biomedical research methods.
  • Feminist: I’d like to believe that studying historically underrepresented individuals and groups is inherently feminist.
  • Embodied/in situ: I don’t believe that Lyme can only be studied by looking at the discourse. Much like how Latour and Woolgar went to the lab to learn about how research was done, I think that Lyme (and perhaps other health, science, and medical issues and topics) calls for, if nothing else, a multi-method approach. I can learn a lot about Lyme by reading peer-reviewed articles in scientific and medical journals, but I can situate this knowledge in a specific context by studying Lyme activist group websites, visiting support groups, journeying to Lyme, CT to learn about the environment that continues to breed high rates of Lyme, going to Lyme clinics like Hopkins, etc.
  • Reflexive: As a former/current/who knows Lyme patient, I want to account for my research angle and want to make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of my project or answering my research questions.

Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe this digital stuff should go in its own section?

*These are probably separate things, but I’ll parse them out later.



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Digital Storytelling?

As I read Sarah Pink’s groundbreaking text, Doing Visual Ethnography (3rd ed., 2013), I’ve been starting to think about a key question: If I have participants do visual ethnography (i.e. some kind of participant-elicited photography)…what am I going to do with the photographs? Also important: how will I make them meaningful/illuminate their meaning and be ethical in this process? (Luckily, I’m trained in the humanities, so the idea treating research participants like humans and respecting them as such comes very naturally to me. According to Pink, this is not always the case…especially when people try to do creepy shit like film or photograph people without their awareness or consent). I was looking through various starts/stops (i.e. “drafts”) of my prospectus (notes) and saw that I had noted at some point that I thought that having participants create digital stories based on their images would be a contentious, aesthetically pleasing, and possibly useful way to compile and display their images. From what I’ve read so far of Pink’s book, visual ethnography can and SHOULD vary greatly based on the sites and historical moments in which research takes place. Apparently, what counts as “visual ethnography” is rather broad (or at least much more expansive than what I was expecting). It can range from compiling photographs and film that participants have already taken and doing an analysis, researcher as photographer, participant as photographer (I think this is called participant-elicited?), and everything in between. Pink place the most emphasis, however, on having reflexivity be part of the research method, since no research method is ever completely “objective” anyway. This claim assuages my fears about claiming some of the same identity groups as some of my potential participants and the pressure for “objectivity” that often remains present in the social science research I’ve read thus far….

Okay, back to digital storytelling. In short: what if I had my participants “do” visual ethnography with me (I’m thinking that, like any good workshop leader, I’ll also do the study?) as a means of putting together a digital story that might reveal unspoken, invisible, and/or un- or under-recognized experiences (and visuals?) of illness.  I met with Dan yesterday, and he suggested that I put together a very specific (workshop-style, now that I think about it) project trajectory. This might look like:

I ask interview participants, ask them to capture the following images, and then put together a workshop where everyone talks/things/composes their images into a digital story.

  • Week 1: Take 7 photographs of your environment to document how it affects your illness/condition, and do 5 minutes of free-writing about the images and the situation (so that you can remember it).
  • Week 2: Take 7 photographs of your own body (“selfies”?) to document how it affects your illness/condition, and do 5 minutes of free-writing about the images and the situation (so that you can remember it).
  • Week 3: Take 7 photographs of the other people who are part of your illness experience to document how they affect your illness/condition, and do 5 minutes of free-writing about the images and the situation (so that you can remember it).
  • Week 4: Workshop.
  • Week 5: Workshop.
  • Week 6: Workshop.

Now, there’s still a lot of thinking to do about these “tasks.” For instance, what are the ethics of asking my participants to photograph other people as part of their story? Do I need to consent ALL of these people? This makes me think about Jen’s forthcoming book chapter in which she talks about how, for rhetorical research methods in situ, vulnerable subjects are relative based on the specific situation and environment.

What’s on my side, I think, is that (according to my google scholar investigations), there have been many successful (i.e. IRB approved) studies that have used visual ethnography to study health and medicine. (Barbara Harrison’s 2002 review article, “Seeing health and illness worlds – using visual methodologies in a sociology of health and illness: a methodological review” has given me a lot of confidence). The two paragraphs below, drawn from the introduction to “Visualizing harm reduction: Methodological and ethical considerations,” a 2015 article by Switzer et al. from Social Science and Medicine, have also proved to be exceptionally helpful. I think this is one of the key *conversations* that I’d like to join!

The use of visual methods is becoming increasingly common and accepted in health research (Fraser and al Sayah, 2011 and Mitchell, 2011). Photography has emerged as a particularly popular visual medium wherein researchers use images to elicit conversation with/or amongst participants; as data artefacts ripe for analysis; as a way of documenting the research process; and/or as a dissemination tool (Weber, 2008). Photography has been used in health intervention research (Shinebourne and Smith, 2011), clinical nursing research (Riley and Manias, 2004); epidemiological research (Cannuscio et al., 2009); and community-based participatory research (CBPR) (Catalani and Minkler, 2010). However, how and why health researchers use photography varies significantly depending on the study, context, and disciplinary frames of the researchers. While there are a number of source books documenting different ways of selecting a visual method (Knowles and Cole, 2008, Margolis and Pauwels, 2011 and Rose, 2012), literature merging both theoretical and applied approaches to visual methods in community-based health research is limited (for a notable exception see Castleden et al. (2008) and Drew and Guillemin (2014)), especially when it comes to CBPR in clinical spaces. Systematic reviews on arts-based methods in health research (Boydell et al., 2012, Catalani and Minkler, 2010 and Fraser and al Sayah, 2011) have noted that researchers employing visual or arts-based methods often fail to describe how they arrived at methodological decisions, leading to a field that Fraser and al Sayah describe as lacking “theoretical clarity.” Similarly, as Mitchell (2011) explains in a chapter onlooking at looking, studies using visual methods most often report on the “products” of research or the stories embedded in the art work (e.g., this is what the photos show us) however, community-based visual researchers should be encouraged to examine the way participants engage with photographs, or the act of photography itself, especially in the context of HIV CBPR where the principles of meaningful community engagement are paramount ( Flicker et al., 2008 and Israel et al., 1998).

This paper explores the opportunities and constraints of using photo-based methods in the context of a CBPR study on how to engage people living with HIV (PLHIV) in conversations about a hospital’s recently introduced harm reduction policy. We discuss our team’s process of selecting, implementing and modifying photovoice – a method in which participants are given cameras and asked to identify and represent issues and solutions in their community – with photo-elicited interviews. In particular, we reflect on key methodological insights from the study to think through the process of doing photo-based work on a stigmatized topic in a small hospital setting. We begin with a description of the research study and setting, a sub-acute HIV hospital in Toronto, Canada; our initial rationale for selecting photovoice as a methodology; and our subsequent adaptations to meet both study- and importantly, community-needs. We foreground the opportunities and constraints of engaging with photo-based methods in our study by highlighting the following: 1) how the act of taking photos assisted participants in visualizing connections between space, harm reduction, and substance use; 2) expectations of participation and navigating daily health realities; 3) issues of confidentiality, anonymity and stigma in clinical settings. Together, these methodological insights allow us to re-think issues of context when applying photography in health research. Rather than viewing context as a neutral backdrop to apply a method (are arts-based methods appropriate?), context should be viewed as an active force in shaping what can or cannot be done or produced within the space (Duff, 2007). These reflections respond to a call by Castleden et al. (2008) for researchers to thoroughly explain how and why visual methods were selected and implemented so that visual methods can be assessed for rigor.


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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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Reflections: Diving into the Wreck

I submitted my Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (!) mid-last week. I’m relieved to have turned it in, and I’m excited to move forward now that I’ve sorted out some ideas about my potential dissertation project. Here are some brief reflections:

1. Diving into the unknown is scary.

That’s the point of this particular fellowship, of course–to learn a new research method that might reveal compelling things about your existing topic. Yet planning how I might do so was MUCH harder than I anticipated. I transitioned from knowing exactly what I was doing–rhetorical analysis of health and medical texts (popular and scientific)–to speaking to discourse communities that are completely new to me: visual rhetoric, visual ethnography, social science methods, etc. I was constantly using Google Scholar to find the most heavily cited texts in these fields just to get a taste of what’s going on there. For so long, I’ve pretty much ignored visuals (particularly ones about/for Lyme Disease because they seemed so generic). As Adrienne Rich writes, “The words are purposes./The words are maps.” But now there are also physical maps to consider…and who knows what they mean or if they matter?

Regardless, I did come to an important conclusion: tracing the evolving discourses alone wasn’t doing it for me. At first, I worried that I was a having a millennial moment where I was temporarily bored or stumped by my research and thus needed to immediately jump to what appeared to be the next best thing. And yet I think that studying visuals (and perhaps design) in rhetoric of health and medicine is a fruitful possibility for pushing scholarship forward. I think that we miss out on a lot by only focusing on alphabetic text. Perhaps this is related to J. Blake Scott’s rhetorical-cultural analysis, which (roughly speaking) applies a cultural studies lens to science to help us more effectively figure out what it’s doing and how it is functioning in the world. Many people have made visual arguments about print documents, ranging from Latour and Woolgar writing about how small mammals in a lab get translated into a graph that is then dropped into a text (which disconnects it completely from the original mammals themselves) to health communication scholars analyzing how the design of disease pamphlets impact patients. In turn, I have to figure out what I want and where I fit in. (OR, better yet, what the research tells me).

2. The best research questions are one that you can’t already answer. 

As #TeamRhetoric discussed during last week’s writing group, our students often only want to pose research questions to which they already know the answer: How does caffeine affect the body? What do CT scans do? Maybe what I mean is that these answers become obvious through just a little bit of research–no digging, just aimless Google-ing. Along with everyone else, I already know that Lyme Disease is controversial. It doesn’t take much work to google IDSA vs. ILADS or “lyme disease diagnosis guidelines” before you figure out that there are opposing camps about diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. However, I have absolutely no idea what the standard and patient-generated images of Lyme Disease mean or do–if they have any impact at all. My wonderful boyfriend thinks that I’m trying to investigate something unworthy of investigation–that, by researching the standardization of these images and the history of circulation, I’m trying to make something out of nothing. He’s right that there is a distinct possibility that this project might not generate anything at all. (Though isn’t that a risk with  most research endeavors?) It also might generate something completely different from what I expected. Jen and I kind of laughed at Jason’s suggestion to write my entire dissertation about how to use visual ethnography as a research methods for doing rhetoric of health and medicine scholarship. The project would then be a case study/experiment (as if all projects aren’t really experiments…) that would truly try out something new vs. recovering and restating existing information from a new angle. (Or maybe it would reveal the same things as rhetorical analysis via discourse? Hmmm).

I guess we’ll see what happens? For now, it’s time for me to shower and prepare for an appointment with my new rheumatologist….


We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.
--Adrienne Rich, "Diving into the Wreck" (1973)
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