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Theory Building in the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine

Workshop Leaders:

Blake Scott, University of Central Florida
Jeff Bennett, University of Iowa
Jenell Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Through its engagement with a range of disciplinary traditions, cultural domains, and rhetorical practices, the field of rhetorical studies has developed an expansive set of strategies for building theory. At the same time, theory building is often viewed by rhetoricians as a secondary purpose, and those outside of our field have not always recognized our theories as useful “tools to think with.” This workshop will take up the challenge of theory building, situating it in rhetorical studies of health and medicine and asking the following questions: What counts as rhetorical theory? What are the exigencies, aims, and ideological commitments of theory building? What methodologies have rhetoricians of health and medicine used for theory building? What new methodologies might be constructed? What can rhetorical theory contribute to the study and practice of health and medicine? How can we determine whether theories are sufficiently novel, useful, or good? What does it mean to “import” and “export” theory from/to other fields of study or areas of practice?

Focusing on rhetorical studies of health and medicine will enable participants to explore specific ways that rhetorical theory might develop from and, in turn, inflect a particular realm of high-stakes discourse and practice. Because healthcare practices are studied and understood quite differently by their various stakeholders, they provide rhetoricians with a fruitful ground for comparing theory-building methodologies and identifying potential applications and benefits of emergent concepts. Workshop participants will read and discuss examples of theory building (from empirical to critical-cultural) in rhetorical studies of health and medicine, work through some extended cases together, and develop additional theory building opportunities and strategies in their own research-in-progress. This latter effort will involve identifying potential contributions to rhetorical studies, the specific health/medical practices under study, as well as adjacent fields and disciplines. Finally, participants will collectively curate a set of resources for theory building on a website that will continue to build scholarly community among rhetorical scholars of health and medicine.

Questions should be directed to Blake Scott,