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Workshop 2: Rhetorics of Risk and Public Health

Primarily Asynchronous (June 1-4)

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Workshop Leaders:

Jeffrey Bennett, Vanderbilt University:
Jordynn Jack, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:

Scholarly investigations into the rhetoric of health and medicine have proliferated in the last decade, being catalyzed by myriad factors that include national debates over healthcare, the diversification of science and medicine, activist retorts to government institutions, and vernacular appropriations of scientific nomenclature, among others. In the academy these changes have been accompanied by new sets of ethical and political questions that both guide research and influence pedagogical practices. Humanists, in particular, have crafted novel heuristics that query everything from the constitution of generalizable knowledge to the methodological practices that direct research to the biopolitical dynamics that shape public policy.

This workshop explores one strand of the rhetoric of health and medicine: the relationship between risk and public health. The group will explore the ways risk is imagined in public culture, looking to the tensions that frequently exist between discourses of the collective good and those that accentuate personal responsibility. As the COVID-19 crisis illustrates, risks to public health often demand institutional interference, collective commitment, and personal sacrifice. In doing so, such crises also provoke a wealth of questions about access, framing, relationality, racism, ethics of care, and transnational rhetorics. If the management of risk preoccupies itself with attending to the hazards and insecurities that await us in the future, it is imperative to engage the meaning-making processes that generate a sense of biopolitical security, collective resistance, and new ways of being in the world.

Authors both inside the rhetorical tradition and those occupying cognate fields will make appearances on the reading list for this seminar. They include thinkers such as Ulrich Beck, Eula Biss, Huiling Ding, Marina Levina, Blake Scott, and Priscilla Wald, and Sharon Yam. We anticipate that the format of the workshop will be structured around collaborative projects and collective intelligence, with the goal of producing academic and/or public-facing scholarship.

Jeff Bennett Jeff Bennett is associate professor of Communication Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His research interests tend to rest at the intersection of the rhetoric of health and medicine and LGBTQ studies. He is the author of two books, Managing Diabetes: The Cultural Politics of Disease (NYU 2019) and Banning Queer Blood: Rhetorics of Citizenship, Contagion, and Resistance (Alabama 2009). His work has also appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Journal of Medical Humanities, and QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, among others.


Jordynn Jack Jordynn Jack is professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she directs the Writing Program and teaches courses in rhetorical theory, rhetoric of science, women’s rhetorics, writing in the natural sciences, and composition. Her scholarly work focuses on the rhetoric of science, women’s rhetorics, and genre. She is the author of Science on the Home Front: American Women Scientists in World War II (University of Illinois Press, 2009) and Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks (University of Illinois Press, 2014), How Writing Works (Oxford, 2016), Raveling the Brain: Toward a Transdisciplinary Neurorhetoric (Ohio State University Press, 2019), and an edited collection, Neurorhetorics (Routledge, 2012). Her articles have appeared in College English, College Composition and Communication, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Rhetoric Review, Quarterly Journal of Speech, and Women’s Studies in Communication.

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