English 509A: Rhetoric of Health and Medicine

Instructor: Judy Segal
Section: 001

Term: 1
Meets: Thursdays 2:00-5:00pm

Rhetoric, broadly defined by its interest in the persuasive element in human action and interaction, has a lot to offer critical studies of health and medicine.  This course concerns itself, in the first instance, with the contributions rhetorical theorists and critics have made to Medicine Studies (an interdiscipline on the model of Science and Technology Studies: Medicine Studies mobilizes theories and methods from the social sciences and humanities to examine medicine as a human practice and as both a culture in itself and situated in larger cultures). Rhetoricians of health and medicine have taken up a range of questions: How do disease categories function persuasively in the public realm (Emmons)? How are women persuaded to breastfeed—or not to (Koerber)?  What are the discursive practices through which midwifery is made legitimate—or isn’t (Spoel)?  Moreover, the course will concern itself with rhetorically-inflected writings outside of Rhetoric itself, as scholars in a number of disciplines have taken up questions of persuasion. From Women’s Studies and Psychology, Eunjung Kim poses questions about discursive habits that pathologize asexuality.  From Psychiatry, Jonathan Metzl argues that health itself is a construct with worrying rhetorical force.  From Sexuality Studies, Kristina Gupta looks at representations of sex as a health-promotion activity.  From Medicine, Abraham Fuks warns about common metaphors in clinical practice.

This course will survey articles and book chapters, inside Rhetoric and outside of it, to outline a program for the study of persuasion in Medicine Studies.  At the same time, it will explore rubrics other than Medicine Studies under which scholars in the humanities and social sciences have worked on health and medical topics—including, especially, Medical Humanities, Disability Studies, and Narrative Medicine.

Kimberly Emmons, excerpt from Black Dog and Blue Words (2010)
Amy Koerber “Rhetorical Agency, Resistance, and the Disciplinary Rhetorics of Breastfeeding.” (2006)
Philippa Spoel, “A Feminist Rhetorical Perspective on Informed Choice in Midwifery” (forthcoming)
Eunjung Kim, “How Much Sex is Healthy: The Pleasures of Asexuality” (2010)
Jonathan Metzl, “Why ‘Against Health’?”  (2010)
Kristina Gupta, “’Screw Health’: Representations of Sex as a Health-Promoting Activity in Medical and Popular Literature” (2011)
Abraham Fuks, “Healing, Wounding, and the Language of Medicine” (2011)

Plus selections from these books and more:
Jeremy Greene, Prescribed: Writing, Filling, Using, and Abusing the Prescription in Modern America (forthcoming)
Tom Hutchinson, ed., Whole Person Care: A New Paradigm for the 21st Century (2011)
Karla Holloway, Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics (2011)