Collaborative Paths and Contexts: An Introduction to the Special Issue on Rhetoric of Medical and Health Policy

AuthorBonnie Stabile,Heidi Y. Lawrence
Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
doi: 10.1002/wmh3.316
© 2019 Policy Studies Organization
Collaborative Paths and Contexts: An Introduction to the
Special Issue on Rhetoric of Medical and Health Policy
Heidi Y. Lawrence and Bonnie Stabile
Rhetoric and policy are in many ways complementary disciplines. Rhetoric, as
the art of civic discourse, is inherently concerned with the questions and disputes of
the public sphere. Rooted in deliberative, democratic traditions of the classical era,
rhetoric is, at its origin, the practice of understanding how language makeschange in
the worldarguing for and against new laws, shaping outcomes of public debates,
and articulating cultural values and mores. The subdiscipline of the rhetorics of
health and medicine (RHM), then, follows questions about language use as it relates
to medical spaces, health practices, and related decision making. RHM is most
succinctly defined by Amy Reed, who describes it as work that examines language
about health and medicine as produced by rhetors with limited agency; used by
particular audiences, who may or may not share the intentions, values, beliefs, or
practices of the rhetor; and reflecting and constituting ideology(Reed, 2018, p. 191).
Following from this definition, RHM work has a long tradition of studying a wide
language mediates health and medical experiences. Work in this field has studied how
medical practices and discourses characterize and shape physiciansperceptions of their
patients and their diseases (Keränen, 2010; Scott, 2014; Segal, 2008); how communication
practices shape patient knowledge about diagnosis and prognosis (Barton, 2004; Teston,
); the roles that medical practices at various historic moments (from lobotomy to genetic
testing)play in patient lives and society (Happe, 2016; Johnson, 2015; Pender, 2018);and
how public controversies impact medicine, health, and science (Ceccarelli, 2011; Ko-
lodziejski, 2014; Lawrence, Hausman, & Dannenberg, 2014). Methodologically and
theoretically, RHM relies primarily on qualitative research and hermeneutic,
interpretative approaches to the texts, discourses, and artifacts under study.
Scholarship in policy pairs productively with the ends of RHM, potentially
extending rhetorical analyses into realworld acts and implications. Goals of research in
policy include establishing and assessing the social and material effects of policies as
they impact populations; understanding historic precedents and trajectories of policy
interventions; and examining how policies may create inequitable outcomes for
particular groups, all with a goal of improving health outcomes and the publicshealth.

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