CFP: “Rhetoric of Public Health”

CFP: Rhetoric of Health and Medicine
2019 Special Issue on the
“Rhetoric of Public Health”
Public health, a widely encompassing term often used to describe ways that various stakeholders communicate about and respond to issues of health that effect large populations, tends to be centered on concerns about prevention, containment, empowerment, and advocacy in relation to disease. Increased public framing of health and medical issues has, more recently, solicited the attention of a specialized subset within the broader discipline of rhetoric. From a rhetorical standpoint, the “public” of public health can be understood as an increasingly complex and discursively constructed concept, not simply a descriptor of a target audience. Scholars working in the interdisciplinary field of Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (RHM) have begun to examine how publics challenge, support, and engage biomedical/health knowledge and practice. In doing so, a small but growing body of literature now theorizes publics as a distinct type of health community that is equipped with rhetorical tenacity.[i] The 2019 special issue of Rhetoric of Health and Medicine will extend and perhaps complicate this ongoing line of inquiry to demonstrate the value of rhetorical study for understanding and contributing to public health. This special issue of the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine seeks to build on previous work around “publics”[ii] to inaugurate a research trajectory for scholars invested in the public nature of health specifically.
The network of meaning and actions associated with the conceptualization and management of disease and wellbeing across populations, borders, and histories are what might be called the rhetoric of public health. “Rhetoric of” signifies a specific approach to the study of public health whereby scholars use a rhetorical stance—both as analytic and productive framework—to engage with broader theoretical and ethical concerns about current public health practices and the language, persuasion, power, and circulation used to enact those practices. Public health communication, policies, and practices take place in the communities and locations where people live, work, and play.  Issues in public health readily traverse national, cultural, and political divides. To do the work of public health requires a multitude of discourses—verbal, aural, visual, multimodal—delivered in any number of ways—print, online, door-to-door, community meetings, mobile—across a variety of stakeholders where the value of public health depends on the persuasive aspects and the effectiveness of those discourses and approaches.
A rhetorical orientation toward the study, practices, and communication of public health emphasizes how discursive-material forms of persuasion help to create, organize, ameliorate, challenge and fragment, those public health realities. Thus, the rhetoric of public health is principally concerned with gaining a better understanding of the conceptualization and articulation of public health as a capacious site that includes different kinds of discourses that are framed by public health exigencies and audiences.
In addition to documenting the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of public health management across time, space, and place, contributions to this issue will directly investigate how communal realties of contemporary health citizenship expand and complicate publics theorizing for the discipline of rhetoric more generally. In an effort to speak to the actors, practices, and institutions of Public Health more directly, each contribution will also offer commentary on the ways rhetorical theory illuminates, problematizes, and ideally improves the health of various publics.
The overarching goal of this special issue will be to answer timely and important questions, such as:
Publics Theorizing
·      How can/should the ‘public’ of Public Health be theorized?
·      How do the ‘publics’ of Public Health compare to the notion of medical publics, health citizens, and other concepts as they have been employed in RHM theorizing?
·      How do communal realties of contemporary health citizenship expand and complicate publics theorizing for the discipline of rhetoric more generally?
Public Health Partnerships
·      What opportunities exist for RHM to interface with stakeholders working in Public Health? What methodologies might we employ to do so?
·      How might RHM better influence the status of public health as a set of institutional practices?
·      To which specific local and global populations can/should/does RHM work speak and why?
Problem Solving
·      How can RHM findings inform public health policies and practices?
·      What value does RHM scholarship contribute to the management of public health dilemmas, specifically?
·      How can RHM scholarship improve efforts to communicate about specific public health issues in a manner that advances the status of public health participation overall?
Public Communication and Health Literacy
·      How does persuasive communication about public health effectively circulate across space, time, and audience?
·      How can RHM scholarship enhance abilities for various stakeholders to better interpret public health messaging and act accordingly?
·      How can RHM scholars intervene into discussions concerning health literacy and publics in ways that move past readability scores, checklists, and assessments?
Consider these questions as starting points because additional ideas and angles are welcome.
This special issue will be co-edited by guest editor, Jennifer Malkowski and RHM editor Lisa Meloncon. Special issue manuscripts will undergo the same review process as regular submissions.
This issue is scheduled for 2019. Please email 500-1000 word proposals (word count does not include citations) to by December 11, 2017.
Completed manuscripts for accepted proposals will be due April 2, 2018.
Questions via email from potential contributors are welcome and encouraged to Jennifer Malkowski (
[i] Keränen, Lisa B. (Ed.). (2014). Medicine, health and publics. Special Issue of the Journal of Medical Humanities, 35, 103-239.
[ii] Ackerman, John M., & Coogan, David J. (2010). The public work of rhetoric: citizen-scholars and civic engagement. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Asen, Robert. (2010). Reflections on the role of rhetoric in public policy. Special Issue of Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 13, 1-143.
Hauser, Gerard A. (1999). Vernacular voices: The rhetorics of publics and public spheres. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.
Keränen, Lisa B. (Ed.). (2014). Medicine, health and publics. Special Issue of the Journal of Medical Humanities, 35, 103-239.