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2019 Special Issue on the
“Rhetoric of Public Health”

This issue is scheduled for 2019. Please email 500-1000 word proposals
(word count does not include citations) to by
December 11, 2017.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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