Scholars Gone Wild: Tall Tales of Medical Rhetoric at RSA


This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Medical Rhetoric workshop at the summer institute for the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) at RPI. Aside from enjoying the cool weather in the mountains of New York (particularly lovely compared to this current blasted heat wave), I spent an intensive three days exploring various conceptions and applications of, and opportunities in, medical rhetoric. Professors Ellen Barton (Wayne State University) and Sue Wells (Temple University) facilitated the workshop, and attendees included a mix of graduate students (MA and PhD) and relatively new faculty from around the country. With about fifteen participants, ours was the biggest workshop at the conference. We also proved to be the most cohesive group, continuing our conversations (academic and otherwise) through breaks, meals, and a memorable dinner cruise on the Hudson. Combine academicians, free drinks, and a DJ, and the results are, well, as I overheard the next morning, “about what you’d expect.” Though we, er, “jammed” to “Bad Case of Loving You,” sadly, no one caught the med rhetors’ sense of humor (“doctor, doctor, give me the news…”).

Back to the important details. Prior to the workshop, we received numerous and varied readings from journals such as Philosophy and Rhetoric, Medical Education, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Narrative, and Qualitative Health Research. During the first two days, Professors Barton and Wells led us in discussing the history of med rhet, means of discovering and developing relevant research questions, and specific research methods, such as discourse analysis and archival research. I was particularly drawn to Wells’ work in archival research, especially as I had just finished a fantastic seminar class on theories of archives (RCID 813, The Archive, with Professor Catherine Paul). On Sunday morning (our last meeting time), we each had the opportunity to present our own research, orally and through written proposals, and receive feedback from the group. These projects varied from the undeveloped (vague areas of interest), to works-in-progress (books, dissertations), to further development of research agendas and completed projects (i.e., where to go next?). [I presented my in-progress dissertation, tentatively titled “Composing the Prosthetic Body: Sampling and Remixing Constructions of Flesh and Technology.” Though more theoretically based than others’ work, it was well-received.] We also developed a collection of publication places–a list of journals and publishers that/who are especially interested in different aspects of research in medical rhetoric.

Though I spent nearly as much time driving to and from SC and NY as I did in the workshop (okay, a slight exaggeration), this opportunity was extremely worthwhile. Academically, this solidified and expanded my understanding of the field of medical rhetoric, and inspired several brainstorms of potential future projects. Additionally, I walked away with great resources–the aforementioned publication list as well as bibliographies for medical rhetoric, medical communication, ethics, and research methods. But perhaps most importantly, as is often the case, the personal interactions were the most substantial gain of all. This was an excellent networking opportunity, of course, but more than that, I was inspired by this group of (chronologically and/or experientially) young scholars, guided by our encouraging and notable leaders. These scholars are the next generation of the field, and I look forward to seeing where their/our research leads. I strongly recommend, should the opportunity arise, attending a conference or workshop with a specific focus of your own area of interest. If anyone would like more details on this workshop, contact me at

~ Amanda Booher



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