Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Brueggemann, Brenda

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Clukey, Amy

Committee Member

Price, Margaret

Author's Keywords

rhetoric; medicine; psychiatry; online writing; mental health


“Articulating the New Normal(s): Mental Disability, Medical Discourse, and Rhetorical Action” studies the writing of people diagnosed with autism and post- traumatic stress disorder within online discussion boards related to mental health and outlines their unique rhetorical strategies for interacting with biomedical ideologies of psychiatry and activist discourses. The opening chapter situates this dissertation in relation to previous scholarship in Rhetoric, Disability Studies, and other fields. I also provide a summary of the set of mixed methods I use to gather and analyze my data, including rhetorical analysis, corpus analysis, and qualitative interviews. In Chapter 2, “Medical Terminology and Discourse Features of Online Discussions of Mental Health,” I explore the ways in which medical discourse appears in discussions of mental disability through medical terms that writers and speakers use when discussing a diagnosis. Using methods borrowed from linguistics, I demonstrate that the writers in my study make different linguistic choices than the general public, and that the most prominent differences are related to the social construction of mental health and medicine. In Chapter 3, “Inhabiting Biological Primacy with Chiasmic Rhetoric in Mental Health Forums,” I describe and analyze a variety of common topics in online conversations that connect mental health and expert knowledge of the brain. I argue that this connection of mental experience and brain science constitutes a chiasmic rhetoric. The writers foregrounded in this chapter acknowledge and accept much of the claims of medicine and neuroscience regarding the brain but, uniquely, work to divide that knowledge from the path of normativity and optimization. Chapter 4, “Classified Conversations: Psychiatry and Technical Communication in Online Spaces,” examines the practices of participants in online mental health discussion forums conversations as they interpret technical documents. I detail four salient forms of the manipulation of medical discourse in online communities. At the close of this chapter, I explain how these insights can inform academic study of writing in mental health contexts and transform the content and application of medical and technical texts. In Chapter 5, “Re-Forming Mental Health: Rhetorical Innovation and the Language of Advocacy,” I summarize and synthesize the core arguments of earlier chapters, with an extended caveat regarding the ethical dilemmas of this study. Finally, I offer a set of practical recommendations for different communities with which my research has been conversant, the fields of Rhetoric and Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, Disability Studies, and activism related to mental disabilities.

Included in

Rhetoric Commons