Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Ryan, Susan

Committee Member

Kirsch, Gesa

Author's Keywords

chronic illness; rhetoric of health and medicine; expertise; rhetorical disability; embodied knowledge; gender


This dissertation project emerges at a cultural moment when diagnoses of chronic illness are increasing, and heightened attention is being paid to gendered medical bias and chronically ill women’s negative experiences both within and outside of the medical system. Analysis of personal narratives written by women and nonbinary people with chronic illnesses revealed deeply entrenched cultural logics related to health and gender and the significant affective and material consequences for the mobilization of those logics. Chapter One of the dissertation describes the exigence of the project in more detail, provides a robust overview of the dissertation’s methods, and reviews related literature in the rhetoric of health and medicine. In Chapter Two, I argue that everyday conversational moves, such as providing unsolicited medical advice, both reveal and reinforce epistemically harmful cultural logics, which can be interrupted by practices of rhetorical listening. Chapter Three uncovers how the cultural logics identified in Chapter Two rhetorically construct a "normal patient”—a trope that creates a rhetorically disabling environment for patients who do not align with it. Chapter Four argues that, because of the “normal patient” ideal, embodied experiences and other nondominant knowledge-making practices are not considered legitimate in medical settings; this imbalance can be harmful for marginalized patients, so I call for a negotiated understanding of expertise in clinical settings that embraces the variance inherent in chronic illness. To conclude, Chapter Five discusses the rise and perception of long COVID and provides an overview of future research directions.