Derkatch and Spoel

Chapter 1 Health Humanities as an Interdisciplinary Intervention: Constitutive Rhetoric, Genre, and Health Citizenship

Colleen Derkatch and Philippa Spoel

What is the most important takeaway from your chapter?

In our chapter, we situate RHM as an exemplar of a health humanities field rooted in a set of vibrant and rigorous research disciplines with their own generative theoretical frameworks and methodologies. While “health humanities” is often interpreted as enriching medical education and practice through the arts, we argue that RHM scholarship illustrates how the research disciplines that comprise the humanities advance knowledge about health and health care unavailable through other means. Research in RHM is therefore not ancillary to other methods of health research, examining the “softer” side of medicine, but makes possible distinctive lines of inquiry about health and health care by investigating the symbolic means through which individuals and groups are induced toward certain beliefs and actions and away from others. We illustrate through the example of rhetoric that humanities-based research on health produces knowledge in its own right, even—and, for us, especially—outside the walls of hospitals and clinics.

If you were making discussion questions for students (advanced undergraduates or early graduate students) to go along with your chapter, what would they be? 

Where did the belief that the humanities are “humanizing” come from? How might this belief be helpful? And how might it be harmful?

  • One possible reason for the distance that sometimes exists between research in the health humanities and humanities research more broadly is that scholars in health humanities are often housed in medical schools or other health-professions training programs rather than traditional academic humanities departments. What other reasons can you think of for why the health humanities remains somewhat separate from other humanities programs and departments?
  • Judy Segal (2009) argues that RHM is particularly good at answering questions that are conceptually prior to questions usually asked by other health researchers. As we explain in our chapter, one of the “prior” questions guiding our own research is how public discourse about food and food activism instantiates values about what it means to be a good health citizen. What other prior questions can RHM research address in health and medicine?

What questions do you feel your chapter leaves un-examined or where would you go with it next?

One question we would love to explore related to our chapter is how health humanities research as it is practiced in both health/medical programs and in traditional academic humanities departments could be more effectively integrated. How, for instance, could an RHM scholar be embedded in health professions education even while housed in an academic humanities department? 

Is there anything that you want those new to the field to know about RHM?

RHM is a big tent and many researchers in that tent sit at the intersections of various fields. We all take a wide range of approaches in our research and no one scholar can be expert in them all. Doing research in RHM therefore partly means becoming comfortable with discomfort, with always working to a certain extent outside our areas of expertise. For a given project, we may need to understand highly technical medical or scientific material, or work with materials that we are unsure how to approach; this is just the nature of the field, which is both exciting and sometimes daunting. Fortunately, the field is also highly collegial, which means that there are always others ready to provide encouragement and guidance as we each pursue our particular research interests.



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