Hannah And Salmon

Chapter 7 Rerouting Stigma: Leading with Law in Mental Health Rhetoric Research

Mark A. Hannah and Susie Salmon

What is the most important takeaway from your chapter? 

Rhetorical scholars can have a role in changing the legal and public discourse on the insanity defense—and on the contours of the defense itself—by collaborating with lawyers, amicus organizations, and mental health organizations. Impact litigation, in particular, presents intervention opportunities for the rhetoric scholar to craft and deploy rhetorical support for presenting arguments that simultaneously combat stigmas perpetuated by insanity defenses and support a criminal defendant’s claim of diminished culpability. 

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

What preconceptions do you have (or do you think the general public has) about the insanity defense and the role it plays in the criminal justice system? Do you think the defense should exist? Why or why not? 

What preconceptions do you have (or do you think the general public has) about individuals who assert the insanity defense?  

How does the very existence of the insanity defense create stigma for those mentally disabled individuals entering the criminal justice system? 

How might rhetoric help to mitigate that stigma? 

What barriers might a rhetorical scholar face in collaborating with lawyers and others in strategic litigation? How might a rhetorical scholar’s goals and a lawyer’s objectives diverge? 

At which phase of strategic litigation do you think a rhetorical scholar can make the most impact? How and why? 

Can you think of other areas in which rhetorical scholars might collaborate with lawyers to mitigate mental-health-related stigma? 

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

Beyond criminal law, are there other areas of law in which rhetorical scholars might collaborate with lawyers to mitigate mental-health stigma? 

To develop an applied example, we next would examine our proposed intervention strategy in a case study of a contemporary insanity defense plea. 

Is there anything that you want those considering doing work in MHR to know? 

Rhetors do not need formal legal expertise to do this work, as their existing literacies and skill sets are sufficient for developing successful interventions. As noted in the chapter, the biggest barrier to doing this work is rhetors successfully “making the case” about their expertise to their collaborators, and rhetors need to be mindful of how the ways they talk about their work and related expertise preshapes the opportunity space in which the intervention work will occur.   

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