Doctor of Philosophy
As the Internet has increasingly transformed patients’ engagement with health information, scholars in the rhetoric of health and medicine have shifted their attention to understanding how everyday health practices rhetorically shape the complex identities of patients, as well as the decisions they make in healthcare settings (Arduser, 2011; Bivens et al., 2018; Bellwoar, 2012; Hensley Owens, 2011; DeHertogh, 2015; Segal, 2009). This scholarship complicates traditional notions of agency, expertise, and empowerment in writing studies by effectively demonstrating how patients develop health practices that are embodied, technological, and rhetorical; individuals often navigate varying levels of complex information from both institutional and online sources and combine that information with their own lived experience to make more meaningful health decisions (Arduser, 2017). However, research that documents how patients’ practices affect overall health outcomes is still relatively new, and much of this work to date has focused on the individual’s ability to navigate information in order to make decisions. This choice has been made intentionally in order to avoid building theories that problematically minimize the differences between patients; however, it may not fully capture the type of collective, networked agency that can manifest within communities to spur greater social change in medicine. This project builds on previous scholarship in online health communication by interrogating how patients not only individually build embodied health practices, but also network collectively with others to disrupt top-down approaches to medical decision-making. This dissertation analyzes 320 discussion board posts, 84 published patient narratives, 30 surveys, and 10 semi-structured interviews within one health community for Asherman syndrome, a rare illness that develops after surgical intervention for C-section or miscarriage. While this online group represents a rather small community, the overall influence it has on members and their treatment decisions makes it a compelling case study for rhetoricians interested in building theories from patients’ unique, embodied experiences. Throughout this dissertation, I argue that a methodological focus on feminist materialist theories can help scholars examine how online communities work together for change, while also accounting for the many human/nonhuman entanglements and embodied differences present within heterogeneous groups.
Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest
Embargoed until 4/17/2025
Cameron, Shanna L., "Assemblages of Activism: Agency, Expertise, and Empowerment in an Online Health Community" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 3128.
Available for download on Thursday, April 17, 2025