Chronic Illness Communication & the Rhetoric of Materiality 

Affecting nearly one half of all US adults and claiming 7 of 10 leading causes of deaths, chronic illness are an incredibly pressing concern in the US and elsewhere across the globe. While medical and scientific experts work at epidemiological, biological, and even social causes of these conditions, I am interested in exploring the challenges, triumphs, and peculiarities of communication about and surrounding chronic illness. Specifically, this project examines communication (both human and nonhuman) surrounding Inflammatory Bowel Disease and one its associated medical technologies–the ostomy pouch. Making IBD communication even more challenging is its “invisibility.” That is, IBD is not something that can be seen by the naked eye; it is an internal disease, whose symptoms are often hidden by those suffering from it. Taking IBD and ostomies as my case, I am working not only working to theorize about materiality and the role of dualistic thinking (e.g., divisions between mind and body, human and nonhuman, natural and technological), but I aim to uncover insight that will improve and empower those with IBD and with chronic illnesses more broadly.

Actor Network Theory 2.0: The Problem of Prescription Drug Labeling 

In the United States, 61 percent of adults take at least one prescription drug daily. More strikingly, 25 percent take at least four (Squires, 2011, p.3). Accompanying all prescriptions filled in the US is the prescription drug label or PDL. Unfortunately, a wealth of scholarship has demonstrated that patients either 1) disregard the label entirely or 2) struggle to read and understand the dense, technical information within the PDL. This project examines PDLs via actor-network theory, demonstrating not only that the problem of PDLs is not one of patient deficit, but also that current appropriation of actor-network theory in technical communication requires a more nuanced revision. Even more, the second phase of this project features preliminary usability testing of prescription drug labeling to explore the ways in which users interact, if at all, with PDLs, and to identify useful and sustainable solutions to the challenges that accompany PDLs.