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CfP: Rhetorics of Health and Illness: (Dis-)Continuous Minds, Bodies, and Narratives


Rhetorics of Health and Illness: (Dis-)Continuous Minds, Bodies, and Narratives

29 June 2018, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC)


Medical practice primarily aims to preserve or restore the patient’s bodily and mental integrity. Discontinuity, in this context, is an ailment and a deficiency. Yet, designating a mind or body as broken implies judgment and standards of normativity. As research on identity has established, selves and lives are neither linear nor unified, and fields such as medical anthropology, critical disability studies, and trauma studies have contributed to bringing the physical and psychological rifts and ruptures in the self to the center of research. From a different theoretical background, poststructuralist accounts of subjectivity and language theorize the self as multiple, refracted, relational, and uncertain. Cultural productions with a generic focus on the self have shifted from traditional autobiography’s linear life narratives, to forms emphasizing physical, mental, and biographical discontinuity.

In this workshop, we want to look at the rhetorics of health and illness in self-narration. We are interested specifically in ways in which (dis)continuity is emphasized at the level of structure, syntax, and through choice of words. The burgeoning field of medical humanities explores, amongst other things, how medicine and narrative are inextricably linked. We want to ask specifically how and in which contexts minds and bodies are represented as continuous or as fragmented, and whether (dis-)continuity of mind and body is mirrored at the level of narration. Narrative processes are for instance crucial in diagnosis and in improving medical knowledge, they are part of therapy and of doctor-patient interaction. Moreover, stories provide an analytical perspective on the field and practice of medicine.

Through a focus on (dis-)continuity in mind, body, and narrative, this workshop investigates some of the links between narrative and medicine. We seek to shed light on rhetorics of health and illness in different types of discourse, ranging from novel, memoir, and autobiography to case narrative, text-book, and patient-doctor conversation. In so doing, we wish to reflect on what the study of literary narrative and narrative analysis have to offer to the field of medicine.


Relevant questions include but are not limited to:

  • What is bodily and mental integrity?
  • How have these concepts been conceived throughout history?
  • How are they portrayed in different genres and text-types (e.g. textbooks and novels)?
  • How do individuals on both sides of the patient-doctor interaction narrate health and illness?
  • (How) is (dis-)continuity in mind and body reflected at the level of narration?
  • Which kinds of power dynamics are at play in ascriptions of incoherence and labels of deficiency?
  • What are implications of creating a coherent and causally logical story of etiology or treatment?


The workshop will consist of

  • Discussion sessions based on texts from the field of medical humanities, autobiography and identity studies, and rhetorical and cognitive approaches to narratology
  • Colloquium sessions in which there will be an opportunity to present and receive feedback on your own work


The workshop is part of a larger project working towards an international research network and a journal special issue. In this context, in winter term 2018/19, you will be able to participate in a Master Class in the field of medical humanities, following, as usual, a keynote lecture, and to apply to present work in the format of a paper or panel at subsequent events in the UK and/or Australia. Throughout these stages, you will benefit from feedback from peers and more senior experts in developing your paper for publication.


Please send applications in the form of your name and a 300-word abstract to Alexandra Effe () and Wibke Schniedermann ()  by 31 March.

We are particularly interested in forming collaborations for co-authored papers, for which there will be opportunities during the workshop and during subsequent events. Should you already have an idea of a collaborative presentation or paper project, please feel free to submit a co-authored abstract for a collaborative presentation. Please also feel free to indicate readings related to the topic and to your take on it, which may be included in the discussion sessions.

Please note that preparation in the form of several hours of reading will be required for this workshop.

Workshop website