Book Review (Pollitt): ‘Disclosures: Rewriting the Narrative about HIV’, ed. Spoto

Book: Disclosures: Rewriting the Narrative about HIV, edited by Angie Spoto (Scotland: Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2018). (96 pp). £10.99. ISBN: 987-1-910416-10-5

Reviewer: Beverley Pollitt, Liverpool Hope University

Stigma. A highly prevalent concept many of us are familiar with and one which is indisputably associated with HIV. Disclosures: Rewriting the Narrative about HIV is constructed as an informative anthology, offering an enlightening insight into the diverse community who experience this stigma and consequential isolation first-hand. The collective challenges the stigma and common (mis)perceptions of living with HIV by upholding the power and importance of personal narratives. These narratives, belonging directly to those touched by HIV, deliver an open and honest insight into the reality of living with the condition whilst simultaneously offering an alternative understanding which disputes society’s ingrained notion of HIV. Disclosures advocates these narratives as a means of creative activism, an activism which it does undeniably well.

When HIV first arose, a lack of education within society was apparent. Many carried the damaging (mis)conception it was a killer disease contracted through ‘dirty’ behaviour. Society treated those who were diagnosed as ‘lepers’ and who were to be avoided at all costs. This landscape is now vastly different, society has evolved, education surrounding HIV has improved and this steadfast attitude contested. However, the stalwart stigma associated with HIV has been so profoundly ingrained within the core of society, more work still needs to be done. Although medical developments and interventions have contributed widely to lived experiences, an attitudinal gulf between HIV and the ‘norm’ is still at large. It is at this crucial point where Disclosures and its poignant ethos successfully emerges. It comes at a time when other marginalised groups and disabled people are revolting against the autocratic effects of hostile stigmas whilst advocating for self-empowerment and liberation. By providing a platform, Disclosures allows those with HIV the opportunity for their voices to be heard and to join this revolution.

The narratives contained within Disclosures emanate from a vastly intersectional and diverse collective, touching on the lives of men, women, transsexuals, homosexuals, heterosexuals, young, old and even nuns. The singular commonality between the collective (besides HIV) is they all reside in Scotland and as such, have personal experience of Scottish HIV services and facilities. Furthermore, the collection draws on a captivating variety of contributions including poetry, imagery and protagonist narratives, all of which rewrite the narrative of HIV by providing unique, personal insights contesting society’s entrenched stigmas. Recitals from friends and families are also included, contributing to a deeper dimension of awareness. Each piece of work is delicately interwoven, creating a powerful yet emotive anthology which enriches the understanding of HIV from multiple perspectives.

By including an extensive array of material and views editor Angie Spoto has ensured she has been successful in disputing the pervasive historic opinion that HIV affects “only gay men or drug users” (p.vii). Spoto joined HIV Scotland, a leading policy organisation, as their artist in residence with the view of reshaping the narrative through storytelling and thus, the collection was born. She has strategically designed Disclosures so it is periodically punctuated with information relating to the key areas of public policy for which HIV Scotland advocate. This arrangement draws attention to significant areas of development whilst shrewdly revealing those with HIV encounter troublesome barriers extending beyond attitudinal stigmas.

A common theme appearing within the contributions is the influence/dominance of medical interventions. This extends to a gaze which deems those with HIV as objects of curiosity who now belong to the sciences. NJ Millar so poignantly captures this in “Jormungandr”,stating “I do feel like a lab rat in a trap” (p.5), a sentiment in her prose which would evoke empathy from even the most hardened reader. Meanwhile Michael Nugent, in “It Couldn’t be Me”, recounts speaking with a doctor: “Wait a fucking minute here, doc. This is my life”; the implication is that once diagnosis occurs, people are stripped of their humanity with their bodies becoming medical specimens. Whilst there is a requirement for medication to render the virus undetectable, these accounts give further gravitas as to why the prehistoric stigmas of HIV need to be rewritten.

Another unmistakable tenet of the collection is the way it sensitively approaches the stigma associated with sexual deviance and promiscuity. Interlaced between the varying accounts is the impassioned offering “Texan Condoms”in which Kevin Crowe subtly tackles the taboo of homosexuality and promiscuous sex. Crowe’s prose draws not only on his experience of supporting a friend with the diagnosis but is also reminiscent of the awareness of HIV as a sexually transmitted infection within the gay community. RJ Arkhipov’s account “afterwards atop the bedsheets” considers post-coital euphoria and uses the intimate image of entwinement within the bedcovers as a metaphor for a shroud, generating a stark reality of the sinister tombstone HIV represents to many. James Stewart’s poem “Our First breath is In”, quite simply likens the sexual transmission of HIV as being as innocent and natural as breathing in and out. A tender comparison which reminds the reader we are all at risk of HIV, regardless of sexual preference. In contrast to this gentle offering, Stephen Duffy’s hard-hitting piece “Play it Again, SAM” takes the reader on an emotional journey considering the everlasting effects of rape which emerge long after the physical scars have healed. The collection navigates its way round this controversial but complex topic with sophistication and elegance; for this it must be applauded.

Whilst Disclosures successfully offers the reader a moving alternative to the archaic understanding of HIV through protagonist narratives, it also effectively highlights the lack of service and support available post-diagnosis. Michael Nugent’s “It Couldn’t be Me”recounts the start of his diagnostic journey and having to fight to see a doctor, then how following diagnosis he was left in a state of uncertain limbo pending specialist appointments. He recalls being handed leaflets as a source of information, an impersonal approach at a point in time where people require human interaction for emotional guidance and support. This recital is evidence of the unjust support service available in Scotland leaving the reader to question the services available throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Disclosures takes the reader on a subconsciously emotional journey, culminating in anger at the lack of services and support which should be available at an undoubtedly turbulent time. Feelings of empathy are evoked throughout the entire anthology, but it is during this story the political implications of HIV become apparent. People with HIV require a higher level of support owing to the hostile and unfavourable stigma associated with the condition, a support which Disclosures uncomfortablyreveals they are being denied. This emotional rollercoaster gives only a snippet into the lived reality of HIV, yet it is enough to make the reader reconsider the archaic, damaging HIV narrative which is still rooted within contemporary society. This therefore renders Disclosures a further success.

Matthew Lynch draws attention to HIV and mental health in his unique offering. Lynch’s piece is a stimulating singular image, noticeably the only image contained within the collection (aside from accompanying artwork) and remains untitled. His representation movingly depicts a darkly coloured head silhouette set against a dull grey backdrop where colourful medication can be seen travelling down the oesophagus. Most strikingly, the image illustrates a maze of scribbles and chaotic lines representing the brain and is successful in its aim of drawing the reader’s attention to HIV and mental health. The image is a passionate reminder of the dark places encountered on a journey with HIV, a journey which would unquestionably be affected by negative stigmatisations. Whilst the impact of the anthology would have benefited from the inclusion of several more images and depictions, Lynch’s contribution effectively encompasses a multitude of salient concepts and one which indisputably challenges the readers’ present understanding. Moreover, he effectively refutes dominant narratives of HIV by using his powerful inimitable portrayal to present a lived experience which serves to rewrite the narrative of HIV and justifies why Disclosures is an essential contribution to this process.

The collection is a valuable influence in the understanding of HIV. In order to develop the aim and ethos of Disclosures further, it would benefit by extending to include narratives from other geographical locations. Whilst the book focuses solely on the services and experiences of the Scottish demographic, it provides an honest, valuable insight regardless of geographical location. These experiences are only a snapshot yet can be understood to be representative of the entire HIV community. The book is effective in reaching this segregated community who may pick it up out of curiosity and a sense of solidarity alongside being appealing to the general public. It is compiled and written in a manner accessible by many, promoting an ease of understanding and by doing so, widens its intended audience to encompass all areas of society. This deliberate methodology allows Disclosures to capitalise on its maximum audience potential thus ensuring HIV stigma is contested on a widespread basis. The greater the access to the anthology, the greater in its success Disclosures will be.

There is a noticeable respect for the experiences detailed, an admiration which the contributors rightly deserve for their honesty and willingness to share their stories, and for this, Angie Spoto must be commended. Disclosures must be cherished as an alternative form of education which focuses on exploring the lived reality of HIV rather than how it can be contracted, contained and medicated. This alternative education enlightens others by providing captivating replacements to the inherent understanding of HIV and serves to remove the stalwart stigma surrounding HIV effectively. It is my contention this anthology has been successful in its determined aim, it is highly enjoyable and everyone should buy a copy!  

CFP: Special Issue of C21, ‘Surveilling the Body: Ableism and Anglophone Literature’

C21 Call for Papers

Special Issue: “Surveilling the Body: Ableism and Anglophone Literature”

Guest edited by Dr Susan Flynn and Dr Antonia Mackay

Deadline for articles: 1st May 2019

Surveillance Studies has made a substantial contribution to interrogations of human rights offences by helping to document instances of discrimination in recent times. Indeed, examinations of the ‘culture’ of surveillance have been useful in examining the myriad occasions of human rights offences in issues such as race (Browne 2012; Flynn and Mackay 2018), yet surveillance practices via literature, especially those associated with the discourse of ableism, have been largely ignored. This special issue aims to initiate new discussions of ableism in the discourses of surveillance through literature and engage with the issues of the non-normate body, particularly as surveillance uses the normalizing technologies of power to monitor, control and regulate behaviours and mobilities of certain bodies.

In contemporary literature, the forms of agency and subjectivity available to those who are outside the hegemonic ‘norm’ are often limited; literature is most often written with a mainstream readership in mind and thus can be read as deeply ‘ableist’. Interrogating instances of ableism in characterisation and in narrative arcs calls for an examination of how (unearned) privilege attaches to those who can conform to the supposed norm. Such a lens interrogates the status quo as opposed to seeking the ‘inclusion’ of persons with disabilities within extant social structures. This special issue is particularly concerned with twenty-first century writing and its complex relationship both with surveillance and with representations of disability. We are aware of the tendency for dominant groups to project their own experiences as representative of all humanity thereby excluding other groups – we hope to preclude this by providing a broad range of readings and approaches from a diverse authorship. We are interested in readings of new texts which engage with the surveillance of disability or with radical readings of texts dealing with either intellectual, physical or acquired disability.

Papers might include topics such as:

  • The role of surveillance in (dis)abling bodies in contemporary fiction, poetry, short stories and drama
  • The complexity of the representation of the corporeal body in Twenty-First Century Anglophone writings
  • The manner in which surveillance can affect the marginalisation of groups of peoples in Anglophone literary discourse
  • The hypervisibility of the body with disability in poetry, drama and written narratives
  • Representations of surveilled spaces which impact upon the able and disabled characterisation of identity from within contemporary settings
  • Consideration of how the lens contributes to definitions of types of bodies in Anglophone writings
  • Hypertextual readings of contemporary literature which contribute to the enabling of otherwise marginalised bodily movement through narratoglical means
  • The impact of gender/race/sexuality on surveilling the body
  • The implications of ableist forms of surveillance in literature in our contemporary political climate
  • Digital storytelling and the visibility of disability rights and culture
  • Digital platforms as a means to re-vision the body with disability

Articles of 6000 – 8000 words along with a short bio (150 words) should be sent to Dr Susan Flynn ( and Dr Antonia Mackay ( by 1st May 2019.

CFP: Special Issue of JLCDS, ‘Learning Difficulties: Histories and Cultures’

Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Special issue: Learning Difficulties: Histories and Cultures

Guest editors: Owen Barden and Tina Cook

Deadline for abstracts: 5th April 2019

Until the late 20th century, intellectual disability history was subsumed or neglected within accounts from the psycho-medical professions, educational and mental health services, sociologists, and historians. More recently, input from a broad range of disciplines has helped to challenge the assumed truths generated about learning difficulties generated by medics, scientists, and medical historians.  Learning difficulties have also emerged as a field of inquiry in their own right within disability studies, following recognition that this aspect of disability has frequently been overlooked in both the initial turn to the social model and the subsequent re-turn to impairment. The overall objective of this special issue will be to make a significant contribution to this growing field of interdisciplinary and emancipatory research about learning difficulties.

Disabled people generally, and people labelled with learning difficulties specifically, have often been excluded not only from research but from culture and history more broadly. This has made people labelled with learning difficulties almost invisible. Where representations do exist, they are often skewed by the label and tropes of learning difficulties. We seek contributions evidencing the generation of new knowledge about learning difficulties and their histories, and which bring a variety of perspectives to bear not only on historical material and accounts, but also on the lived experience of learning difficulties today. 

We encourage histories which foreground the role of culture, and the impact people labelled with learning disabilities have had on culture, rather than medicalized accounts. A cultural approach to history addresses the discursive practices and formations surrounding learning difficulties; it is concerned with the way people said to have learning difficulties are conceptualized, spoken about, and interacted with, and with the relational and environmental factors contextualizing and shaping these practices and formations. We welcome both histories of lives of people labelled with learning difficulties and historical analyses of cultural representations of learning difficulties.

Possible topics might include:

  • Representations of learning difficulties in historico-cultural artefacts.
  • Explorations of identity and intersectionality in relation to learning difficulties.
  • Analyses of the cultural work done by the organizing concept of learning difficulties.
  • Cultural histories, including ‘histories of the present’, which reveal important yet hidden aspects of contemporary experience.
  • Local, personal and insider histories, knowledges and perspectives.


5th April 2019: submission of a 500-word proposal for articles or a 150-word proposal for reviews and a short bio to the guest editors Owen Barden and Tina Cook

3rd May 2019: prospective authors notified of proposal status.

30th Nov 2020: Full versions of selected papers due to editors.

May 2020: Finalists selected.  Decisions and revisions on submissions sent to authors.

August 2020: Final revised papers due.

CFP: Edited Collection, ‘Disability and the Media: Other Bodies’

Deadline: Friday 21st December 2018

Call for chapter proposals for the edited collection Disability and the Media: Other Bodies on the themes of disability, bodies, media and representation in Asia.

Disability and the Media is edited by Diana Garrisi (JC School of Film and Television Arts, Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University) and Jacob Johanssen (Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster). It is under contract with Routledge and due to be published 2019 in the Routledge Research in Disability and Media Studies series.

Using a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches this volume  encompasses an array of media forms including cinema, newspapers, television, advertising and social media. This book has several purposes. It critically discusses the relationship between self-representation and representations in either reinforcing or debunking myths around disability and othering. It explores the cultural, political and commercial basis for why media can negatively portray some people as intrinsically different. Finally, it suggests that the dynamic relationship between traditional and new media and the blurred lines between forms of representation and self-representation in new media can make it more difficult to continue framing ability and disability as mutually exclusive categories, and therefore cast the latter as unwanted. The book presents instances of a possible, slow cultural shift in favour of non-dichotomic views on ability and disability increasingly represented as fluid and necessary conditions characterizing the essence of each human being.

We are specifically interested in chapters that focus on Asia and its different countries in relation to the themes of the book.

Possible themes include but are not limited to:

  • Affective labour of bodies
  • Auto-ethnographic accounts of the body in / through digital media
  • Celebrity bodies and the spectacles of transformation
  • Cinema and disability
  • Contemporary coverage of disability in print/online/television/radio
  • De-colonizing and de-westernising the mediated body
  • Disability and advertising
  • Disability and race
  • Disability and the media: historical perspectives
  • (Dis)Empowerments of the disabled body
  • Journalism and practices of othering the body
  • Neoliberalism, policy and austerity politics
  • Reality television and the body
  • Representing wounds and scars
  • Researching bodies and the media: frameworks and methodologies
  • Stigma and the body
  • Posthumanist and non-representational frameworks
  • The abject body
  • The body and trauma
  • The mediated body as spectacle
  • The medicalised body in the media
  • The objectification of the disabled body in the media

We invite submissions of 200-250 words chapter proposals.

Deadline: Friday 21st December 2018.

Submissions should also include:

  • Title of chapter
  •  Author name/s, institutional details
  • Corresponding author’s email address
  • Keywords (no more than 5)
  • A short bio

Please send chapters to and 

Commissioned chapters are around 5,000 words. The fact that an abstract is accepted does not guarantee publication of the final manuscript. All chapters submitted will be judged on the basis of a double-blind reviewing process.

Call for Creative Writing: ‘Hearing and the Medical Humanities’, eds. Derek Hoare and Bonnie Millar

Call for Creative Writing: 

Whether you are trying to come to terms with your hearing or looking for a way to help loved one/ a patient come to terms with their hearing ability, writing can be a helpful outlet. To accompany a special edition of the journal Medical Humanities, edited by Dr Derek Hoare and Dr Bonnie Millar, we invite poems and prose about hearing from patients, their partners and /or family members, and clinicians. Contributions are welcome from those with hearing aids, cochlear implants, tinnitus, and hyperacusis; parents of children affected with otitis media; audiologists and physicians.

How do we respond when we meet people who do not hear as we do? What happens when our own hearing function changes? What tools do we have when attempting to communicate about our hearing? By inviting those who hear differently, their partners, and/or family members, together with clinicians to share poems and short pieces of writing it is hoped to foster exchange and understanding between different groups.

Submissions might include, but are not restricted to, the following topics

  • Deaf culture
  • Deafened
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Listening differently
  • Auditory transformations
  • Hearing and language
  • Hearing and technology
  • Hearing and the media
  • Hearing and emotions

All are welcome to submit pieces and please share this invitation with interested colleagues. Please send submissions to

CPF: Critical Disability Discourses

Critical Disability Discourses is a graduate student journal based out of York University that provides a platform for new and emerging scholars, community researchers, and artists who practice and present critical approaches to disability issues and experiences.

For this ninth installation of the journal, our Editorial Team is casting a wide net to gather research and artwork from a variety of disability perspectives emanating from academic study, personal experience, and community-based projects and advocacy. Full-length articles, short films, audio-based works, and photographic essays are among the diverse range of mediums that contributors may wish to explore.

To challenge established paradigms around the location of knowledge, we aim to prioritize submissions from authors and artists whose identities, stories, communities, and contexts have been excluded or insufficiently represented in dominant disability cultures.

Interested contributors are also invited to propose book and film reviews, or select from a list of suggested titles.

Submission Process and Deadline:

Please send your completed submission or review proposal to CDD Managing Editor, Natalie Spagnuolo, at by November 20th 2018.

Please ensure your article follows APA style guidelines and includes both an abstract and list of keywords.

We ask that contributors submitting visual or audio work provide captions, transcripts, and any other content that will help ensure your work can be accessed by our readership.

Authors are responsible for familiarizing themselves with CDD’s submission guidelines, which can be accessed online at

Any inquiries can be sent to

‘Nursing Stories from the First World War: A Conversation with Dr Diane Atkinson’, Edinburgh

Date: 18.00 – 19.15, Friday 9th November 2018

Location: Royal Society of Edinburgh, 22−26 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PQ

Nursing Stories from the First World War: A Conversation with Dr Diane Atkinson

The Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Young Academy of Scotland warmly invite you to Nursing stories from the First World War: A conversation with Dr Diane Atkinson.

Author Dr Diane Atkinson will share excerpts from and answer questions about her book ‘Elsie and Mairi Go To War: Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front.’ Dr Alison O’Donnell, nursing historian and member of the Royal College of Nursing History of Nursing Society, will chair the conversation. The event will be accompanied by a small public exhibit to commemorate the centenary of the end of the war (open 5th – 16th November 2018).

‘Elsie and Mairi Go To War’ charts the journey of a young Scottish woman, Mairi Chisholm, and her English friend, Elsie Knocker, who volunteered to work as nurses on the front lines of the war in Belgium. Known as the ‘Madonnas of Pervyse’ they treated thousands of wounded soldiers over four years and were awarded numerous medals for bravery. A statue commemorating the courage and commitment of these two British nurses now stands in Ypres, Belgium.

Open to all and free to attend − registration required.

For further information or to book, please visit the RSE website or contact the RSE Events Team at or on 0131 240 2780.

CFP, edited collection: ‘Health Care in Children’s Literature’

Edited Collection Call for Papers: Health Care in Children’s Literature

Editors: Naomi Lesley, Sarah Hardstaff, and Abbye E. Meyer

Deadline for abstracts: 30th January 2019

Recently, issues of health insurance access and cost have been a dominant political issue in the United States. However, questions about health care (beyond insurance) have surfaced in children’s literature from many nations, for many decades. This edited collection will consider how children’s literature and media can enrich our understanding about health care from many perspectives, through consideration of international comparisons; historical change; disparities based on gender, race, disability, class, and age; and attention to informal as well as formal systems of care.

Essays for this volume might address a variety of topics. The following is a partial list of pertinent topics, but proposals are welcomed on other issues of health care not mentioned below:

  • How children’s literature addresses (or does not address) the cost of care
  • Barriers to health care in children’s books, including barriers based on race, sexuality, class, gender, or disability
  • Differences in care based on visible vs. invisible disabilities
  • Questions of who gets sick and who stays healthy in literature
  • Health care broadly defined as access to food, shelter, and security, as well as care for acute sickness, chronic illness, mental health, and disability
  • How issues of health access are addressed in books pre-WWII (before health insurance in many nations), as well as in historical fiction written since
  • How children’s literature portrays children growing into caring professions (aspiring to be nurses, doctors, etc)
  • Child characters as caretakers and healers for family and community members

Scholars interested in contributing to this volume should submit a 300-500 word proposal by 30th January 2019. Please email proposals, and any questions, to Naomi Lesley (, Sarah Hardstaff (, or Abbye Meyer (

CFP: Special Issue on Disability and the History of Education (History of Education Quarterly)

“Disability is everywhere in history, once you begin looking for it,” Douglas Baynton has written, “but conspicuously absent in the histories that we write.” This special issue of History of Education Quarterlyon Disability and the History of Education will render disability history more noticeably present in the field of educational history, building on and expanding beyond existing scholarship on the topic. The editors plan to publish 4-5 scholarly articles with an introductory historiographical essay by the two editors.

We are interested in proposals from any national context, transnational proposals, and proposals from any period of history. Proposals may address disability in any of the countless places it may be found in educational history–in schools and other institutions, families, informal educational settings, art, music, and literature, and in the metaphors that help to structure culture and society.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • The history of special education: its structures, legislation and case law, finance, teachers, curriculum and pedagogical methods, and technological aids.
  • Approaches that follow the “new disability history” and take up disability as a justification for inequality along lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, and other identities; or, as a common metaphor for incapacity, incompetence, or brokenness in education.
  • Biographical studies of people with disabilities in educational contexts: pupils, teachers and other professionals, children and adults. Disability history as a means to showcase the widest possible interpretation of disability in people’s lives, so as to portray people with disabilities in history as much more than mere diagnoses and labels but as historical actors in their own right, who encounter and make change, and who, as often as not, face barriers arising not from any physical incapacity they may have, but from the ways that societies, institutions, and individuals have historically dealt with people with disabilities
  • Scholarship that employs the history of disability in education to inform practice or policy in the present, or to intervene in contemporary debates.
  • Case studies of history of institutions or movements—disability historyin the classroom; in the formal and informal lessons in hospitals, community institutions, and higher education; in the consciousness-raising spaces of political movements.
  • Scholarship that draws on a “critical disability studies” approach in the social sciences, more traditional social histories, or other work from the range of theoretical or methodological traditions and approaches of the discipline of history.

Submissions and deadlines

Article proposal (2-3 pages), or an abstract (500-750 words) are due 1st December 2018. All  proposals or abstracts received will be workshopped with the special issue editors.

Please send proposals or abstracts to Kate Rousmaniere ( and Jason Ellis (

The deadline for selecting complete papers is 15th August 2019.  Articles received by this deadline will be sent out for peer review.

The editors will select 4-5 articles from those that successfully pass peer review in January 2020 and selected authors must return their revised or edited manuscripts by 15th June 2020.

The special issue will be published as the November 2020 issue (Vol. 60, no. 4).

Submissions should follow the guidelines established by HEQ. For author guidelines refer to

Please submit complete papers through

Please address inquiries about this call for papers to Kate Rousmaniere ( and Jason Ellis ( General inquiries about the journal HEQ should be addressed to

CFP: ‘Interrogating the Past and Shaping the Future of Mental Health Rhetoric Research’, RHM

CFP: Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, 2020 Special Issue

“Interrogating the Past and Shaping the Future of Mental Health Rhetoric Research”

Deadline for abstracts: 1st December 2018

In the inaugural issue of the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine (RHM) J. Fred Reynolds (2018) offered a “A Short History of Mental Health Rhetoric Research (MHRR)” in which he compellingly documented the “significant body of work applying the tools and terms of rhetoric to the world of mental health” that emerged in the 1980s and continues today, if in fits and starts (p. 1). Reynolds’ history raises important questions on how the issues and challenges unique to MHRR create space for the field to set a specific agenda for its development—to make explicit the major epistemological assumptions, the key questions, and the various vantage points that will undergird the future of this important area of inquiry.

As each iteration of the DSM proliferates diagnostic categories and protocols, as various constituents comment on the status of mental health around the globe, and as mental health-related words and phrases enter solidly and uncritically into healthcare practices and popular lexicons, the importance of MHRR is undeniable. While a number of fields study issues of mental health from a humanistic perspective, rhetorical research on mental health distinguishes itself through a focus on discursive and symbolic communication, especially acts of persuasion and identification. Rhetorical approaches are not limited to textual analysis, however, and also account for factors like social conditions, identity, embodiment, power relations, location, materiality, and circulation. MHRR attends to the rhetorics of neuroscience, medicine, and psychiatry in connection with their cultural warrants; places judgments of in/sanity in rhetorical-historical context; follows mental health categories and diagnoses through clinical, professional, and personal settings; considers representations of mental health in medical and professional documents as well as popular media; and connects rhetorical appeals to strategies of activism and advocacy.

In the past, rhetoricians have studied issues of mental health from a variety of (inter)disciplinary angles: technical/professional writing vantages (Reynolds, Mair, & Fischer; Berkenkotter; Holladay); critiques of the linguistic entanglements of the professionals who seek to treat mental health (McCarthy & Gerring; Berkenkotter & Ravotas); examinations of how publics encounter and make sense of mental difference (Leweicki-Wilson; Segal; Emmons; J. Johnson; Price; D. Johnson Thornton); and through studies of “patients’” discursive behaviors (Prendergast; Molloy; Uthappa). The 2020 special issue of Rhetoric of Health & Medicine will ask writers to engage this important body of research as well as scholarship in RHM more generally, but it will also ask writers to make connections between this area of emphasis and related bodies of scholarship (such as disability studies) and to productively critique, challenge and extend this work.

As MHRR moves forward, this special issue of Rhetoric of Health & Medicine seeks to present RHM’s growing readership with some thoughtful perspectives to consider, for example:

Contemporary Nomenclature

  • What are the exigencies and consequences of labeling a set of behaviors Illnesses? Disorders? Disabilities?
  • What are the dominant models for conceptualizing and treating mental health conditions, and what appeals are used to support them rhetorically? What individuals, organizations, or communities resist the dominant models and/or suggest alternative ways of addressing mental health conditions?
  • Should rhetoricians work to end unhelpful labels or to aid in the amelioration of mental illness symptoms?
  • How do neurorhetorics relate to mental health rhetoric research? Are these things synonymous? Complementary? Adversarial?
  • How do discourses surrounding mental health patients’ compliance/ adherence/ concordance with treatment plans and protocols impact quality of care?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

  • How might rhetoricians illuminate the changes that occurred in diagnostic categories and criteria between the DSM IV-TR and the DSM V? Between other versions? Between the DSM and the ICD?
  • How might a MHRR scholar bring important insight to ancillary DSM texts and diagnostic tools, such as case books, guidebooks, and protocols?
  • What might MHRR challenge the ubiquity and power of the DSM? What alternatives for diagnostic precision might MHRR and technical communicators offer?

Clinical Practice

  • What can MHRR learn from case histories, patient records and other artifacts from clinical practice?
  • What might we learn from patient “noncompliance?”
  • How might MHRR contribute directly to bodies of knowledge (in psychology, social work, psychiatry, etc.) that inform clinical practice?
  • What exigencies drive pharmacological interventions?
  • What insights might MHRR lend to critical discussions of clinical conversations

Institutional spaces and places

  • What insights might rhetorical lenses add to the deinstitutionalization movement and to the wider publics that continue to support or critique it?
  • How might MHRR intervene in or comment usefully on the penal system’s encounters with mental difference?
  • What is the relationship between the “mental hospital” as a monolith and a real, brick-and-mortar site?

Intersectional Perspectives on Mental Health

  • How can intersectional approaches to academic research add critical depth to studies in MHRR?
  • In what ways do experiences of race, disability, gender, sexuality, class, and other marginalized identities affect the rhetoric of mental health?
  • How do such experiences and identities affect the delivery of mental health and psychiatric treatment?

Disability and MHRR

  • How might theories and scholarship from disability studies inflect MHRR, including studies of normativity, disabled embodiment, disability policy, social stigma, and disability justice?
  • What are the intersections between mental health rhetorics and disability rhetorics?
  • What can rhetoricians add to the neurodiversity movement? What are the limits of neuroatypicalities?
  • Where can rhetorical theory help illuminate and analyze the lived experiences of people with mental and psychiatric disabilities?

Mental Health in Public(s)

  • What models of public rhetoric and public health might be usefully employed to investigate the rhetoric of mental health?
  • How does medical rhetoric about mental health figure into debates on public policy related to education, social welfare, employment, and the criminal justice system?
  • Where can MHRR make connections between discourses of mental health and its representations in popular media such as fiction, television, film, and social media?
  • How can MHRR illuminate the processes through which people are interpellated into self-diagnoses in non-clinical forums and media?

These themes are meant to be generative rather than exhaustive. Please do propose essays and hybrid pieces that extend, challenge or otherwise engage with this call in unexpected ways. The editors and guest editors look forward to reading proposals for traditional academic articles, but are also eager to hear your ideas for other RHM genres—persuasion briefs, dialogues, commentaries, and review essays.  If you are new to this topic or work in a field outside rhetoric, we encourage you to consider reading Fred Reynolds’ 2018 article on MHRR mentioned above and reviewing some of the research listed in the bibliography below.

This special issue will be co-edited by Cathryn Molloy & Drew Holladay in consultation with the RHM co-editors. Special issue proposals will be reviewed and ranked by the journal’s editorial board, and manuscripts will undergo the same rigorous peer review process as regular submissions.

Cathryn & Drew are very willing to answer email queries: and

Please email 500-1000 word proposals (excluding citations) to by 10th December 2018.

Completed manuscripts for accepted proposals will be due 25th March 2018.