Rhetoric and health (ed. Maria Grazia Rossi)
Words can act as a pharmakon, becoming a remedy or a poison. Considering both theoretical tenets and empirical findings, we have convincing evidence on the power of language and words in changing minds and fostering behavioural change.
In the context of health, it has been underlined how the quality of communication affect (clinical) outcomes, at the individual level (on patients) and the collective or societal level (on citizens). During the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has become even more clear that such communication effect is indirect and mediated by factors such as understanding, motivation, social assistance, trust in the system, etc. Words that are well-spoken but also, obviously, well understood can have a strong impact on the quality of our lives, concerning the clinical, emotional and social spheres. This is why the proper and effective use of words should be considered as a common ethical responsibility: it is an ethical responsibility for healthcare providers that directly take care of patients, but it is also a responsibility of public and private institutions working to promote behaviours favouring the adoption of a healthier life and the building of healthier societies, respectful of other people and more environmentally friendly. What happened from a communicative point of view to justify the need to activate a state of emergency and maintain lockdown restrictions is exemplary in this respect, also to discuss the conflict between values that is pervasive in our complex and interconnected societies. Even beyond the pandemic, many examples can be mentioned to discuss the importance of both the effectiveness and quality of communication. Take as examples social campaigns and/or advertisements on health issues related to cases such as the public debate on vaccination or antibiotic resistance, the social campaigns to combat pollution or against smoking in public spaces.
However, it is not obvious to find a consensual framework to define what counts as communication of quality, even if rhetoricians investigated heavily on this issue. Not necessarily a successful communication is also desirable from an ethical perspective. Obtaining persuasion – to be able to change attitudes and/or behaviours, it is not necessarily equivalent to do it in an ethically way. For example, implicit persuasion strategies often (but not always) can be described in terms of manipulation tools attempting to manipulate people and to change their habits. Again, this applies at the individual level within the interactions between patients and healthcare providers, with therapeutic recommendations described as genuine persuasive acts. At the collective level, it also applies to public communication, including the communication made on social networks, where fake news and misinformation spread even more quickly.
The links between rhetoric and health can be therefore analysed from two different points of view. From a linguistic point of view, the main problem is to figure out which communicative strategies are effective to persuade patients (and citizens) in changing a given behaviour and/or accepting the treatment more appropriate to a specific medical condition. From an ethical point of view, the main problem is to figure out which effective communicative strategies are legitimate, meaning they respect values defining both the patient (citizen) agenda and the doctor (political/health system) agenda. The discussions concerning the frameworks of value-based medicine and patient-centered medicine fit in this context, as well as fall in this debate the current attention given to the frameworks of narrative medicine and persuasive technology (applied to telemedicine, mobile apps, social networks, etc.).
Vol. 15, N. 1/2021 of RIFL expects to explore the links between rhetoric and health, accepting papers aim at considering the role of communication in the context of health, and papers considering persuasion from an ethical point of view – at the individual level (between patients and providers) and the collective/societal one (between institutions and citizens, between media and citizens).
Papers should be theoretical or empirical. All fields will be considered (Philosophy of Language, Classic studies, Literary studies, Linguistics, Psychology, etc.) if they are relevant to discuss the persuasive and/or the ethical dimension of communication in the context of health. Papers exploring the following areas are very welcome:
● Words and language as pharmakon
● Communicating science, communicating the COVID-19 pandemic
● Doctor-patient communication
● Persuasion, argumentation and manipulation in the context of health
● Ethic of the medical discourse and ethics for health
● Ethical relevance and effectiveness of narrative medicine
● Shared decision-making between patients and providers
● Social campaigns and advertisement for health
● Persuasive technology and health
● Social networks and seeking information on the web
● Value-based medicine
● Patient-based medicine
● Public opinion and health
● Visual persuasion and the role of images in the context of health
● Linguistic strategies developed for healthcare providers
● Emotions and interpersonal relations in the context of health
● Language and placebo effect