Research

“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both the speaker and the hearer […].” – Ursula Le Guin

Major themes:

Rhetoric of psychiatry

How do words will realities into existence, thus affecting personal and institutional trajectories? At what point does the linguistic formulation of a concept rearrange the world–and, therefore, both social and disciplinary systems and individual destinies? Much of my research in the rhetoric of psychiatry has sought to deal with the issue of diagnosis: at what point does the naming of a disease, visible only behaviorally rather than through tissue lesions or cell mutations, transform the life path of a patient? Consequently, how do the patients conceptualize their new ontological status–and how do doctors adjust their roles and possibly behaviors as they gradually find a specific vocabulary and syntax to understand mental illness? Whether through linguistic analysis or employing the vocabulary of visual rhetoric, I have sought to capture and understand how mental illness is understood, represented, and embodied.

Visual rhetoric of mental illness/psychopharmaceutical ads

When I was a graduate student, our household received a good amount of junk mail targeted at psychiatrists like my partner, selling conferences, reference books, seminars, CE credits, journals, etc. I became intrigued by the visual rhetoric of those materials, which often featured models (presumably) in melancholy or anguished poses. Often these were women, either waifs or frail, confused elderly patients; the colors were dull teals, grays, and maroons; the photography sometimes shaky and “artistic,” and brain renderings were plastered on the advertising materials in order to remind the viewer that this was all solid science. I started looking for these images on purpose, and found that the ads that stuffed the front and back end of the American Journal of Psychiatry (which we received monthly) were quite similar and offered a rich ground for analysis. Thus, my dissertation project was born: Faces of Depression – an analysis of ads published over 45 years in the British and American Journals of Psychiatry. Unsurprisingly, I found gender and race played a large role, and that visual rhetoric focused on relationships (and especially romantic relationships) seemed to be more prevalent in AJP. Visual rhetoric is a way to translate popular, generalized feelings about mental illness (with its understandings and misunderstandings) into a representation that is meant to appeal to physicians. Ads for antidepressants are meant not only persuade doctors to prescribe certain drugs, but also intentionally or unintentionally to prime them to recognize signs of mental illness and well being alike in stereotypical, gender-biased, and racially-tinged ways, with depicted models in recognizably middle-class environments and actions. Some of this analysis was published (“Treat Her with Prozac“), and I am currently working on revamping a portion of the analysis for a journal submission.

A related project in visual rhetoric/psychiatry has been the evolution of our perceptions of art created by people declared clinically insane (usually confined in an asylum, but not only). My project, tentatively entitled “Mad Art,” aims to analyze this corpus from a rhetorical perspective; I’m interested in particular in how psychiatry and the public define, recognize, and diagnose mental illness in a painting or sculptures. I have identified several distinct eras to work with: 1) incipient art therapy and art as symptom/grounds for diagnosis in the 19th century asylum; 2) Otto Prinzhorn’s groundbreaking Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922), which clearly establishes such work as a way to diagnose and study mental illness; 3) Outré art as valorized by the modernist movement; 4) “Degenerate art” used as a pretext by the Nazi regime to judge, diagnose, and remove “undesirables” (not just the mentally ill but also queer and Jewish art); 5) Post WWII resurgence of art as a psychoanalytic tool[ 6) The rise of art therapy as well as of anti-psychiatry (e.g., Mary Barnes); 7) Use of art at various stages of the artist’s life to identify sanity or insanity and thus to point to the efficacy of psychotropic drugs, and/or to retrospectively diagnose artists (e.g., Van Gogh); 8) Current perspectives on the art produced by people diagnosed with mental illness as shown in art exhibits, retrospectives, and long-running features in clinical journals such as the British and American Journals of Psychiatry.

Archival research: Madness in the Asylum

In several articles (Occult Genres; Narrative Survival; Descriptive Psychopathology in Asylum Notes) co-authored with Carol Berkenkotter and in our book Diagnosing Madness: The Discursive Construction of the Psychiatric Patient, 1850-1920 (2019), we used archival research from Ticehurst Asylum (England) and asylum-related litigation (the U.S.) to try to pry apart how mental illness was negotiated between patient, families, asylum authorities, largely judicial and institutional forces, and public opinion. The act of diagnosing of a mental illness would seal the fate of the patient committed to the asylum; consequently, many would often take pains to dispute it, in an attempt to regain not only their freedom but their status and sense of identity.

Diagnosing Madness is a study of the linguistic negotiations at the heart of mental illness identification and patient diagnosis. Through an examination of individual psychiatric case records from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we show how the work of psychiatry was navigated by patients, families, doctors, the general public, and the legal system. The results of examining those involved and their interactions show that the psychiatrist’s task became one of constant persuasion, producing arguments surrounding diagnosis and asylum confinement that attempted to reconcile shifting definitions of disease and to respond to sociocultural pressures.

By studying patient cases, the emerging literature of confinement, and patient accounts viewed alongside institutional records, we trace the evolving rhetoric of psychiatric disease, its impact on the treatment of patients, its implications for our contemporary understanding of mental illness, and the identity of the psychiatric patient. We hope the book helps elucidate the larger rhetorical forces that contributed to the eventual decline of the asylum and highlights the struggle for the professionalization of psychiatry.

Relevant publications:

Emergence of an illness: Orthorexia Nervosa

My most recent foray into the rhetoric of psychiatry has to do with an emerging eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa (= obsession with eating right)–not yet in the DSM but becoming an established and recognizable diagnostic term. In my recent article in Medical Humanities, I trace the inception of this diagnosis and discuss it as a cultural construct. While a continuum can be drawn between anorexia and orthorexia, there are enough differences to make this disorder a distinct one. In this paper, I trace the origins of the term and its clinical career to date, employing Ian Hacking’s concept of “ecological niche” to establish the place of orthorexia as a contemporary cyberpathy, a digitally transmitted disorder inwardly and narrowly focused on health through the consumption of “pure” foods. I critique both the notions of “health” and “purity” in this context, showing that orthorexia can only be understood in the context of healthism, an individual preoccupation with health in the context of neoliberalism. Using Jordan Younger’s Breaking Vegan memoir (2015) and “Balanced Blonde” blog as a case study, I argue that orthorexia replicates via a digital proliferation of entrepreneurship of the self. Ultimately, this excessive preoccupation with health as a neoliberal cultural pathology bares life of meaning.

I am currently at work on a book project on this topic (Lexington Books, Health Communication series).

A corollary of this sort of work is that I’ve become much more interested in food studies and their connection with the rhetoric of health and medicine. To that end, I’m honored to be guest editor of an upcoming special issue of Rhetoric of Health and Medicine on Food as Medicine (see CFP here).

Relevant publications:

Writing Research/Scientific Writing

Independent writing programs and writing pedagogy

As part of a small independent writing program at a small, private, STEM-oriented university, I’ve helped with efforts to innovate our curriculum, foster collaborations across campus with different departments, and helped design a Writing Across the Curriculum program. The issue of independence for writing scholar has remained a thorny one; the once solid trend of separating Writing Studies from English departments has faltered somewhat in more recent years, which makes certain initiatives and programs (like WAC) more difficult to implement, and downplays the labor of writing faculty within the university. The Director of Writing Programs, Justin Everett, and I co-edited a collection devoted to independent writing programs (WAC Clearinghouse/Colorado Open UP, 2016), in which I also authored a chapter on our program’s own efforts to implement a Writing About Writing (WAW) pedagogy, and co-authored the introduction.

Scientific Writing

I have primarily taught scientific writing (in a traditional, online, and hybrid setting) since 2010. It is a challenging course, especially as an undergraduate requirement for students from various programs across our campus (pharmaceutical science, physical therapy, physician assistant, etc.). I have been improving and updating the course constantly, and some of those efforts are reflected in an upcoming textbook project (co-authored with Kelleen Flaherty), in press with Oxford University Press. Our goal was to have a light-hearted, at times humorous, and always approachable tone that would help students absorb perennial lessons about writing in the sciences with ease. We hope we have succeeded!

Relevant publications:

  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. & Flaherty, K. (2020). Effective scientific communication: The other half of science. [Textbook]. In press with Oxford University Press.
  • Everett, J. & Hanganu-Bresch, C. (Eds.) (2016). A minefield of dreams: Triumphs and travails of Independent Writing Programs. WAC Clearinghouse & Colorado State University Open Press.
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2016). Qvo vadis, Independent Writing Programs? Writing about writing and rhetorical education. In Everett, J. & C. Hanganu-Bresch (Eds.). A minefield of dreams: Triumphs and travails of Independent Writing Programs, pp. 193-212. WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. 
  • Everett, J. & Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2016). Introduction: Toward a schema of Independent Writing Programs. In Everett, J. & C. Hanganu-Bresch (Eds.). A minefield of dreams: Triumphs and travails of Independent Writing Programs, pp. 3-19. WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. 
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2011). Science writing, writing science: Adapting the writing curriculum to a science-oriented institution. In Lowe, C. & Williams, T. (Eds.) WPA 2010 Conference Proceedings. Available at http://wpacouncil.org/wpa-2010-conference-proceedings.

Animal Studies and Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism

We share the world with countless species of animals, many of which we ignore or treat as pests, some of which revere, some of which we love and welcome into our homes, and some of which we allow others to raise (most of the time under brutal conditions), slaughter, and sell to us for food. Animal industries are inhumane, polluting, and inefficient; overconsumption of meat has been linked with all manner of chronic disease. The main reason I am a vegetarian and advocate for vegetarianism is ethics – it is the clearest, simplest way to protest and remove oneself from what is being done to sentient animals in the name of taste or spurious claims about health, and also to protest an industry that contributes substantially to global warming and alarming levels of pollution. Weight Watchers’ slogan was “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” I’d adapt that to “Nothing tastes as good as being compassionate feels.” We have tons of food options and, unless one has some obscure and rare disease that requires meat for survival, there is literally no reason one should consume meat and animal products in general. I’m interested in the rhetoric of vegetarianism – how do we talk about it, how vegans and vegetarians are vilified in the press, and how the public discourse seems, at last, to be shifting ever so slightly to accommodate meatlessness as a reasonable, sane, and visionary choice. To that end, I’m proud to co-edit a collection on vegetarian arguments (under contract with Palgrave/MacMillan; with Kristin Kondrlik) and am looking for a home for another edited collection on the rhetoric(s) of veg(etari)anism.

Digital animals

I’ve developed a multidisciplinary course in Animal Studies, which I teach ever Spring semester, and I am a proud collective member of the North American Association for Critical Animal Studies. I think rhetoric and communication-adjacent disciplines should pay more attention to non-human animals and Critical Animal Studies in general. I’m at work now on turning some of my initial forays into these issues (presented at various conferences) into articles. One particular topic that intrigues me is how we respond to the proliferation of digital animal memes, and how hungry we are for images of cute/cuddly/funny furry companions as a way to replenish our emotional reservoirs when they run low due to personal or public aggravating events (“Send emergency kittens” is a variation of a call often heard on social media when one is in distress).

Relevant publications and select presentations:

  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. & Kondrlik, K. (Eds.) Veg(etari)an arguments in culture, history, and practice: The V word. Under contract with Palgrave/McMillan (Animal Ethics Series). Forthcoming, 2021.
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. Vegetarianism as mental illness. Manuscript under review.
  • Select Conference Presentations:
    • Digital animals: Memeification, monetization and affect in the age of social media. European Association for Critical Animal Studies, Barcelona, Spain, May 22-24, 2019
    • Veganism, united, against itself: Public perceptions of internecine fights in the vegan community. Rhetoric Society of Europe, University of East AngliaNorwich, UK, Jul. 3-5, 2017 
    • The animal turn in rhetoric and compositionConference on College Composition and CommunicationPittsburgh, PA, Mar. 13-16, 2019
    • Rhetorics of veg*nism. Panel organizer, presenter – Rhetoric Society of America, Minneapolis, MN, May 31-Jun 3, 2018.

Translation and poetry, and other interests

Translation & Poetry

Life without poetry is dull, stale, like a tepid shower, an eternal suburbia, a valley without winds. If a student ever challenged me on that, I would point to the lyrics of the songs they are always listening to and remind them that those are, in fact, poetry. I’ve always written poetry in Romanian (my native language); eventually, I transitioned to English. Obviously, I do this mostly for myself; I have a very modest, practically non-existent track record of publication of original poetry, some of it in Romanian. For years I maintained a translation blog, translating some of my beloved Romanian poets into English and explaining my process. This blog led to several collaboration with a well known American translator of Romanian poetry, Adam Sorkin, some of which were published in peer-reviewed journals. It’s not something I have often time to do, but when I do, it replenishes me.

Relevant publications:

Other interests: Gender, digital culture, immigration

Among other things, I am a woman; an immigrant; and an early adopter of digital culture back in my own country–and as such have remained highly interested in its evolution and possibilities. I’ve written/presented on mommy blogs, gender-driven digital wars, memes, the meaning of immigration, and other similar topics. These issues are not major themes of my current research, but are always present in the background of everything I do–and occasionally take a front seat.

Relevant publications

  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2020). Immigration as rhetorical act. [chapter] In press with Inkshed, an imprint of Parlor Press.
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2018). NeitherfemmeWomen and Language 40(1). Special issue: Nasty (Wo)manifestos: Remixing Feminisms for Social Change. Multimedia installation + artist statementhttps://www.womenandlanguage.org/40-2womanifestos.
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2017). What’s in a meme? The 2016 CCCC Intellectual Property AnnualA Publication of the Intellectual Property Caucus of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, pp. 16-23. Available at http://www.ncte.org/cccc/committees/ip/2016-developments
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2009). Mall of America: Consumption and social wilderness. In D. Brown, C. Chaput, & M.J. Braun (Eds.) Entertaining fear. Bern: Peter Lang: Frontiers in Political Communication Series. 
  • Hanganu-Bresch, C. (2006). Overview of gender in Eastern Europe. In Trauth, E. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of gender and information technology. Hershey, PA and London, UK: Idea Group Reference.