My interest in digital rhetorics began when I worked in digital marketing before I returned to graduate studies. After completing my BA, I spent six years working on digital teams to create platforms and content for online spaces. While the work itself left me searching for more thought-provoking pursuits (hence grad school), I remained curious about the rhetorical ecologies that form online. In particular, I was drawn to the ways that discourse, feelings, and arguments intra-act online. Put another way, I found myself continually asking how feelings, as experienced in the body and as described discursively, function as people come to believe what they believe.
At first, I was mainly focused on negative emotions and political discourse. Then, I was introduced to rhetorical work in health and medicine – and something clicked for me. Patients draw together discourse, feelings, and arguments as they make sense of life-disrupting medical diagnoses. And they do a lot of this work online, particularly when the diagnosis is stigmatized and thus is not frequently discussed in public discourse.
I selected infertility as a case study for this reason. Infertility is frequently associated with negative emotions like shame, isolation, and failure (Jensen). These feelings can function as barriers, discouraging patients from discussing experiences with infertility more broadly in their public or personal lives (Arola; Britt). Marginalizing factors like gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and ability also influence negative feelings within infertility and when and where patients decide to share their stories (Ceballo et. al).
So, people go online. One online space that fosters a supportive and science-based approach to infertility treatments is, believe it or not, Reddit.
Reddit is often known for being a toxic, male-dominated corner of the internet. But it’s also home to subreddits dedicated to conditions like endometriosis (see McGuire), polycystic ovarian syndrome, pregnancy loss, and infertility (see also Jarvis).
My dissertation project studies this fascinating online space where patients engage both technical and feelings-heavy vocabularies to define, discuss, and deliberate infertility experiences. By studying these everyday accounts of infertility, I work to compile master narratives about fertility as understood by those who are outside of these normative conceptions of fertility. And further, I work to track how infertility patients construct counterstories to these narratives based on what they experience in their bodies.
One thing that digital artifacts like Reddit data offer is the chance to study rhetorical phenomena at scale. But that comes with a set of challenges as well. How can rhetoricians apply our close analytical lens to corpora that are too big to read “by hand”? How do we avoid relying too heavily on bag-of-words methodologies that remove critical context? What does it mean to approach corpus analysis rhetorically?
As a DRC fellow, I am especially excited to tackle methodological questions like these. The Collaborative represents a diverse group of scholars studying all intersections of digital rhetorics. I am so grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with the other fellows and the broader DRC community to explore digital rhetoric in its many methods, modalities, and movements.