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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The rhetoric of health awareness Gaudet, Loren


This dissertation uses the tools of rhetorical study to investigate how health awareness, as both a concept and a set of beliefs that reinforce ideals of health, permeates everyday life and affects ways of being. I draw on Kenneth Burke’s concepts of “orientation,” “altar,” and “piety” to offer a more nuanced description of health awareness. Orientations of health awareness name both altars and pieties. Altars are the iterations of health that should be worshipped, and the pieties provide the appropriate ways to worship at each altar. Health awareness (as in health-awareness campaigns, for example) promotes both altars of health and their corresponding pieties. Using this Burkean theoretical framework, I argue for a reconceptualization of health awareness as a series of temporal and epistemic orientations that are increasingly mediated through technology, are affectively charged, and are extensively commodified. In each of my chapters, I identify a different heath awareness orientation, the specific pieties that correspond to each orientation, and the iteration of health that each orientation maintains. The three health awareness orientations I identify are Optimization, Preparedness, and Revelation. I approach each orientation to health awareness with exemplars in pairs, because their juxtaposition illuminates what happens, rhetorically, when people are urged to be pious: for Optimization, I examine a health and fitness campaign alongside wearable technology marketing; for Preparedness, cancer awareness campaigns alongside critical-injury insurance marketing; and for Revelation, a Lyme disease campaign alongside direct-to-consumer genetic-test marketing. Approaching health awareness through the Burkean concept of orientation highlights some of the ways that health awareness, in its various iterations, carries with it a sense of what behaviors are appropriate (and inappropriate) and shapes understandings of selves and others. This dissertation contributes to Rhetoric of Health of Medicine, Science and Technology Studies, and Critical Health Studies by illustrating how rhetorical strategies work to shape our sense of what health is and what it means to be healthy. This dissertation is also aimed at readers in public health, insofar as it adds greater nuance to our understanding of health awareness practices.

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