Narratives and rhetoric : persuasion in doctors' writings about the summer complaint, 1883-1939



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Narratives and Rhetoric: Persuasion in Doctors’ Writings about the Summer Complaint, 1883-1939, is a study of narrative as it is used in scientific writing. This rhetorical analysis follows the historical evolution of a genre as the genre mediates competing scientific, professional, and social forces, changes them, and is changed by them. Despite advances in scientific and medical technology that offered supposedly objective and measurable data and despite doctors’ push for recognition as scientific professionals, doctors’ writing increasingly relied on narrative as a persuasive device in medical articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Medical narratives perform pedagogical functions, illustrating both the general course of a disease and variant courses so that practitioners can make better diagnoses when they are faced with similar cases. Medical narratives also shape doctors’ discourse and, through that, the practice of medicine and the formation of the medical profession. Medical narratives maintain ambiguity, perpetuating the need for the skilled human clinician despite the proliferation of more and more sophisticated medical technology. Medical narratives also determine how the various participants in medical decisions--the doctor, the patient, the parent, and the disease itself--are valued and judged. These value judgments determine what medical interventions and cultural systems are deployed to return a patient to health. Medical narratives can be epideictic, reinforcing doctors’ ethos; they can be disciplinary, correcting errant members; and they can be exhortatory, urging doctors toward better ethical practice. Thus, narratives are extremely valuable in medical discourse, and their persistence in doctors’ writing is easily explained.