Research Topic

“Doing” Critical Health Communication. A Forum on Methods

About this Research Topic

This Research Topic is intended to be a shared forum for discussion and reflection on the challenges and opportunities of “doing” of critical health communication research. By critical health communication (CHC), we refer to trajectories of communication and allied scholarship that interrogate how meanings and enactments of health are tied to issues of power through the systematic construction and maintenance of inequalities, linked with culture, resources, and social structures. We seek to bring together researchers that identify as critical health communication (CHC) scholars, or those who do critical health communication research (broadly defined), in an effort to engage the various methodological/epistemological perspectives that guide methods in this area. We envisage this Research Topic as a “how-to” for CHC, an attempt to showcase the robust intellectual diversity and multiple paradigmatic influences that constitute CHC broadly.

In 2008, Zoller and Kline published a comprehensive review of the contributions of interpretive/critical health communication research in the Annals of Communication (then called Communication Yearbook). In it, the authors documented the popularity of interpretive/critical health research, arguing that these research paradigms have become more "mainstream" rather than “alternative” in contemporary research practices. The authors explicated the specific areas of research that had gained traction as a result of critical inquiry. These include recent interest in a) everyday experiences of health and illness, b) critiques of the production, circulation and reception of dominant health discourses in the media, c) ideological analysis of health promotion campaigns, d) deconstruction of the biased assumptions of dominant health communication theory, e) development of context-sensitive models of health promotion, f) critiques of inherent Eurocentricism in health promotion, g) critical approaches to culture and health, h) health policy as a critical communicative process and i) health activism and organizing. While the mainstreaming of these approaches has clearly accelerated in the ten years since Zoller and Kline’s account, much has changed as well. Recent critical scholarship addresses critical/participatory digital health studies. Additionally, critical health research is increasingly global, and the US-centricism of the field does not seem as inevitable today. As experiences of health and healthcare increasingly are transformed through shifting capitalist systems and multiple forms of social domination, we also see a rise in both grassroots and transnational organizing, including demands for equitable healthcare, access to preventive services, workplace safety, environmental health, and mental health, calls for economic transformations that alter the fundamental roots of health status, and the promotion of health as a human right. We envisage this Research Topic will highlight how critical researchers across geographical, social, cultural and political contexts engage with important questions around health, disease, culture, globalization, to name a few.

Second, it is our hope that this forum will also tease out methodologies specific to critical health communication, as separate from interpretive/”emic” approaches, even as we realize the common ground shared by these “alternative” methods. We believe that there is now enough development in CHC research to document our unique vocabularies/practices/methods. To put it simply, we hope to collectively articulate (and complicate) what exactly we mean by “critical” in CHC.

To this end, we encourage contributors to think about questions like “What makes (y)our work critical?” How do methodological practices illuminate the role of critique? What are the ontological and epistemological implications of doing CHC? How is critical health communication related to critical praxis? How does “doing” critical work engage with/deviate from the broader interpretive move towards discourses/texts? What do recent provocations around the “return to the material” in Communication scholarship mean for CHC researchers? How is CHC situated to respond to widening racial, gendered and other social disparities in health across the globe? Finally, how do CHC researchers situate their own privilege and conceptualize embodied risk through their work? Which is to say, how is “critical” health scholarship situated vis-à-vis the status quo? We see this Research Topic as being a space for documenting and sharing how CHC researchers currently employ critical methods and make connections to theory through their work. This Research Topic can also help create a foundation for the advancement of critical methods and the development of future directions for critical researchers.

We welcome 250-word abstracts for consideration to this Research Topic that would facilitate a better understanding of methods in CHC research. We are especially interested in, (but are not limiting the call to) submissions that juxtapose data and theory in demonstrating “how to” use CHC methods. For instance, a submission on “postcolonial criticism” as a specific methodological approach might go back and forth between theory and textual data to demonstrate what analysis looks like: how you choose units of analysis, inductive/deductive steps, how findings are crystallized, how data is triangulated, etc.

While this is in no means an exhaustive list, we welcome submissions pertaining to methodological approaches like:
• Political economy
• Activist Methodologies
• Critical discourse analysis
• Ideological critique
• Feminist critique
• Postmodern methods
• “New subaltern” methodologies
• Queer theory
• Critical ethnographic methods
• Indigenous knowledge production/ unlearning
• Participatory digital studies
• Abductive analysis
• Disability studies

Contributors may address questions surrounding what counts as “critical” research in health communication, challenges in data gathering, developments in analytic methods, and issues in publishing critical research in health communication. Selected abstract authors will be welcomed to submit complete manuscripts for peer-review, based on the timeline provided. Given our focus on methods, complete manuscripts do not need to confirm to “typical” full-length journal articles in terms of word length. We are primarily looking for shorter, focused demonstrations of how you use critical methods (these might include submissions called “Perspectives” in the Frontiers system that may be up to 3,000 words). We will still welcome full-length pieces if you are working on a piece of this nature. We welcome submissions from outside the United States including the global South. Submissions demonstrating analysis of original data are especially relevant to this call. Additionally, contributors are encouraged to consider the various types of manuscripts considered for submission at Frontiers. We welcome you to submit “reviews”, “mini-reviews”, “perspectives” (or other submission types) for this Research Topic.


Keywords: health communication, critical-cultural approaches, critical theory, discourse analysis


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

This Research Topic is intended to be a shared forum for discussion and reflection on the challenges and opportunities of “doing” of critical health communication research. By critical health communication (CHC), we refer to trajectories of communication and allied scholarship that interrogate how meanings and enactments of health are tied to issues of power through the systematic construction and maintenance of inequalities, linked with culture, resources, and social structures. We seek to bring together researchers that identify as critical health communication (CHC) scholars, or those who do critical health communication research (broadly defined), in an effort to engage the various methodological/epistemological perspectives that guide methods in this area. We envisage this Research Topic as a “how-to” for CHC, an attempt to showcase the robust intellectual diversity and multiple paradigmatic influences that constitute CHC broadly.

In 2008, Zoller and Kline published a comprehensive review of the contributions of interpretive/critical health communication research in the Annals of Communication (then called Communication Yearbook). In it, the authors documented the popularity of interpretive/critical health research, arguing that these research paradigms have become more "mainstream" rather than “alternative” in contemporary research practices. The authors explicated the specific areas of research that had gained traction as a result of critical inquiry. These include recent interest in a) everyday experiences of health and illness, b) critiques of the production, circulation and reception of dominant health discourses in the media, c) ideological analysis of health promotion campaigns, d) deconstruction of the biased assumptions of dominant health communication theory, e) development of context-sensitive models of health promotion, f) critiques of inherent Eurocentricism in health promotion, g) critical approaches to culture and health, h) health policy as a critical communicative process and i) health activism and organizing. While the mainstreaming of these approaches has clearly accelerated in the ten years since Zoller and Kline’s account, much has changed as well. Recent critical scholarship addresses critical/participatory digital health studies. Additionally, critical health research is increasingly global, and the US-centricism of the field does not seem as inevitable today. As experiences of health and healthcare increasingly are transformed through shifting capitalist systems and multiple forms of social domination, we also see a rise in both grassroots and transnational organizing, including demands for equitable healthcare, access to preventive services, workplace safety, environmental health, and mental health, calls for economic transformations that alter the fundamental roots of health status, and the promotion of health as a human right. We envisage this Research Topic will highlight how critical researchers across geographical, social, cultural and political contexts engage with important questions around health, disease, culture, globalization, to name a few.

Second, it is our hope that this forum will also tease out methodologies specific to critical health communication, as separate from interpretive/”emic” approaches, even as we realize the common ground shared by these “alternative” methods. We believe that there is now enough development in CHC research to document our unique vocabularies/practices/methods. To put it simply, we hope to collectively articulate (and complicate) what exactly we mean by “critical” in CHC.

To this end, we encourage contributors to think about questions like “What makes (y)our work critical?” How do methodological practices illuminate the role of critique? What are the ontological and epistemological implications of doing CHC? How is critical health communication related to critical praxis? How does “doing” critical work engage with/deviate from the broader interpretive move towards discourses/texts? What do recent provocations around the “return to the material” in Communication scholarship mean for CHC researchers? How is CHC situated to respond to widening racial, gendered and other social disparities in health across the globe? Finally, how do CHC researchers situate their own privilege and conceptualize embodied risk through their work? Which is to say, how is “critical” health scholarship situated vis-à-vis the status quo? We see this Research Topic as being a space for documenting and sharing how CHC researchers currently employ critical methods and make connections to theory through their work. This Research Topic can also help create a foundation for the advancement of critical methods and the development of future directions for critical researchers.

We welcome 250-word abstracts for consideration to this Research Topic that would facilitate a better understanding of methods in CHC research. We are especially interested in, (but are not limiting the call to) submissions that juxtapose data and theory in demonstrating “how to” use CHC methods. For instance, a submission on “postcolonial criticism” as a specific methodological approach might go back and forth between theory and textual data to demonstrate what analysis looks like: how you choose units of analysis, inductive/deductive steps, how findings are crystallized, how data is triangulated, etc.

While this is in no means an exhaustive list, we welcome submissions pertaining to methodological approaches like:
• Political economy
• Activist Methodologies
• Critical discourse analysis
• Ideological critique
• Feminist critique
• Postmodern methods
• “New subaltern” methodologies
• Queer theory
• Critical ethnographic methods
• Indigenous knowledge production/ unlearning
• Participatory digital studies
• Abductive analysis
• Disability studies

Contributors may address questions surrounding what counts as “critical” research in health communication, challenges in data gathering, developments in analytic methods, and issues in publishing critical research in health communication. Selected abstract authors will be welcomed to submit complete manuscripts for peer-review, based on the timeline provided. Given our focus on methods, complete manuscripts do not need to confirm to “typical” full-length journal articles in terms of word length. We are primarily looking for shorter, focused demonstrations of how you use critical methods (these might include submissions called “Perspectives” in the Frontiers system that may be up to 3,000 words). We will still welcome full-length pieces if you are working on a piece of this nature. We welcome submissions from outside the United States including the global South. Submissions demonstrating analysis of original data are especially relevant to this call. Additionally, contributors are encouraged to consider the various types of manuscripts considered for submission at Frontiers. We welcome you to submit “reviews”, “mini-reviews”, “perspectives” (or other submission types) for this Research Topic.


Keywords: health communication, critical-cultural approaches, critical theory, discourse analysis


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 April 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 April 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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