A Dialogue on Un/Precendented Pandemic Rhetorics

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Ryan Mitchell
Julie Homchick Crowe
Sara DiCaglio
Lisa DeTora
Brynn Fitzsimmons
Tristin Brynn Hooker
Lisa Keränen
Michael J. Klein
Melissa Nicolas
Shaunak Sastry


Inspired by conversations at the 2021 Rhetoric Society of America Institute workshop on Pandemic Rhetoric(s), this dialogue assembles graduate student, early-, mid-career, and established rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM) and critical health communication scholars to discuss a keyword that has structured political, social, and biomedical thinking about COVID-19: un/precedented. In identifying un/precedented as an organizing temporal rhetoric for the pandemic, we interrogate how recurrent appeals to the pandemic’s novelty both allow for and limit our capacities to meet the pandemic’s tremendous exigencies head-on. Leveraging our unique scholarly and community commitments, we theorize how un/precedentedness 1) becomes complicit in government inaction, 2) (re)asserts conceptual and literal borders, 3) justifies state and national public health mandates, and 4) obscures other historical and contemporary pandemics. We conclude by offering possibilities for interdisciplinary and longitudinal research into the far-reaching effects of contagious disease.  

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