A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Soundscape: Physiological Monitors, Rhetorical Ventriloquism, and Earwitnessing

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Kristin Marie Bivens


Considering aurality (hearing) and sonicity (sounds/noises) in our research sites promises much for rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM) scholars. To show this value, I argue aural awareness of soundscapes provide opportunities to sensorially enrich our understanding of sonic experiences in acute care hospital settings, as in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) site at the center of my case study. To that end, the purpose of this article is threefold: 1) to identify aurality as a sensorial aspect in healthcare sensescapes worthy of RHM inquiry; 2) to foreground how these soundscapes shape care and caretaking in healthcare and clinical settings; and 3) to propose more careful considering and attending, as “earwitnesses,” to the sonic experiences of bodies in these settings. In the process, I propose “rhetorical ventriloquism” as a useful, responsible concept to consider how these sounds and noises appear to stand in for bodies and their physiologies and shape those bodies’ care, while amplifying those bodies as the healthcare technologies speak and sound for them. Furthermore, I suggest RHM scholars can act as earwitnesses who attend to sonicity and aurality in healthcare and clinical settings, as well as study how people are sensorially trained in these settings.



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Research Articles
Author Biography

Kristin Marie Bivens, Harold Washington College--One of the City Colleges of Chicago

Kristin Marie Bivens is an associate professor of English at Harold Washington College—one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Bivens's research interests include feminist rhetorics, health communication in acute contexts, the rhetoric of embodied political protests, and the ethics of researching with participants. Her work appears in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, the Journal of Communication Inquiry, Health Communication, and Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (Routledge, 2018).