Rhetorics of Quantification in the Context of Chronic Pain

Rachael Graham Lussos

Advisor: Heidi Y. Lawrence, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Melissa Broeckelman-Post, Isidore Dorpenyo

Fenwick Library, #1014 A
April 08, 2019, 01:00 PM to 04:00 PM


This dissertation describes three studies about the rhetorics of quantification in the context of chronic pain. Chronic pain—a constant and incurable pain that is stigmatized for its association with disability, illness, and drug use—is an inherently subjective experience, but persons in chronic pain are required to communicate about this experience in the objective terminology familiar to medical contexts, such as the numerical pain rating scale (NPRS). This dissertation suggests a different approach to incorporating objective terminology in communication about chronic pain experiences, using rhetorics of quantification. To determine the extent to which persons in chronic pain use rhetorics of quantification, this dissertation research comprised three studies. First, a mixed-methods analysis of tweets about chronic pain experiences showed that persons in chronic pain do use rhetorics of quantification but with limited perceptions of effectiveness. Second, a discourse analysis of fifteen interviews with persons in chronic pain also showed persons in chronic pain using rhetorics of quantification but with less perceived effectiveness than embodied rhetorics of pain. Third, a crystallization study analyzed the first and second study and a reflective research journal to problematize three dichotomies about rhetorics of quantification in the context of chronic pain, blurring distinctions between quantification and qualification as well as verbal and embodied discourses. Across all three studies, questions about knowledge construction and the persuasiveness of objectivity—as either internally quantified or externally embodied—persist, suggesting areas for future research in rhetoric and the study of chronic pain.