Discourse and healthcare

Authored by: Kevin Harvey , Svenja Adolphs

The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415551076
eBook ISBN: 9780203809068
Adobe ISBN: 9781136672927


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In this chapter we explore the interrelation between discourse and healthcare. Health communication is a broad field of enquiry and practice, and so we will restrict our focus to health communication research that is concerned with naturally occurring linguistic routines (as opposed to more abstract, theoretical approaches to health communication and approaches which seek to identify and describe, if possible, what constitutes effective health communication). We take the phrase ‘discourse’ to refer to stretches of ‘contextually sensitive written and spoken language produced as part of the interaction between speakers and hearers and writers and readers’ (Candlin et al., 1999: 321). Thus our focus is on discourse as a linguistic practice rather than on discourse as conceived by social theorists–that is, on discourse ‘as ways structuring areas of knowledge and social/institutional practices’ (p. 323). Like other linguistic practitioners who interrogate discourse (Kress, 1988; Fairclough, 1992), we, too, conceive of language as not merely reflecting ‘entities and relations in social life’ but actively contributing to their construction and constitution (Candlin et al., 1999: 323). With regard to healthcare and health communication, language plays a significant part in constituting practices that take place within a range of medical settings, and, as we seek to demonstrate in this chapter, discourse can be seen as a central activity within the context of healthcare that helps to determine successful (or otherwise) outcomes and patient satisfaction.

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