I am delighted to have received a 2017 Ryerson University Deans’ Research Award (early career category). This award “recognizes individual faculty members on an annual basis for outstanding scholarly, research and creative activities (SRC) achievements and impact on their disciplines during the previous academic year.”

See here for more on my book, Bounding Biomedicine: Evidence and Rhetoric in the New Science of Alternative Medicine (The University of Chicago Press, 2016)

Current Major Research Projects

The Wellness Drug: Natural Health in a Biomedical Culture

Slide1My new book project focuses on the concept of wellness as it occurs in contemporary North American discourse about dietary supplements such as herbal remedies and high-dose vitamins. This project combines rhetorical and linguistic analysis of a wide range of sources (including interview transcripts, scientific articles, newspapers and magazines, and commercial and professional websites) with critical-secondary scholarship in science and technology studies, health/medical humanities, and related fields.

My central argument is that the concept of wellness is predicated on the entanglement of seemingly opposed logics of “restoration” and “enhancement”: those who seek wellness through dietary supplements and natural health products seek simultaneously both to restore their bodies, perceived as malfunctioning, to prior states of ideal health and well-being and to enhance their bodies by optimizing bodily processes to be, as bioethicist Carl Elliott would argue, “better than well.” Wellness, in this configuration, is not an endpoint but a process: the fusing of the two logics of restoration and enhancement creates an essentially closed rhetorical system in which “wellness” is always a moving target. When argumentation from one of these twin logics appears to be exhausted, such as when a symptom such as insomnia abates, the other logic appears to “kick in”—one could always sleep better.

SSHRC Storytellers Competition: Tanya Tan, an MA graduate from the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson University, competed as a finalist in the 2016 SSHRC Storytellers contest for her entry about my SSHRC-funded study on wellness. She won a cash prize of $3,000 and presented in the final Storyteller Showcase at the Calgary Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Food Activism and Rhetorics of “Local Food(s)” 

15605863289_368d20e080_oMy other current research is a collaborative project with Professor Philippa Spoel at Laurentian University about rhetorics of food activism and “local food(s).” Our first article examines how public health promotion of local foods constructs an emerging, moralized model of a healthy citizen/consumer.  Our most recent article extends our research by demonstrating how the newly emergent genre of the food charter constitutes (rather than simply reflects or represents) “community” values and identities. We are now continuing this research to examine networks of genres in local food activism and policy development and implementation.



Derkatch, Colleen. Bounding Biomedicine: Evidence and Rhetoric in the New Science of Alternative Medicine. University of Chicago Press. April 2016.

Derkatch, Colleen, and Philippa Spoel. “Public Health Promotion of ‘Local Food’: Constituting the Self-Governing Citizen-Consumer.” Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 21.2 (2017): 154-70.

Spoel, Philippa, and Colleen Derkatch. “Constituting Community through Food Charters: A Rhetorical-Genre Analysis.” Canadian Food Studies 3.1 (2016): 46-70.

Derkatch, Colleen. “‘Wellness’ as Incipient Illness: Dietary Supplement Discourse in a Biomedical Culture.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 2.2 (2012): n.p.

Derkatch, Colleen. “Demarcating Medicine’s Boundaries: Constituting and Categorizing in the Journals of the American Medical Association.”Technical Communication Quarterly 21.3 (2012): 210-29.

Derkatch, Colleen. “Does Biomedicine Control for Rhetoric? Configuring Practitioner-Patient Interaction.” Rhetorical Questions in Health and Medicine. Eds. Joan Leach and Deborah Dysart-Gale. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010. 129-53.

Derkatch, Colleen. “Method as Argument: Boundary Work in Evidence-Based Medicine.” Social Epistemology 23.4 (2008): 371-88.

Derkatch, Colleen, and Judy Z. Segal. “Realms of Rhetoric in Health and Medicine.” University of Toronto Medical Journal 82.2 (2005): 138-142.


Image credits:

Vitamins: Steve Depolo

Carrots: Zoe (Zoesque)