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PWR 1KSB: Health Matters: Health, Innovation, and Communication

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Catalog Number: PWR 1KSB

Instructor: Kim Savelson

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


What is health? Is this a medical question, or a cultural, political, or ethical question? While we cannot universally define “health,” it’s now a legal issue as well. In Sept. 2012, amidst significant controversy, the New York Board of Health banned the sale of “soft drinks” in sizes 16 oz. or larger at public eateries, in hopes of preventing obesity. While New York City's mayor Bloomberg acknowledges that his ban is not perfect, he insists that “we’ve got to do something. We have an obligation to warn you when things are not good for your health.” The Soda Ban is an example of a growing approach in the health policy sector that some call behavioral healthcare design. However, provocative bans like this present just a tiny frame when compared with the kinds of innovations occurring across the planet.

For example, in the developing world, trauma, disease, and natural disasters result in hundreds of thousands of new amputees per year. The JaipurKnee Project (with help from Stanford) has designed a $20 high-performance prosthetic knee, so that amputees can walk, work, and play. Luma League’s low cost bili lights save “one cute little baby at a time.” These are both material products—things that are making a difference to people’s health and wellness. But things are just one approach. Well-designed health communication campaigns (such as anti-smoking ads) can be just as powerful as the design of affordable products. The challenge of a well-designed communication campaign is no less difficult than inventing new things or technologies; a range of specialties are required when it comes to health matters.

In this course, we will engage with the dynamic health sector in all its complexity, and seek to understand the matters that are under debate, and the movements that are gaining momentum. We will explore health matters in many contexts, as we read academic and popular writing in several media. Beginning with the premise that “health” needs to be defined and studied in context—health is not a universal concept, and it means different things to different people—we will enter the conversation, as students, critics, and scholars.

Examples of Research Topics

You might be interested in how health concepts are filtered through cultural lenses, and how we can implement a culturecentered approach in health communication. Perhaps you will explore the discourse around healthcare and rights, health policy and public health, bioethics, or the place of non-health specialists in health discourse. You might take a close look at a health campaign or design one yourself, or, do research in a growing field like epigenetics. The overlapping of health sector issues with other approaches like design thinking, ethics, or music might also be explored.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) In this essay you’ll examine and evaluate the rhetorical appeal of a chosen text to its audience.

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) In the TiC you will explore the important conversation surrounding your emergent research question. You will construct an annotated bibliography, and write an essay that discusses the sources’ arguments, puts the texts into dialogue with one another, and describes how these materials help you move closer to developing your research question.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) You will write on a research topic that is compelling to you that relates to the course theme.