Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



The field of health communication places considerable attention on coping with cancer, typically using social scientific approaches to investigate uncertainty, information, and/or social networks. Social scientific models of coping with adolescent cancer often measure how behaviors seek to manage cancer’s uncontrollability and/or uncertainty; however, how adolescents cope with cancer has been unclear. Short-term studies show adolescents typically and atypically cope. Long-term studies show a significant portion of survivors exhibit post-traumatic stress. The narrative and performative turns expose the role narratives and performatives play in shaping human subjects as meaning makers rather than merely information sharers. A narrative subject reframes cancer’s uncertainty and uncontrollability to be a matter of storytelling through which patients embark on a liminal journey of illness situated in socially shared narratives. The performative turn adds to a narrative perspective by foregrounding the contingency of the body and how bodily acts (re)produce subjective identities, and where performed actions (re)materialize sociocultural meanings. From this perspective, coping with a cancer identity is a matter of the performative, through which patient bodies negotiate liminal identities. I view coping as an act of embodied apperception: a series of acts by a narrative and performative subject. What the patient says and does while telling a cancer story exposes complex narrative and performative negotiations of coping with a cancer identity. To explore coping with an adolescent cancer identity, I apply critical self-reflexive (auto)ethnography through which I first tell my cancer story. By foregrounding the narrative and performative approach, I reveal: (1) a cancer diagnosis and its narrative as language in action; (2) the uncertain and uncontrollable narrative liminality of adolescent cancer patients; and (3) narratives and their discursive structures create performed actions, narratives, and narrative identities as much as they are created by performed actions, narratives, and narrative identities. Next, I apply a narrative and performative analytic as I critically and reflexively engage four videos of adolescents telling a “my cancer story.” The analysis of these videos maps a dramatic framework for these cancer stories through which adolescent patients embody liminality’s redress through reintegration as normative and/or embody schism through embracing a non-normal body.



Committee Chair

Terry, David