Health & Inequality, Spring 2023

This Constellation is no longer offered, but the course is still being taught through the Communication Arts department (see Course Search & Enroll on MyUW).

What does health mean?

This question animates Prof. Johnson’s Communication Arts 317: Rhetoric and Health class, the heart of the Health & Inequality Constellation. Students in this class investigate how meanings of health circulate broadly through cultures, help construct these meanings in creative ways, and to understand how these meanings impact people differently in different social positions, at different times, and in different locations. Ultimately, students will learn what health means—as opposed to what it is—and why this difference matters.

COMMUNICATION ARTS 317: Rhetoric & Health 

The Health & Inequality Constellation is anchored in Johnson’s Rhetoric & Health class, which explores how the meaning of health is rhetorically constructed and deployed in a number of different social, political, and medical contexts.

Class Number: 24658
Lecture: TR 9:55-10:45 lecture, plus discussion section
3 Credits
Requisites: Sophomore Standing
Course Designation: Breadth – Humanities
Level: Intermediate
L&S Credit: Counts as Liberal Arts and Science credit in L&S

new Date().getTime(),event:’gtm.js’});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],

Jenell Johnson is a Mellon-Morgridge Professor of the Humanities and scholar whose work is recognized internationally for reshaping our understanding of science and medicine in the field of Rhetoric and Communications, as well as in Science and Technology Studies. Her research focuses on the circulation of scientific and medical information in the public sphere, with an emphasis on the social and political dimensions of nonexpert engagement with science, medicine, and technology. Much of her work has looked closely at issues related to how we understand the meaning of neuroscience, psychiatry, and mental disability. These interests are best illustrated in her first book American Lobotomy, which explores how representations of psychosurgery shaped the rise, fall, and “return” of lobotomy in US medicine, and the edited collection The Neuroscientific Turn, a collection of essays from humanists and scientists reflecting on the growth of the “neuro-disciplines.” Johnson is the director of UW-Madison’s Disability Studies Initiative. She leads a double life as a cartoonist and has recently published a comic anthology entitled Graphic Reproduction.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.


The Health & Inequality Constellation provides an excellent way to meet and exceed many of the requirements for the MCAT and Med schools. Key benefits of the Health & Inequality Constellation for pre-Med students include:


Constellations and the Health and the Humanities Certificate are two separate, but highly-related programs: the Health & Inequality Constellation can be a pathway into the Health and the Humanities Certificate. Students enrolled in Communication Arts 317 with Prof. Johnson earn 3 credits toward the total 15 credits needed to complete the certificate.  The Health and the Humanities Certificate is offered through the English department.

“By studying the Constellations courses at UW, I have learned a new type of critical thinking and new analytical skills that will be beneficial to my career as a medical professional. The humanities have taken a new shape in my UW education, as this class will actually influence how I practice medicine in the future.”