Jenell Johnson

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture

Associate Professor


6033 Vilas Hall

Professor Jenell Johnson

Office Hours:

  • Tuesdays, 4-6 PM


Expertise and Activities

My research interests include the rhetoric of health and medicine, science and technology studies, disability studies, bioethics, and environmental ethics. My 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 my work has looked closely at how the meaning of neuroscience, psychiatry, and mental disability in scientific and cultural contexts. These interests are best illustrated by my book American Lobotomy, which explores how representations of psychosurgery shaped the rise, fall, and return of lobotomy in US medicine, and the co-edited collection The Neuroscientific Turn, a collection of essays from humanists and scientists reflecting on the growth of the “neuro-disciplines.” More recently, my research has shifted focus from the brain to the ethics and politics of life. In this vein, I am currently working on a book about the ethics of life beyond the discipline bioethics, and recently co-edited a collection on the theory and practice of biocitizenship.

In addition to my position in Communication Arts, I am affiliated faculty in the Departments of Life Sciences Communication and Gender and Women’s Studies, and serve on the steering committees of the Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies, the health and humanities and Disability Studies Initiative. I also have something of a double life as a cartoonist, and I’m currently working with other faculty and students to explore how making comics can shape our teaching, learning, and research.


  • Ph.D. The Pennsylvania State University, 2008
  • M.A. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2002
  • B.A. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 1999


  • Mellon-Morgridge Professor of the Humanities, 2017
  • Public Outreach Fellowship, Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies, 2016
  • Research-Service Award, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2014
  • Top Papers, Peace and Conflict Division, National Communication Association, 2014


  • 2016. “‘A Man’s Mouth Is His Castle’: The Midcentury Fluoridation Controversy and the Visceral Public.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 102.1 (1-20).
  • 2016. “Bioethics as a Way of Life: The Radical Bioethos of Van Rennselaer Potter.” Literature & Medicine, (34.1) 7-24.
  • 2015. “The Limits of Persuasion: Rhetoric and Resistance in the Last Battle of the Korean War.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, (100.3) 1-25.
  • 2013. “Negotiating Autism in an Epidemic of Discourse (Review Essay).” Disability Studies Quarterly,
  • 2012. “Disability, Animals, and the Rhetorical Boundaries of Personhood.” JAC, (32.1-2): 372-382.
  • 2011. “Thinking with the Thalamus: Lobotomy and the Rhetoric of Emotional Impairment.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, (5.2): 187-200.
  • 2010. “The Skeleton on the Couch: The Eagleton Affair, Rhetorical Disability, and the Stigma of Mental Illness (reprinted in Neurorhetorics, forthcoming from Routledge).” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, (40.5): 459-478.
  • 2009. “A Dark History: Memories of Lobotomy in the New Era of Psychosurgery.” Medicine Studies, (1.4): 367-378.
  • 2009. “Visions of Disability in a Technocratic Society.” DataCritica: International Journal of Critical Statistics 3.1, (3.1): 43-45.


  • 2018. Graphic Reproduction: A Comics Anthology. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.
  • 2018. Biocitizenship: Lively Subjects, Embodied Action, and Posthuman Politics (co-edited with Kelly Happe and Marina Levina). New York: NYU Press (forthcoming).
  • 2014. American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • 2012. The Neuroscientific Turn: Trandisciplinarity in the Age of the Brain (co-edited with Melissa Littlefield). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.


  • 2014. “The Golden Voice of Neuroscience: Fact Finding in Popular Buddhist Magazines.” Neuroscience and Media: New Understandings and Representations, Michael Grabowski, ed. New York: Routledge.
  • 2014. “Symmetry.” The Object of Rhetoric: Assembling and Disassembling Bruno Latour, Nathaniel Rivers and Paul Lynch, eds. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press (with James J. Brown, Jr.).
  • 2012. “Theorizing the Neuroscientific Turn: Critical Perspectives on a Translational Discipline.” The Neuroscientific Turn: Transdisciplinarity in the Age of the Brain, Melissa Littlefield and Jenell Johnson Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (with Melissa Littlefield), 1-30.
  • 2011. “Lost and Found in Translation: Popular Neuroscience in the Emerging Neurodisciplines.” Advances in Medical Sociology, Martyn Pickersgill and Ira Van Keulen London: Emerald Insight (with Melissa Littlefield), In Press.
  • 2008. “To Find the Soul, It is Necessary to Lose It: Neuroscience, Disability, and the Epigraph to the Echo Maker.” Intersections: Essays on Richard Powers, Stephen J. Burn and Peter Dempsey Urbana, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 215-219.


  • 2014. “A Political History of the Brain,” Network for Neuro-Cultures Conference keynote, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 22, 2014.
  • 2013. “Thinking with the Thalamus: Lobotomy and the Rhetoric of Emotional Impairment,” University of Copenhagen, Medical Museion, March 11, 2013.


  • CA 262 – Theory and Practice of Argumentation and Debate
  • CA 310 – Rhetoric and Climate Change
  • CA 317 – Rhetoric and Health
  • CA 472 – Rhetoric and Technology
  • CA 570 – Classical Rhetorical Theory
  • CA 610 – Limits of the Human: The Rhetoric and Politics of Human Definition
  • CA 610 – Introduction to Disability Studies
  • CA 969 – Rhetorical Historiography (grad seminar)
  • CA 966 – Rhetoric and the Body (grad seminar)


Curriculum Vitae