This September, CNM welcomes Associate Professor Benjamin Bates, Barbara Geralds Schoonover Professor of Health Communication in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication.
Dr Bates’ research and teaching is in the public understanding of health and healing. Although first trained as a rhetorical scholar, Dr. Bates appreciates and uses critical, qualitative, and quantitative methods to address questions at the intersection of health, medicine, and questions of public need. Specifically, he investigates communication campaigns in the context of public and environmental health and public understanding of health and healing. In addition to extensive teaching in Athens, Ohio, Dr. Bates has also taught and researched in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Here are some of his perspectives on scholarship, and about life:
My approach to research is to allow the problem or situation to determine how we address it. It is the need found in the field that should determine if we adopt a quantitative, qualitative, critical, or interpretive approach.
The important emerging research/researchers are those that you might least expect. When I edited Communication Quarterly, I found that some of the most interesting and innovative work was being done by people that are not well-known in the field. “Big names” are often afraid of losing respect, but new scholars are willing to take risks in their research and writing.
An aspect of research that policy-makers do not know is that not all valuable research can be immediately monetized or applied.
An urgent issue / area which researchers in public health should address today is mundane disease. When I have worked in Southeast Asia and Africa, HIV/AIDS seems to have dominated the conversation; we don’t pay enough attention to diseases that aren’t “sexy,” things like cholera, malaria, and typhoid that infect and affect far more people.
A personal pursuit I have not tried but would be keen to do is to train as a chef. I enjoy cooking, and perhaps as a second career might try to feed bodies instead of focusing so much on feeding minds.
An object I would never part with is very difficult to name. I think that experiences are more valuable than objects; I would rather lose my possessions than my memory.
A word I frequently use is “choice.” Choice is joyous, and choice is tragic; it lets us say yes to the good, but also closes other choices. Every time we act, or do not act, think, or do not think, speak, or do not speak, we are making a choice.
To me, health is a complete state of physical, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being, if you’ll allow me to borrow heavily from the World Health Organization.
And to be healed is to enact practices that get us as close to that complete state of well-being as possible.
An important piece of writing or research that young researchers should read is Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. A close second would be William Strunk and E.B. White’s Elements of Style. You will find many important things to inform research and teaching, but these two books help us to learn how to express ourselves effectively.
If I landed a million dollar research / teaching grant, I would still need a lot more money to accomplish the research I want to do! To bring together an interdisciplinary research team, including undergraduate and graduate students and community members, requires that we compensate a lot of people for time, energy, and effort. Our research project network, Integrating Professionals for Appalachian Children (http://www.ipacohio.org/), used nearly that much in a single year! And there was still much more work that we wanted to do.
A young rhetorician should never be afraid of learning statistical analysis. The art of rhetoric, if we believe Aristotle, is observing the best available means of persuasion in a given situation, and in the increasingly evidence-based best-practices teaching and research world in which we live, an ability to create and critique via quantitative research is going to be ever more important to humanities and qualitative scholars.
The essential qualities of a ‘model’ rhetorician are to be, as Quintilian might argue, a good person speaking well. The development of character, in addition to the development of persuasive powers, is essential.
It was in Athens that I met the woman who agreed to marry me.
The people in Africa see health as economically constrained (though I would say that it is true everywhere). With so many development needs throughout the various nations of the continent, leaders and citizens often are asked to choose among agricultural, health, industrialization, environmental, and many other investments.
In Southeast Asia, health is somewhat of a post-industrial development issue. Campaigns for more exercise, healthier food choices, pollution reduction and the like seem to have emerged only after gaining a relatively stable economic footing. If we compare the most pressing issues in Singapore to those in Vientiane, we can see that health becomes a significant focus only after relative economic stability is attained.
Singapore is a land of embodied tensions. Like so many of the great world cities, Singapore is cosmopolitan and traditional. It is open to external ideas, but also wants to express a unique identity.
And I have come here to learn more about enacting culture-centered research and service from the CARE Center and CNM. It is one thing to read about new and innovative approaches to doing research, but, to get a fuller feeling of a new method, it can be very helpful to see it being enacted in the field.