Proposal for Moving Genre Theory Online: The Emergence of Online Health Communication

Tracing H1N1: Twitter as an emergent knowledge translation genre
Philip Girvan, MA National Collaborating Centres for Public Health C/o St. Francis Xavier University Antigonish, NS Canada B2G 1T9 1-902-867-6131 Introduction

Knowledge translation (KT) is defined by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) “as a dynamic and iterative process that includes synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically-sound application of knowledge to improve the health of Canadians, provide more effective health services and products and strengthen the health care system”i.

Traditional vehicles for KT in health-related disciplines include the systematic review of literature and learning symposiums intended for audiences composed of practitioners, educators, researchers, and policymakers. Online technologies and their emergent genres have expanded and diversified KT’s scope and the breadth of the audience. Whether or not the CIHR’s definition of KT can be reconciled with these changes is the focus of this chapter.

Content The chapter develops an Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) critique of the CIHR’s definition of KT to trace individual, cultural, institutional and systemic barriers that influenced the translation of knowledge during the H1N1 pandemic and to what degree Twitter removed or reinforced these barriers.

Callonii (1986) describes five distinct moments of translation (which may overlap in practice):

1. Problematization 2. Interessement 3. Enrollment 4. Mobilization 5. Dissidence

Conducting a retrospective examination of online KT tweets containing the hashtag #h1n1 appearing from June 11, 2009, the day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 influenza virus a pandemic, to August 10, 2010, the day the WHO declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic over, this chapter presents a discourse analysis of hashtagged tweets to locate them within the moments of translation listed above.


The audience for this chapter includes physicians, other medical care providers, or pharmaceutical companies. This chapter will also be of interest to researchers within the fields of medical rhetoric, social media, discourse analysis, genre analysis, health communication, health education, and knowledge translation.

About the Author Philip Girvan is an educator and researcher. Principal areas of research include health literacy, communities of practice, sociolinguistics, and second language acquisition. His current research investigates rhetorical strategies used by health actors during the planning, implementation, execution, and uptake of health literacy interventions and the genres emerging from these strategies. He works for the National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCPH) Leads Secretariat to provide guidance, support and oversight for the implementation of collaborative projects and activities. This includes project and information management of activities which support the six National Collaborating Centres (NCCs); and promotes and improves the use of scientific and experiential knowledge to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s public health system.


Canadian Institutes for Heath Research. More About Knowledge Translation at CIHR. accessed August 29, 2010. ii Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay. Power, action and belief: a new sociology of knowledge? J. Law (ed.). London. Routedge. 196-223.

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