PhD Alumni

Marie-Thérèse Rudolf von Rohr Basel

Persuasion in smoking cessation online
an interpersonal pragmatic perspective

ErstbetreuerProf. Dr. Miriam Locher
ZweitbetreuerProf. Dr. Lorenza Mondada

This PhD project has the overall goal of identifying persuasive discourse strategies within a range of public smoking cessation sites online in the UK. It aims to contribute to linguistic theory by looking at how persuasion can be analyzed within an interpersonal pragmatic framework in an online health context, thus dealing with the question of how relational work and identity construction are linked to persuasion. Previous researchers across different fields have highlighted the interpersonal nature of persuasion; however, very few studies have explicitly employed an interpersonal pragmatic approach to analyze persuasion in online health discourse. To operationalize persuasion for a linguistic analysis, Aristotle’s working principles of persuasion are employed. Identity construction and relational work serve as basis to analyze how ethos, logos, pathos are created in these practices. The main corpus consists of 30 public online sources, ranging from peer-to-peer to professional sources. The professional sources are mostly websites, with either a commercial or a governmental background, providing written information to get readers to stop smoking. My analysis focuses on what is regarded as relevant information, the specific ways said information is packaged and how readers are strategically positioned for that purpose. On peer-to-peer sources, people reinforce each other’s conviction to stop smoking by giving each other advice and support. The analysis of online health support groups serves as a counterpoint, indicating what lay people view as their most important concerns and what kind of positions they adopt to successfully motivate each other. To study the aspects of persuasion in depth, three analytical steps are undertaken. A thematic analysis of the entire corpus allows me to identify the most common topics, identify clusters of sources and create a sub-sample for in-depth analysis. Second, the sub-sample is exhaustively coded for discursive moves to arrive at the linguistic setup of the practices under scrutiny. Finally, this analysis serves as basis for qualitative close-readings of selected texts to identify the link between linguistic patterns, interpersonal effects and persuasion. This study sheds light on persuasion from different theoretical angle, conducting a linguistic analysis that looks beyond perlocutionarly effects. Further, it gives insight into still under-researched online health practices.


Curriculum Vitae

Academic Training:
September 2010 - January 2017
PhD English Linguistics, Prof.Dr. Miriam Locher and Prof. Dr. Lorenza Mondada, University of Basel, Switzerland

2008- 2010
Master of Arts, English (Major), Spanish (Minor) at the University of Basel

2006- 2007
Spanish studies at the University of Granada

2003- 2008
Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish studies at the University of Basel

Academic positions:
2012- 2016
Research fellow (50%) in Swiss National Science Foundation Project: 100016_143286 - --Language and health online. Head: Prof. Dr. Miriam Locher

Rudolf von Rohr, Marie-Thérèse, Franziska Thurnherr, and Miriam A. Locher. (submitted).
Linguistic expert creation in online health practices.

Thurnherr, F., Rudolf von Rohr, M.-T., & Locher M. A. (2016). The Functions of
Narrative Passages in Three Written Online Health Contexts. Open Linguistics, 2(1). doi: 10.1515/opli-2016-0024

Rudolf von Rohr, M.-T. (2015). “You will be glad you hung onto this quit”: Sharing information and giving support when stopping smoking online. In C. A. Smith & A. Keselman (Eds.), Meeting Health Information Needs Outside of Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenges (pp. 263-290). Waltham, MA: Chandos/Elsevier.

Teaching experience:
September 2010 - December 2012
Introductory courses and undergraduate courses in English linguistics and one in Spanish linguistics in the areas of sociolinguistics


Autumn term 2010
Tutorial: Introduction to Language and Linguistics I: Structure and use
Spring term 2011
Proseminar: Introduction to Language and Linguistics II: English in its social context
Autumn term 2011
Tutorial: Introduction to Language and Linguistics I: Structure and use
Tutorial: El español en contacto con el inglés en los EE.UU.
Spring term 2012
Proseminar: Introduction to Language and Linguistics II: English in its social context (2x)
Autumn term 2012
Proseminar: Language and the Mind

Conference and workshop talks:

April 15-16 2016 "Interpersonal pragmatics and persuasion in smoking cessation online." Presentation at Symposium on Language and Health Online, University of Basel, Switzerland.

November 18-20 2015 "Linguistic expert creation in online health practices." Presentation (together with Franziska Thurnherr and Prof. Dr. Miriam A. Locher), ADDA1 conference, University of Valencia, Spain.

June 26-27 2015 ""beau, me and hubby quit cold turkey too": The functions of 'narratives' in two written online health contexts." Presentation (together with Franziska Thurnherr and Prof. Dr. Miriam A. Locher)
Workshop 'Personal Narrative Online', University of Bayreuth, Germany.

September 10-12 2014 "Studying identity construction in written health practices with a mixed methodology approach." Presentation (togehter with Franziksa Thurnherr and Prof. Dr. Miriam A. Locher), in the thematic symposium "On micro- /macro-, written- /spoken- and other analytical binaries. Towards unpacking theories and methodologies for the study of 'identity' in health care research." At the 4th International Conference Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice (ALAPP), University of Geneva, Switzerland.

June 26-28 2014 "Persuasion through identity construction in advice giving in online smoking cessation."
Presentation at the 12th COMET conference, Università della Svizzera Italiana USI, Lugano, Switzerland.

July 2013,11th COMET conference, title: Everyone's quit journey is different': Comparing persuasion on two smoking cessation websites, University of Melbourne, Australia. (peer-reviewed)

April 2013, 3rd i-Mean Identity and Language Conference, title: 'Welcome back hon- you know you have made the right decision' - The persuasive nature of user identities in a smoking cessation forum, University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol, UK. (peer-reviewed)

October 2012, X Encuentro Hispano-Suizo de Filólogos Noveles, title: La persuasión en sitios web antitabaco- It becomes so much easier with the right information, University of Basel, Switzerland.

June 2012, 10th COMET conference, title: Persuasion on professional and peer-to-peer anti-smoking websites in the UK, Norwegian University of Science and Technology Trondheim, Norway. (peer-reviewed)

June 2012, Summer School: Research on Computer-Mediated Communication in Linguistics (RCMCL) focus group presentation, title: Persuasion in UK smoking cessation sites, organised by the University of Basel, Switzerland.

April 2012, Workshop in Sociolinguistics with Prof.Dr.Alexandra D'Arcy, title: Persuasion in UK smoking cessation sites, University of Basel, Switzerland.

December 2011, EUCOR conference, title: Persuasion involving risk situation in online health site, University of Strasbourg, France.

March 2011, SWELL meeting, title: Manufacturing consent: Persuasion involving risk situation in online health sites, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

July 2010, 5th SYMPOL conference, title: The performance of impoliteness in blog discussions, University of Basel, Switzerland. (peer-reviewed)

Memberships and studentships:
Since 2013 Communications, Communications, Medicine and Ethics Society (COMET),
Since 2012: Swiss Association of University Teachers in English (SAUTE),
Since 2011: Swiss Work in English Language and Linguistics (SWELL),

2016 Winner of one of two 5-months transitional stipends by the HPSL Basel
2011- 2012: Beginner's stipend Graduate school of linguistics Basel

Non-Academic positions:
2010- 2013
Language teacher English, adult education centre Olten

2008- 2010
Tutor for English/ German, tutorial centre Aarau

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Current research

DIS-AGREE (Grant: The European Campus „Seed Money“)

Das geisteswissenschaftliche Projekt aus der Linguistik steht unter der Leitung der Universität Freiburg und wird gemeinsam mit den Universitäten Basel, Haute-Alsace und Strasbourg umgesetzt. Information und Kontakt

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