Call for Papers

Call for papers for a special issue of Rhetoric, Professional Communication, and Globalization

Intercultural and Participatory Risk Communication about COVID-19: Using Immaterial Labor to Promote Social Justice in a Pandemic

Guest Editors:

  • Huiling Ding (hding@ncsu.edu), Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric, North Carolina State University
  • Yeqing Kong (yeqingkong@gmail.com), Assistant Professor of Professional Writing, University of North Carolina Wilmington

COVID-19 has introduced much disruption to all walks of lives and posed threats to the livelihood and survival of millions of individuals. Healthcare systems were overburdened. Due to health disparities, varying access to vaccination, and failing public health infrastructure in different countries, people get infected and die without access to masks, oxygen, or proper treatment. Many countries have gone through multiple waves of outbreaks due to relented home quarantine and social distancing policies in attempts to boost workforce participation and economic recovery.

In the labor market, millions of jobs have been lost, with many of them permanently lost due to accelerating automation, business closure, or sectoral adjustments (Autor & Reynolds, 2020; Ben-Achour, 2020; Stevenson, 2020). Ethnic minority workers, with many of them working on essential jobs, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic with higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates (Remeikis, 2020; Stevenson, 2020). Since March 2020, we have witnessed a massive exodus of three million women from the U.S. labor market, who had to cope with the increasing needs for unpaid care — shopping, home schooling, childcare, and elderly care — due to furlough, layoffs, illnesses, and school closure (Saraiva, 2021).

Intercultural Participatory Risk Communication

In their co-edited special issue on new directions in intercultural professional communication for Technical Communication Quarterly, Ding and Savage (2013) called for the move from nation-centric perspectives to study transnational rhetoric (Hesford & Schell, 2008; Hunsinger, 2006), transcultural flows (Appadurai, 1996), translingual practices, and power-knowledge dynamics (Foucault, 1976) while paying attention to social justice and accountability in such transcultural work. Studying transcultural communication requires researchers to go beyond monocultural preoccupation to explore cultural contexts and local needs, to collaborate with community partners to solve messy local problems, and to employ methodological reflectivity to cope with challenges posed by such intercultural work (Agboka, 2013; Ding, 2020a; Schoch-Spana et al., 2007; St. Amant, 2017; Sun, 2012; Thatcher, 2012; Walton, Zraly, & Mugengana, 2015). What new developments have emerged in the last decade and how can we update existing theories on intercultural professional communication in the context of a new pandemic?

Immaterial Labor and Social Justice

Immaterial labor is defined as the labor that does not produce material or durable commodities but results in the “informational and cultural content of the commodity” (Lazzarato, 1996). Seeing immaterial labor as the new forms of forces in networks of biopolitical production, Hardt and Negri (2000) introduced three types of immaterial labor: cooperative, “massified” intellectual labor, i.e., the “interactive labor of symbolic analysis and problem solving;” communicative labor, of “industrial production that has newly become linked in informational networks;” and affective labor, or “the production and manipulation of affects” (p. 30).

Citing Hardt and Negri’s (2000) construct of immaterial labor, Greene (2004) argued that such immaterial labor shares rhetoric’s informational, instrumental, cultural, and cooperative dimensions while producing the commodity of “bodies, affect, and social networks” (p. 201). Greene (2004) suggested that a materialist-communicative approach respecifies rhetorical agency as communicative labor, which functions as “an instrument, object, and medium for harnessing social cooperation and coordination” (pp. 203-204). Drawing on Greene’s (2004) materialist approach and Jost and Kay’s (2010) three-part typology of social justice (i.e., distributive, procedural, and interactional justice), Ding (2020b) illustrated a materialist social justice approach by mapping out the theoretical connections between immaterial labor and social justice. Affective labor is associated with interpersonal justice, while communicative labor, or rhetorical endeavor, improves both informational justice and process control. Collectively, the three types of immaterial labor (communicative, affective, and intellectual) can function as what Ding, Li, and Haigler (2015) called “strategic entry points” for marginalized publics to circumvent institutional power and create space for alternative politics and civic intervention to combat social injustices.

Listed below are an incomplete list of the questions we hope to explore in this special issue. These questions are designed as the starting point for a multidisciplinary conversation and we welcome proposals that explore the intersections among pandemic, rhetorical labor, participatory risk communication, and social justice.

  • What has been done by professional communicators and community leaders to employ rhetoric, or in Hardt and Negri’s (2000) terms, immaterial labor, i.e., intellectual, affective, and communicative labor, to cope with health, economic, and employment risks faced by local communities?
  • What challenges and opportunities has COVID-19 brought to transcultural risk communication endeavors at all levels (Ding, 2013, 2014; Frost, 2012)? How have organizations, communities, and concerned citizens responded to such challenges and how effective were these responses? How can such practices sustain, revise, or update existing models, frameworks, or theories of intercultural participatory risk communication?
  • We still face many unknowns about the pandemic, including its origin, transmission mechanism, the duration of natural and acquired immunity, the speed and impacts of new mutations, as well as long-term health impacts of COVID-19 infection, treatments, and vaccination. How have professional communicators and affected communities and individuals coped with uncertainties in the technical, public, and personal spheres? What can be done to improve such communication endeavors to help better respond to and contain COVID-19 outbreaks?
  • What are the possible “strategic entry points” for professional communicators to generate constructive responses to social injustices in complex contexts and to amplify the agency of oppressed, disenfranchised, under-resourced groups who have been hit hard by COVID-19 (Jones & Walton, 2018)?
  • What does social justice mean in the context of a raging pandemic? How can professional communicators help build a more robust theory of social justice, particularly in transnational, cross-cultural contexts, to assist communities in coping with challenges introduced by COVID-19?
  • How can professional communication pedagogy incorporate social justice constructs into the formal training of professional communication scholars and practitioners to prepare them for effective risk communication efforts in emerging pandemics (Leydens, 2012)?


  • Abstracts due: July 15, 2021
  • Short-listed proposals notified: August 10, 2021
  • Full papers due: December 30, 2021
  • Round 1 peer-review and feedback due: February 20, 2022
  • Revisions due: May 1, 2022
  • Round 2 peer-review and feedback: June 1, 2022
  • Final papers due: July 1, 2022

Submission Guidelines

Please submit an extended abstract of no more than 1000 words (including references) that explains how the full submission will contribute to the aims of this special issue. Please email extended abstracts to rpcgcovid@gmail.com by July 15, 2021. Submissions will undergo peer review. The invitation to submit a full paper does not guarantee acceptance for publication. The expected length of articles is between 7,000 and 8,000 words each (including references). The new RPCG website is going to be up this summer. We will make an announcement once it is up. In case of further questions, please contact the guest editors.


  1. Agboka, G. Y. (2013). Participatory localization: A social justice approach to navigating unenfranchised/disenfranchised cultural sites. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(1), 28-49.
  2. Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  3. Autor, D., & Reynolds, E. (2020). The nature of work after the COVID crisis: Too few low-wage jobs. https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/AutorReynolds_LO_FINAL.pdf
  4. Ben-Achour, S. (2020). Are businesses automating at a faster rate thanks to COVID-19? https://www.marketplace.org/2020/10/21/some-business-leaders-say-they-are-automating-faster-rate-covid-19/
  5. Ding, H. (2013). Transcultural risk communication and viral discourses: Grassroots movements to manage global risks of H1N1 Pandemic. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(2), 126-149.
  6. Ding, H. (2014). Rhetoric of global epidemic: Transcultural communication about SARS. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  7. Ding, H. (2020a). Crowdsourcing, social media, and intercultural communication about Zika: Use contextualized research to bridge the digital divide in global health intervention. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 50(2), 141-166.
  8. Ding, H. (2020b). The materialist rhetoric about SARS sequelae in China: Networked risk communication, social justice, and immaterial labor. In D. R. Gruber & L. C. Olman (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of language and science (pp. 262-275). Routledge.
  9. Ding, H., Li, X., & Haigler, A. (2015). Access, oppression, and social (in)justice in epidemic control: Race, profession, and communication in SARS Outbreaks in Canada and Singapore. Connexions: International Professional Communication, 4(1), 21-55.
  10. Ding, H., & Savage, G. (2013). Guest editors’ introduction: New directions in intercultural professional communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(1), 1-9.
  11. Foucault, M. (1976). The archeology of knowledge (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Harper. (Original work published 1969).
  12. Frost, E. A. (2013). Transcultural risk communication on Dauphin Island: An analysis of ironically located responses to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(1), 50-66.
  13. Greene, R. W. (2004). Rhetoric and capitalism: Rhetorical agency as communicative labor. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 37(3), 188-206.
  14. Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hesford, W., & Schell, E. E. (2008). Configurations of transnationality: Locating feminist rhetorics. College English, 70(5), 461-470.
  15. Hunsinger, R. P. (2006). Culture and cultural identity in intercultural technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(1), 31-48.
  16. Jones, N. N., & Walton, R. (2018). Using narratives to foster critical thinking about diversity and social justice. In A. M. Haas & M. F. Eble (Eds.), Key theoretical frameworks: Teaching technical communication in the twenty-first century (pp. 241-267). Logan: Utah State University Press.
  17. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2010). Social justice: History, theory, and research. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (pp. 1122-1165). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  18. Lazzarato, M. (1996). Immaterial labor. In P. Virno & M. Hardt (Eds.), Radical thought in Italy: A potential politics (pp. 133-148). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttssjm
  19. Leydens, J. A. (2012). What does professional communication research have to do with social justice? Intersections and sources of resistance. Proceedings of the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference 2012. 10.1109/IPCC.2012.6408592
  20. Remeikis, A. (2020). Australian government won’t “jump to a solution” to help casual workers in coronavirus crisis. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/10/australian- government-warned-not-to-drag-its-feet-on-help-for-casual-workers-in-coronavirus-crisis
  21. Saraiva, C. (2021). Women leaving workforce again shows uneven US jobs recovery. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-07/women-leaving-workforce-again-shows-uneven-u-s-jobs-recovery
  22. Schoch-Spana, M., Franco, C., Nuzzo, J. B., & Usenza, C. (2007). Community engagement: leadership tool for catastrophic health events. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, 5(1), 8-25.
  23. St. Amant, K. (2017). The cultural context of care in international communication design: A heuristic for addressing usability in international health and medical communication. Communication Design Quarterly, 5(2), 62-70.
  24. Stevenson, B. (2020). The initial impact of COVID-19 on labor market outcomes across groups and the potential for permanent scarring. https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/Stevenson_LO_FINAL.pdf
  25. Sun, H. (2012). Cross-cultural technology design: Creating culture-sensitive technology for local users. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  26. Thatcher, B. (2012). Intercultural rhetoric and professional communication: Technological advances and organizational behavior. Hershey, PA: IGI-Global Press. Walton, R., Zraly, M., & Mugengana, J. P. (2015). Values and validity: Navigating messiness in a community-based research project in Rwanda. Technical Communication Quarterly, 24(1), 45-69.