Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Christina Foust, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Roy Wood

Third Advisor

Daniel J. Lair

Fourth Advisor

Douglas D. Hesse


Narratives, Rhetoric, Vaccinations


Parents in developed countries like the United States are questioning the need for and safety of childhood vaccinations. Incidences of disease have risen as fewer parents have vaccinated their children. Perhaps the most significant public figure to reinforce the choices of parents not-to-vaccinate is Jenny McCarthy, whose best-selling book details her theory about the cause of, and cure for, her son‘s autism. As I demonstrate, the study of the narratives is vital for understanding the vaccination crisis, not the least because of the extent to which McCarthy‘s (2007) story has echoed through parenting communities. I examine whether chosen anti- and pro-vaccination narratives meet the requirements of Fisher‘s (1984) narrative paradigm. In addition, I examine how the narratives might promote a sense of identification with audience members, particularly in how the narrators deal with a sense of guilt about the condition of their children (Burke, 1969). Further, I concentrate on both the functional nature of these narratives and on the constitutive components. The public is clearly divided on the vaccination issue. As I argue, this division may well come down to the way in which these distinct narratives constitute audiences differently, constitutions that both encourage people to act in particular ways through a sense of identification, and also outline the boundaries of what it means to be a ―good‖ parent, such that one may be more swayed, consciously or unconsciously, by one type of narrative than another. Finally, I examine how the narratives deal with the conflict between personal choice and the public good. This dissertation also addresses the question of how to make Fisher‘s paradigm a powerful tool for the rhetorical analysis of narratives. As I argue, focusing more explicitly than has previously been done on the Burkean (1969a, 1969b) concept of identification and including Burke‘s guilt/purification/redemption cycle in the analysis of narratives, we begin to see why stories that ―should‖ be rejected by readers for failing to achieve the requirements of the narrative paradigm become widely accepted instead. In addition, this dissertation contributes to the field of communication, particularly health communication.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Katherine Hurley


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

234 p.