Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Pat J. Gehrke


This project examines how uncertainty is rhetorically deployed in healthcare contexts. Investigating four major healthcare contexts, I study how different forms of uncertainty produce distinct rhetorical effects and consequences. In Chapter 1, I explore how the haphazard use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war makes it difficult for veterans to prove their exposure to this deadly chemical. In Chapter 2, I examine the rhetorical strategies of mental illness skeptics and denialists, looking at how each deploys uncertainty in different and related ways. In Chapter 3, I investigate the intersection between design, emotion, and uncertainty as it appears in the patient experience process. Finally, in Chapter 4, I look at different methods of theory-building in addiction science, and argue that how theories wrangle with uncertainty lends them different virtues and vulnerabilities. Concluding, I suggest that the rhetorical use of uncertainty has “pharmaceutical” qualities, an argument that ups the stakes for both rhetoric and healthcare practice and theory.