Storytelling failure in the Vale of Leven: How a bacterial outbreak became a wicked problem

Kyle P Vealey, Purdue University


This dissertation examines the rhetorical work of a public inquiry investigation into an outbreak of Clostridium Difficile at the Vale of Leven Hospital in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland that resulted in 143 cases of infection and the tragic deaths of 34 patients. In light of these deaths and subsequent protests from local citizens, the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland launched a public inquiry in 2009 to investigate the events precipitating the outbreak. Extending rhetoric and technical communication’s sustained engagement with post-accident reports, this study explores how citizens and government officials accounted for the causes, boundaries, and impact of the outbreak. Specifically, it argues that despite the NHS’s initial investigation, which grounded the outbreak in local problems of practice, infrastructure, and culture, citizens and inquiry officials worked to rhetorically re-articulate the Vale of Leven Hospital outbreak as a wicked problem and, thus, a much larger and more complex matter of concern. In doing so, the study uses the Vale of Leven inquiry to reimagine the boundaries of rhetoric and technical communication as not only a form of problem solving work but also as the articulation of wicked matters of concern.




Sullivan, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Technical Communication|Rhetoric

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