Peer Reviewed





Five scholars who study the rhetoric of health and medicine share our diverse perspectives on the Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa in March 2014. Using a unique multi-vocal approach, we raise questions for future research on the rhetoric of vaccines and vaccination, such as the role of visualizations in risk perception, the individuation of blame, the role of genres in vaccine development, and the rhetorical presence of material conditions that promote disease transmission. Our overall goal is to initiate scholarly conversation about Ebola specifically and about outbreaks and vaccine development generally. Through our conversation, we explore subjects such as risk perception and data visualization, individuation of blame, genre systems, and the materiality of outbreaks. Together, our analyses suggest that vaccines, while a highly effective means of disease prevention, can also function rhetorically to draw attention away from the broad array of material and socioeconomic conditions that lead from a single infection to an outbreak. But by investigating what is revealed, what is concealed, who is blamed, and who is exonerated in discourses about vaccines and outbreaks, rhetoricians can contribute to the development of effective—and ethical—medical and communicative interventions.


rhetoric, communication, health, medicine, Ebola, vaccine, risk, genre

Total Pages

26 pages


Copyright © 2015 Jennifer L. Scott, Kristin E. Kondrlik, Heidi Y. Lawrence, Susan L. Popham, and Candice A. Welhausen

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


The authors wish to express their gratitude to Lenny Grant and Jennifer Malkowski for sharing in the conversations that grew into this article. We also thank Blake Scott, Jenell Johnson, and Jeffrey Bennett for their excellent leadership of the "Theory Building in the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine" workshop at the 2015 RSA Summer Institute.