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The Drama of Bioterror: Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Defense

Gittinger, George (2015) The Drama of Bioterror: Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Defense. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This study provides an account of how a rhetoric of bioterrorism developed and investigates its consequences. Currently, two competing ways of talking about bioterror, the skeptical and the paranoid, have been obscured because biosecurity researchers infrequently consider how particular historical and imagined events come to be defined as examples of bioterrorism. These rhetorical styles and their associated attitudes responded to a recurring problem in the history of biothreats – that there is rarely enough evidence to give clear accounts of the presence and origin of particular threats. As a result, conjectures become part of a unified history of bioterror, washing out the actual complexity of describing these rare events. The ease with which events of the late twentieth century are reimagined in the terms of the twenty-first century war on terror as well as the propensity for furious legislative and media response to the threat of bioterror allows real and imagined bioterror to capture a special place in the popular imagination. Bioterror taps into a problematic narrative that has structured the United States’ relationship with biological weapons since the 1960’s. To make visible these competing attitudes, this dissertation considers how acts of defining operate as rhetorical processes and how this process became exploitable in the specific case of biological terrorism. To that end, three major cases are considered: (1) President Richard Nixon intervened in a public, political debate about the dangers of biological weapons testing though an act of redefinition by which he renamed the US bioweapon program from "weapons development" to "defensive research" and successfully shifted from a rhetoric of offense to a rhetoric of defense with lasting consequences; (2) Biodefense experts in the 1990's redefined a nationally obscure salmonella outbreak in the 1980’s as the first bioterror attack on American soil; (3) Following the 2001 anthrax mailings, the FBI defined a government scientist as an object of suspicion, Othering him to the point of suicide.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Gittinger, Georgegeorgegittinger@gmail.com0000-0002-6424-2274
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLyne, Johnjlyne@pitt.eduJLYNE
Committee MemberHeather,
Committee MemberOlga, Kuchinskayaokuchins@pitt.eduOKUCHINS
Committee MemberGordon, Mitchellgordonm@pitt.eduGORDONM
Committee MemberJohn, Poulakospoulakos@pitt.eduPOULAKOS
Date: 13 January 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 15 November 2014
Approval Date: 13 January 2015
Submission Date: 3 December 2014
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 297
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bioterrorism, Public Health, Rhetoric of Science, Risk, Definition, Paranoid Style
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2015 16:56
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2020 06:15


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