Paradigmatic Disaster?: The Crash of Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800

November 1999 (VOL. 17, NO. 3)

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This paper uses two discourses - Kuhn's (1962) formulation of the paradigm and cognitive theory (specifically that of social schemas) - to deconstruct the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB's) investigation into the 1996 TWA Flight 800 disaster. Following the disaster, concerns were expressed in the media that the FBI and NTSB might not be approaching the investigation with an entirely open mind. Certainly a number of statements were made by FBI and NTSB managers that seemed to indicate a preferred conclusion as to the cause(s) of the disaster. This paper uses socail schema theory and Kuhn's discourse on the paradigm to ascertain, on the basis of widely reported statements, the degree to which FBI and NTSB investigators stated a preference - expressed either overtly in statements, or covertly through investigative method - in the matter of causation.