Historical arguments and the narrative mode in vaccination objection communication: A critical discourse analysis of Facebook comments

Daniel Lander

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    685 Downloads (Pure)


    The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates vaccines save two to three million lives annually (WHO, 2019), and global public health administrators suggest opposition to vaccination, as expressed by a small minority of people, poses a major impediment to the eradication of many childhood diseases such as measles and whooping cough. As such, efforts are ongoing at administrative and academic level to understand the reasons for vaccination objection and to develop strategies to address the issue. One area WHO notes as influential in this process is communication, and this thesis contributes to understandings of how communication operates around vaccination objection and how insights from the discipline of science communication may assist pro-vaccination communicators. A critical discourse analysis of 166 Facebook comments expressing opposition to vaccination is undertaken to explore the linguistic tactics and discursive constructions vaccination objection communication uses to sustain truth claims. Findings indicate this discourse largely operates outside the realm of technical medical scientific debate, prioritising historical, political and social objections to vaccination, and favouring arguments and language patterns based on notions of human intention and personal experience, rather than empirical evidence. These characteristics, it is argued, allow vaccination objection discourse to support truth claims at odds with accepted scientific evidence, and also make it resilient to attempts to adjust its position through scientific argument. These discursive characteristics have important implications for how pro-vaccination communication may be constructed and oriented to best address the underlying reasons for vaccination objection. Findings also foster theoretical insights and practical opportunities for communicators engaging scientific controversy, extending elements of the various alternatives that exist to the widely criticised deficit communication model.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Ragusa, Angela T, Principal Supervisor
    • Crampton, Andrea, Principal Supervisor
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 09 Aug 2020


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