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Master's Thesis Exam: Torben Esbo Agergaard

A Vaccine against Trust? An Exploration of Three Danish HPV Vaccine Critical Communities and Their Public Facebook Pages

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Wednesday 29 August 2018, at 13:15 - Tuesday 28 August 2018, at 14:30



This study examines three particular Danish groups that have articulated a critical view on the HPV-vaccine; two patient communities and one independent organisation. The analysis focuses primarily on the public Facebook pages of these groups and relies mainly upon a critical examination of the discourses used by the administrators and the users interacting with these pages. Due to fluctuating tendencies in the public debate about the vaccine, a temporal aspect is emphasized in the analysis. In Denmark the HPV-vaccine has been subject to a media coverage linking the vaccine with serious side-effects. Recently, however, the previous stages of the debate have often been refuted by journalists, authorities and experts.

The theoretical framework of this project draws upon various psychological and sociological theories that explain the mistrust of groups of laypeople towards the institutionalized scientific community by taking into account essential features that are closely related to the social identities of the members in these groups. The psychological theories explain the mistrust in terms of the intuitive thoughts and the beliefs and views essen-tial to the culture of such groups. The sociological theories interpret the mistrust in terms of neglected or overestimated expertise, overlooked problems and the struggle for attaining an elaborated identity.

Research in the mistrust in the HPV-vaccine in an international context has linked it with various religious beliefs and fear of the state interfering with private affairs. This study finds only little evidence suggesting that these beliefs and views have been a factor shaping the mistrust in the vaccine in Denmark. Other studies of vaccine critical views in general have connected these with an encouraging attitude towards alternative medicine and conspiracy beliefs. This study finds the encouragement of natural medicine mainly pronounced in one of the groups. The appeal to conspiracy theories varied across the groups and in one of the patient organizations it seemed to emerge over time.

The analysis of the groups shows that they episodically acted as medical experts- or meta-experts though they did not claim to possess such expertise. Though this finding might align with a conception of a post-factual society, I appeal to explain this phenomenon in terms of the social dynamics in the controversy in-stead of general societal tendencies.

Superviser: Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen