Anti-vaccination Conspiracy Theories and Theorists: Analysis of a Corpus of Offline and Online Argumentative Texts in the Guardian and the Daily Mail


The present paper explores the discourses of and about anti-vaccination conspiracy theories in two national British newspapers, the Guardian and the Daily Mail, following a corpus-assisted Critical Discourse Studies approach. The analysis focuses on the frequency and usage of the lemma conspiracy in articles dealing with the controversy surrounding the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine in the UK; both traditional, printed genres like editorials and letters to the editor and newer, social media genres like comments posted on the two newspapers’ Facebook pages are investigated. The results show that conspiratorial beliefs concerning the science and politics of vaccination are widely discussed both offline and online; however, the noun phrases conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist have a marked negative connotation and are mainly used by their opponents as insults. Supporters may avoid or refute these labels and the stigma attached to them, or they may reclaim their use to underline their feeling of superior knowledge compared to the general population, who has allegedly been brainwashed by the establishment’s propaganda. Moreover, the analysis of conversations unfolding on Facebook confirms the antagonising quality of such interactions, where the interlocutors’ only aim is to defend their pre-existing point of view from the other side’s attacks. Discourses of and about anti-vaccination conspiracy theories thus deviate from scientific and health communication to express strong ideological positionings and ultimately to create and defend identities.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v47p47

Keywords: MMR vaccine; anti-vaccination; conspiracy theories; critical discourse studies; corpus linguistics


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