CALL FOR PAPERS, PACO 15(3 bis): 2022

PACO 15(3 bis): 2022, CALL FOR PAPERS

Investigating Vaccine Protest during the Covid-19 Pandemic: On Navigating and Interpreting Technocracy, Populism and Social Protest

Guest editors:

Niccolò Bertuzzi (Università di Trento)

Giampietro Gobo (Università di Milano)

Erica Lagalisse (London School of Economics)

Elisa Lello (Università di Urbino)

Barbara Sena (Unitelma Sapienza, Roma)


The “global emergency” inaugurated by the diffusion of Sars-Cov-2 continues two years after its first appearance, with many nation states around the world now developing related restrictions on border crossing and domestic travel, access to public and private spaces, and various forms of sociality.  Some governments have adopted relatively restrictive legislative measures, such as full “lockdowns”, and/or limiting access to workplaces, universities and various places of social encounter to those holding new forms of biopolitical credentials, such as Italy’s “green pass” or the “vaccine passports” used in Germany and Quebec. Other States are less willing—or able—to institute such policies.

In this scenario, the category of “vaccine hesitancy or refusal” (Atwell and Smith 2017) becomes relevant, coming to the fore in diverse local and international debates and protest movements.  Constructed as similar and different to the previously used phrase “anti-vaccination” (“anti-vaxxer” being a pre-existing slur in English), “vaccine hesitancy” is currently being connected to, and intertwined with, new meanings and claims.  The “vaccine hesitant” are understood in relation to the specific conditions of production and diffusion of Covid-19 vaccines, and emerging forms of social control in state responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The “vaccine hesitant” are nonetheless constructed by diverse actors in policy forums and everyday life as distrustful, ignorant, selfish, uneducated, and “anti-science” — both in relation to views regarding medical institutions, and a constructed propensity for “conspiracy theory”.  Protest related to vaccine policy and other initiatives of “public health” are likewise associated with the above values and across many nation states associated with (either left or right wing) “populism”, even as state pandemic policies and counter-protests differ based on diverse historical, geopolitical and cultural factors.

It is in this context that we call for a more in-depth scholarly investigation, one that takes care to not confuse ethnographic categories such as “conspiracy theory”, “populism”, and “public health” with the analytical categories we as researchers use to consider these phenomena.  As social scientists, we know that “science” is a community of practice, and that its “truth” is constructed and ever-evolving; how might this insight bear on attempts to interpret current rhetorical contests over vaccine “science” and its meaning?  While protests against vaccine policy are constructed in the public domain as “anti-science”, might not these social movements be interpreted as a request for participation in the elaboration and prioritizations of research agendas (Goldenberg 2016)?  What do attributions of “populism” mean when considering the shift toward technocratic and increasingly biopolitical forms of control and surveillance within Western liberal democracies?  Given an anthropological understanding of “conspiracy theory” as a form of reasoning in context — vs. a psychologized lack of reason — how can popular paranoia around vaccines be read in terms of popular trust, or lack thereof, in authorities and institutions, and as allegorical commentary on broken social contracts of the state?

Through the perspective of societal change, it seems important to take into consideration plausibly ongoing processes of re-politicization, linked to everyday life and sub-political spheres (Beck 2011), that affect the current patterns of critical (Norris 2011) and self-actualising citizenship (Bennett et al. 2009).

Furthermore, the very social and political heterogeneity of current protests questions the validity of the mainstream interpretations offered by media, politics, and scientific communications on TV, radio, and newspapers. Yet, these interpretations have generally shaped the institutional communication strategies that now have difficulties in overcoming skepticism about vaccines. Rather, they have fueled phenomena of radicalization, fragmentation of the public sphere, and support to conspiracy theories, highlighting once again the need to develop more appropriate theoretical tools and interpretative keys.

This special issue seeks to bring together interdisciplinary contributions working with diverse methodologies, with priority given to theoretically informed and empirical approaches. We ask that submissions make research methodology explicit. We seek locally-grounded research that addresses historical context and cultural specificity as well as relevant transnational dynamics at work in case studies, with any multi-sited or comparative approaches explained and contextualized.

Long abstracts (about 800 words) should include information on the structure of the contribution, theoretical contextualization and research questions, details on the methodology adopted and the expected results.

Contributions may concern topics including but not limited to:

1)     policy reception by individual citizens and/or interest group, as well as the process tracing of policy feedbacks.

2)     The category “public health” in historical, transnational, political economic, and colonial context.  Changing developments, strategies, and un/intended effects of public health policies related to the management of Covid-19 pandemic, in relation to traditional models of governance, shifting thresholds of sovereignty and new forms of biopolitical surveillance.

3)     Processes of scientific institutional communication and their impact or effectiveness in orienting citizens’ behaviors (vaccine behaviour, respect for “public health” measures); studies regarding citizens’ use of and trust in diverse media, and the relationship between media and knowledge construction.

4)     Social protests surrounding and affected by vaccine policies; new mobilization processes and collective protest actors, with attention to how new social movements and political cleavages are emerging and/or being re-defined; similarities and differences in lay theorizing of global public health among “left” and “right” actors, and their un/likely coalition in vaccine protest movement.

5)     Ethnographic or otherwise grounded accounts that consider current elite and/or subaltern social constructions of “science”, “vaccine-hesitancy”, “conspiracy theory” and “populism”, together or separately, in the context of state responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Submission procedure:

Articles, written in English, should be submitted to the guest editors according to the following schedule:

- Submission of long abstracts (about 800 words): 24th of January 2022

- Selection of long abstracts: 30th of January 2022

- Submission of articles: 15th of May 2022

- Provision of peer review feedback: 15th of July 2022

- Submission of revised drafts: 30th of September 2022

- Publication of the issue: 15th of November 2022


Articles should be comprised between 8000 and 10000 words, including notes and references.

Please refer to the editorial guidelines available at


Please address any queries to the guest editors:  Niccolò Bertuzzi (, Giampietro Gobo (, Erica Lagalisse (, Elisa Lello ( and Barbara Sena (

Long abstracts have to be sent to: and


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