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Parenting as politics: social identity theory and vaccine hesitant communities

Katie Attwell (Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Australia)
David T. Smith (University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Health Governance

ISSN: 2059-4631

Article publication date: 4 September 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to develop a theoretical framework for understanding the identity politics associated with parental hesitancy and refusal of vaccines for their children (“vaccine hesitancy or refusal” or “VHR”). Understanding these identity politics helps policymakers to craft appropriate communication interventions that do not make the problem worse.

Design/methodology/approach

Social identity theory is a way of understanding how group identities develop around the lifestyle practices that often include refusal to vaccinate, and how this group identity is accentuated by conflict with the pro-vaccinating societal mainstream. This paper critically appraises existing studies of VHR to explore this groupness across many different contexts.

Findings

Groupness is evident across many different contexts. There are also key group characteristics: preference for natural birth and breastfeeding, nature as a concept and use of complementary and alternative medicine.

Research limitations/implications

The paper is speculative and theoretical, using existing sources. Future studies will need to demonstrate empirically with new data. However, this theoretical approach sets up a new research agenda.

Social implications

These findings can help governments and policymakers minimise social conflict that risks further polarising vaccine conversations and wedging parents on the fence.

Originality/value

This paper argues that the decision to vaccinate or not is an inherently social one, not a matter of pure individual rationality. This is a novel approach to engaging with what is often characterised and studied as an individual decision.

Keywords

Citation

Attwell, K. and Smith, D.T. (2017), "Parenting as politics: social identity theory and vaccine hesitant communities", International Journal of Health Governance, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 183-198. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJHG-03-2017-0008

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited