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IDS working papers;247

MMR mobilisation : citizens and science in a British vaccine controversy

Published on 1 January 2005

This paper examines the controversy over measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in Britain through
the lenses of social movement theory and social studies of science. Since the early 1990s, networks of
parents have raised, and mobilised around, concerns that MMR has triggered a particular disease in their
children linked to autism and bowel problems, and have been supported in this by certain scientists. In the
high-profile and highly-public debate which has ensued, they have challenged established perspectives and
institutions in both biomedical science, and public health policy. While much policy and public debate has
dismissed their concerns as based on emotion, misinformation or “junk science”, this paper locates them
as part of a citizen science grounded in parental experience. It tracks how the framing and strategies of
parental mobilisation around MMR have developed, in relation to a growing counter-mobilisation from
scientists, policy-makers, health professionals and journalists questioning their claims. It argues that the
controversy involves differently-framed sciences (clinical vs epidemiological) linked to different political
commitments (parents’ personal concerns and rights as citizen-consumers vs notions of public health).
Each side has nevertheless used similar strategies in deploying science, in exposing the political economy
of the other’s science, and in working through the media. Both these differences of framing, and
similarities of strategy, are important to comprehending why the debate has become so heated and
polarised, and why it has failed to reach closure.
Keywords: citizens, science, mobilisation, vaccination, MMR

Cite this publication

Leach, M. (2005) MMR mobilisation : citizens and science in a British vaccine controversy. Working paper series, 247. Brighton: IDS.

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Publication details

published by
IDS
authors
Leach, Melissa
language
English

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