Book Cover

Vaccine Rhetorics

Heidi Yoston Lawrence

172 pp. 6 x 9
3 tables
Pub Date: January, 2020

Subjects: Rhetoric & Communication
Cultural Studies
American Studies

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Finalist, 2021 Association for the Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Medicine Book Award

Honorable Mention, 2021 CCCC Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication

“This is a strong piece of research with very good instincts—very relevant both in terms of understanding how medical science and public resistance are generated and providing a good way to study the vaccine controversy by attending to the material factors which can drive and shape the conflicts.” —Nathan Stormer

Vaccine Rhetorics is a powerful example of the important contributions that rhetorical scholars can make to interdisciplinary understandings of health and rhetoric. I expect this book to be of great interest to diverse stakeholders, including rhetoricians, health care professionals, scientists, and parents seeking to make sense of this complex subject.” —Amy Koerber

Debates over vaccination run rampant in the US—from the pages of medical journals, to news coverage about the latest outbreak, to vehement messages passed back and forth online. From the professional level to the personal one, almost everyone has an opinion on vaccinations—and often conversations around this issue pit supporters of vaccinations against “anti-vaxxers.” In Vaccine Rhetorics, Heidi Yoston Lawrence turns a critical eye toward such conversations—proposing a new approach that moves us beyond divisive rhetoric and seeks to better understand the material conditions underlying the debate.

Starting with a key question—If vaccines work, why are they controversial?—and using an approach she calls “material exigence,” Lawrence seeks to understand the material conditions of disease and injury associated with vaccination. Examining four primary motivations—the exigency of disease at the heart of physician views, the desire for eradication from policymakers, concern over injury expressed by parents and patients in online confessionals, and questions about the unknown surrounding potential recipients of the flu vaccine, Lawrence demonstrates the complexity of vaccination skepticism and the need for more nuanced public discourse. In bringing together the voices of those who oppose, question, and support vaccines, Vaccine Rhetorics unearths the material circumstances that lead to differing viewpoints and brings important attention not just to what is said but how and why it is said—providing a useful framework for studying other controversial issues.

photo of the author

Heidi Yoston Lawrence is Assistant Professor at George Mason University.


List of Tables
Preface                        A Starting Point

Introduction    Retaining Persuasion

            About Vaccination Controversy

            Contending with Materiality

            Considering Vaccine Rhetorics: A Theory of Material Exigence

            About This Book

            A Final Note on Materiality

Chapter 1        Doing Disease

            Material Exigence: Vaccines and the Modification of Infectious Disease

            Doctors Doing Disease: Vaccination in Medical Practice

            Diseases, Cures, and Prevention: Material Exigencies of Disease in Vaccination Discourse

            Changing Disease: Toward Intervention and Eradication

Chapter 2        Community Immunity and the Promise of Eradication

            Material Exigence: Medico-legal Rhetorics and Smallpox Eradication

            Prevention and the Public Good: Toward Community Immunity

            Exemptions, Eradication, and the Disneyland Measles Epidemic

            Medico-legal Rhetorics and Exigencies of Eradication

            Objection and the Greater Good

Chapter 3        Family, Authority, Injury

            Material Exigence: Vaccination and the Threat of Injury

            Before-and-After: Vaccine Injury Confessionals

            Rhetorical Authority, Rhetorical Presence

            Injury and Beyond: Risking the Unknown

Chapter 4        Persuasion and the Unknown

            Material Exigence: Calibrating the Unknowns of Flu

            Risking the Unknown: Adults and Flu Vaccine

            Rhetoric Amid the Unknown

            Addressing Material Exigencies

Conclusion      Rhetorically Informed Persuasion and a Material Rhetorical Approach to Controversy in Science and Medicine

            The Material Rhetorical Approach

            Material Rhetorical Approach and RHM

            Exigencies, Responses, and Spaces: Possibilities for Modifying Material Exigencies in Vaccination Controversy

            Future Directions for RHM Research in Large Controversies Involving Science and Medicine


Works Cited