Alternative Risk: A Diagnostic and Canadian Anti-Vaccine Case Study
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This thesis builds on a growing body of interdisciplinary risk scholarship that is taking place across the humanities and sciences. It combines Ulrich Beck’s sociological concept of “risk society”, legal scholar Dayna Nadine Scott’s “risk frame” as a Foucauldian “governmentality” and the techniques of the professional writing discipline of “risk communication” with multi-modal rhetorical analysis to show that “risk” is more than a deliberative discussion of statistics and probabilities: it is a multi-dimensional form of argument that has become a topos, or persuasive “place,” in our social discourse, one where we find arguments about preventing catastrophe ... or where we find arguments for all kinds of other purposes. I argue that this complex rhetorical practice is vulnerable to capture by “alternative risk”: risk communications that adopt the conceptual and formal features of risk discourse to exploit their audience’s risk anxieties. In a context of increasing concern about the volume and impact of disinformation, the concept of “alternative risk” offers a framework for diagnosing patterns and structures of disinformation, which I apply in a Canadian anti-vaccine case study, Stop the Shots in Kids. Mapping this anti-COVID vaccine campaign to the “alternative risk” framework reveals (1) how it uses the stylistic and conceptual features of risk communication alongside rhetorical strategies characteristic of the “alt-right” to advance conspiracy theories and other forms of mis- and dis-information in a manner that makes them difficult to distinguish from legitimate COVID-19 risk communications, and (2) how it uses the risk of vaccination as a “place” to argue about COVID-19 restrictions, mitigation practices such as masking, and the trustworthiness of government and other institutions. The case study, and the other examples included in this thesis highlight that alternative risk is not a “fringe minority” issue, but something of mainstream and ongoing importance in our daily lives.
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Sarah Casey (2023). Alternative Risk: A Diagnostic and Canadian Anti-Vaccine Case Study. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/19702