Familiarising Science: A Western Conspiracy And The Vaccination Revolt In Northern Nigeria

  • Bankole Falade University of Bielefeld
Keywords: vaccination, religion, resistance, representations, western conspiracy


The revolt against the oral polio vaccine in northern Nigeria offers a case study for

investigating how a scientific phenomenon transforms common sense. Moscovici’s

(1961) social representations theory provided a framework to examine arguments for

and against the vaccine, while a content analysis of media articles was used to identify

the actors and themes in the controversy between 2001 and 2009. In the controversy, a

suspected contamination of the vaccine was seen by northern elites as part of a Western

conspiracy against the developing world and Islam. In addition, for some Muslim

clerics, vaccination is against Islamic teachings on disease. The representations were

sustained by cultural resonance, sponsor activities and media practices and show the

role of categories from the past in situations where there is no consensus on meaning.

The study found that apart from international events like the wars in Iraq and

Afghanistan, local issues associated with developing economies – such as inadequate

infrastructure, policy and transparency – also influenced the representations. The study

found that while the scientifically determined risks from the vaccine were almost absent

in the debate, both camps used scientific and common sense arguments to justify their

positions. The findings reaffirm Durkheim’s (1912) thoughts that science needs the

authority of the society to be part of common sense.

Author Biography

Bankole Falade, University of Bielefeld

BANKOLE FALADE a journalist and social psychologist is a research fellow at the Faculty of

Linguistics and Literary studies, University of Bielefeld, Germany where he is comparing the

science content of German and British newspapers.