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Anti-Vaccination Parent’s Citizenship and the “Syphilitic Child” in Nineteenth-Century Britain

  • Journal of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • 2022, 79(4), pp.7-36
  • DOI : 10.17326/jhsnu.79.4.202211.7
  • Publisher : Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : October 14, 2022
  • Accepted : November 8, 2022
  • Published : November 29, 2022

Haejoo Kim 1

1서울대학교 영어영문학과

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article examines the anti-vaccination periodicals and pamphlets published in England from the 1850s to the 1890s with a focus on the figure of the “syphilitic child.” In this period, a fierce anti-vaccination movement centering working-class parents emerged in England in response to a series of Vaccination Acts that made smallpox vaccines mandatory for newborns. Criticizing medical professionalization as medical tyranny and monopoly, anti-vaccination parents believed in the notion of natural health and preferred what were understood as natural healing methods, a penchant suggestive of their political pursuit for self-sufficient individuality. Anti-vaccination literature often blamed vaccines for spreading hereditary syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that also provoked eugenic anxiety over racial degeneration in this period. For the urban working class with increasing political consciousness, a potential exposure to syphilis by mixing bodily fluids in a public vaccination station suggested a deterioration into the unclean and helpless urban masses--“the great unwashed”--or, the anti-citizen. By examining the ways in which the notion of hereditary syphilis is appropriated in anti-vaccination literature, this article reveals antivaccinationism’s self-referential rhetorical structure, a structure in which the parent’s individual integrity guarantees the child’s health and the child’s health proves the parent’s individual integrity in turn. I argue that this selfreferential logic in tension with state power sustains the anti-vaccination parent’s political agency.

Citation status

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