Historical Social Research

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Malte Thießen: Risk as a Resource: On the Interplay between Risks, Vaccinations and Welfare States in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany [Abstract]

Vaccinations protect from infections, reduce infant mortality, and increase the standard of living. They enable a modern risk management. However, vaccinations require a risk management also in a very different sense: the danger of side effects and fatal incidents questions the benefits of vaccination up to the present day. Therefore, vaccination programs pose fundamental questions. What weighs more: a risk for the common good – or a risk to the individual? The article pursues the history of this risk management in Germany, and analyzes the interaction of risk ideas and concepts of social order. I focus on communication strategies for vaccination that came into use in the twentieth century that could not any longer rely on coercive measures. They also needed to appeal to the public and resort to “risk” as a public argument. The article therefore examines risk discourses with which the population should be convinced of the necessity of precautionary measures. The main thrust of the article will be that this kind of risk management was a prerequisite for a ‘social engineering,’ with which the idea of the “preventive self” was raised to the leading figure of modernity since the 1940s.

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