University of Oulu, 2016

Authority and Agency in Making Informed Decisions on Immunization

Project description

This study aims to increase understanding of the ways people use and value diverse sources of knowledge in making a decision on a vaccine. The study is positioned within research on information literacy, viewed as a set of contextual competencies shaped as people engage with information and develop ways of knowing what information and sources are important and how to access and use them in acceptable ways. In this framework, the concepts of agency, understood as the capacity of a human to act, and authority, viewed as knowledge sources that influences thinking in ways that are consider legitimate, are examined.

In contemporary information environments, the task of ensuring the relevance and credibility of information is claimed to have shifted from gatekeepers and experts to laypeople. Public trust on traditional authorities is challenged and there is movement towards shared authority. This change may enable new forms of civic engagement and empowerment but also lead to adverse influences on citizens’ lives, including their health, through misinformation and misunderstanding. Scepticism towards vaccinations can be viewed as an example of the eroding trust on traditional authorities. Although immunization is proven to eliminate life-threatening infectious diseases, vaccine hesitancy is a growing concern. In Finland, there are evident regional differences in the uptake of the most recent addition to the national vaccination programme, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, offered to school-aged girls.

By empirically examining the social action connected to the uptake of the HPV vaccine in two Finnish municipalities with relatively low HPV vaccine rates, the study attempts to deconstruct this action in a way that its historicity and situatedness become visible. Following the ideas of nexus analysis, social action is viewed as a product of histories, relationships, and discourse structures. Data triangulation is applied and material collected from media sources and with ethnographic methods. Schools are taken as the starting point for collecting ethnographic data as they enable reaching key decision-making participants. The study provides contributions to theory development by increasing understanding of information literacy as an individual, communal, and societal competence, methodology by applying nexus analysis to examining this phenomenon, and practice by offering insights on vaccine hesitancy.

Project coordinator

University of Oulu

Research groups

  • HIM-Oulu&Åbo
  • INSPIRES Research Community


Noora Hirvonen

Noora Hirvonen

Assistant professor (tenure track)