Regarding the Rise in Autism: Vaccine Safety Doubt, Conditions of Inquiry, and the Shape of Freedom



Abstract Beginning in the 1980s in the United States, a growing number of parents of children diagnosed with autism and other problems related to neurodevelopment began to suspect that their children's conditions were caused by, or somehow related to, vaccinations. By the early 21st century, the idea that something about childhood vaccinations are the cause, may be the cause, or may be one contributing factor in the apparently rising numbers of children with neurodevelopmental problems had spread widely. This article traces parent anxiety about a connection between autism and vaccines. It illustrates the ways in which a large number of parents think about potential risks of vaccines and make decisions about immunizing their children. It focuses on their doubt and responsibilities, and shows how they negotiate their relationship to medical expertise and the ethics of citizenship. Overall, this article explores the rise of autism into public awareness—as a mutable object of knowledge, a protean disease category, and an exemplar of the condition of uncertainty today—to show the limits of risk assessment as a way of managing life. [risk assessment, subjectivity, ethic of care, technologies of doubt]