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Soc Sci Med. 2006 Jan;62(2):457-66. Epub 2005 Jul 20.

Representations of mad cow disease.

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Academic Centre for Medical Education, University College London, Archway Campus, Highgate Hill, UK.


This paper examines the reporting of the story of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and its human derivative variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (vCJD) in the British newspapers. Three 'snapshots' of newspaper coverage are sampled and analysed between the period 1986 and 1996 focusing on how representations of the disease evolved over the 10-year period. Social representations theory is used to elucidate how this new disease threat was conceptualised in the newspaper reporting and how it was explained to the UK public. This paper examines who or what was said to be at risk from the new disease, and whether some individuals or groups held to blame for the diseases' putative origins, the appearance of vCJD in human beings, and its spread.

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