Social representations of COVID-19 sceptics: Denigration, demonization and disenfranchisement

Rusi Jaspal, Brigitte Nerlich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Denialism accompanies many global threats, such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, and now also SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19. We analyzed a corpus of 624 English-language news items to examine emerging social representations of people who question the existence of the virus or the measures to contain it. Using thematic analysis and social representations theory, we focused on the use, meanings, and implications of labels, such as “denier”, “skeptic”, or “contrarian”, and the social representations that they generate. The analysis yielded the following themes: (1) Establishing negative social representations of skeptical beliefs, (2) Personifying COVID-19 denial, (3) Conversion stories vs. schadenfreude, and (4) Resisting representations of COVID-19 denial. Overall, the representation of people doubting pandemic science and/or policy was almost entirely negative, denigrating, and sometimes demonizing. We argue that this hegemonic media representation may entrench already existing division, polarization, and disengagement, potentially undermining collective efforts to manage the pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalPolitics, Groups, and Identities
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022


  • COVID-19
  • denial
  • skepticism
  • media analysis
  • social representations theory


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