Communities' languages, identities and belonging in participatory health care interventions

Principal Investigator: Dr Sabine Little

This project seeks to address the vital challenge of resistance to healthcare interventions at local level from the perspective of multilingualism and identity, bringing together an international research team with expertise from Human Biology; Biological Anthropology; Health and Nutrition; Environmental Engineering; Languages; and Education, under the leadership of Dr Sabine Little. The project is funded by the Royal Academy for Engineering, in collaboration with the British Academy, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Royal Academy, as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Photograph of Indian FlagThe project explores the following research questions:

  • What are the barriers to engagement with healthcare interventions in multilingual, local communities?
  • To what extent can an understanding of language and identity in multilingual contexts assist in improving this engagement?

The focus on communities highlights the important social aspect of all intervention work, benefitting engineering and other disciplines. The project focuses on two multilingual contexts in India and Mexico, where community members speak both the societal language (Spanish/Hindi), and a community language (Yucatec Maya/Odiya). Links between language and identity, and how these impact on community members’ engagement with humanitarian and healthcare interventions, remain under-explored. The two contexts will result in two case studies, gathering focus group and interview data from community members and volunteers/staff.

The two case studies are supported by broader data collection, specifically a literature review around ‘culturally appropriate’ interventions, and a survey of researchers, practitioners, academics, and NGOs involved in global interventions, to lend global perspectives to the research questions, understanding the wider applicability of the case studies.

The project will impact at local level through a better understanding among staff and volunteers about the communities’ needs as linked to language and identity, and impact measures are in place to maximise its national and international potential, as highlighted further in the bid.


Dr Ines Varela-Silva (University of Loughborough)
Dr Sneha Krishnan (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)