“Can we agree on that”? Plurality, power and language in participatory research
Participatory epidemiology (PE) is a method that gathers data from groups through focus group interviews and participatory visual and scoring exercises. The method is often used in poor communities in low-income countries where it is hard to obtain conventional epidemiological data. This paper draws on research on the public sphere and democratic deliberation, along with research on language and interpretation, to suggest how PE research could be better equipped to account for diversity in local knowledge, include minority views and acknowledge power dynamics. These aspects are discussed under the three themes of ‘plurality’, ‘power’ and ‘language’. A review of highly-cited PE literature suggests that PE research engages with plurality and power to a very limited extent, and only marginally more so with language and translation. Examples are taken from the authors’ own PE research on African swine fever in —Uganda, classical swine fever in Germany, peste des petits ruminants (PPR) in Eastern Europe, and Ugandan pastoralists’ understanding of cattle disease to provide more detail as to why conventional PE studies might fail to record issues of plurality, power and language, and also to suggest how this can be addressed. With reference to the literature on the public sphere and democratic deliberation, and on language and interpretation, this paper concludes with some suggestions as to how to take plurality, power and language into greater consideration in PE studies in future, thus improving the validity and reliability of PE data.