Wednesday Seminar: Indexing “health literate” stances: health literacy brokering, legitimacy, and access

Ingvild Badhwar Valen-Sendstad (Doctoral Research Fellow, MultiLing) will give a talk on her in-progress PhD project on multilingual women's health literacy practices in institutional settings. 

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Some women with minoritized backgrounds experience diminished health status, partial exclusion from the labor market, and long sick leaves (e.g. Umblijs, 2020). Recent research proposes a link between health literacy and wellbeing (e.g. Gele et al., 2016). In 2019, the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services published a political strategy promulgating initiatives to enhance the Norwegian population’s health literacy. My PhD project draws on ethnographic methods and a critical sociolinguistic framing to investigate what constitutes “good” health literacy practices in linguistically diverse health and work interactions at the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV).

In this seminar, I present a comparative case study of two women on long-term sick leave who have learned Norwegian later in life. The analysis is three-pronged: First, I analyze how ‘Suda’ and ‘Maria’ practice their health literacy. Secondly, I examine which different forms of capital (e.g. Bourdieu, 1977) they mobilize to access NAV. I investigate in particular how they construct collaborative practices with their husbands as health literacy brokers (e.g. Kraft, 2020) to access information, guidance, and social benefits. Then I deploy conceptual tools from interactional stance analysis (e.g. Jaffe, 2009) to analyze how the women take on epistemic stances to perform “health literate” identities. Additionally, I examine how their health literacy practices are interactionally legitimized by NAV employees.

The analysis draws on recordings and ethnographic participant observations from social interactions between the women and NAV employees, as well as semi-structured interviews with all four participants subsequent to their NAV meetings. The overarching goal of the analysis is to tease out some of the ways that management of health literacy practices and stances come to regulate Suda and Maria’s access to social welfare services.



Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gele, A. A., Pettersen, K. S., Torheim, L. E, and Kumar, B. (2016). Health literacy: The missing link in improving the health of Somali immigrant women in Oslo. BMC Public Health, 16:1134.

Jaffe, A. (2009). Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kraft, K. (2020) Trajectory of a language broker: between privilege and precarity.             International Journal of Multilingualism, 17:1: 80-96.

Umbijlis, J. (2020) Kunnskapsoppsummering om deltakelse i arbeidslivet for kvinner med innvandrerbakgrunn. Institutt for samfunnsforskning: 2020:20.


Ingvild Badhwar Valen-Sendstad is a Doctoral Research Fellow at MultiLing. She completed her MA in Cross-Cultural Studies (University of Copenhagen) and her BA in Comparative Literature and Hindi Studies (University of Oslo). While working on her MA thesis, Ingvild held an Affiliate Scholar position at East-West Center (Hawai’i). Before starting her PhD, she worked as a research assistant and copywriter. Her research explores health literacy as social practice, institutional interaction, and language ideologies in Norwegian social welfare institutions.

Published Dec. 11, 2020 11:51 AM - Last modified Dec. 11, 2020 11:51 AM