Ethnographies of (Dis)Engagement

Understanding Vaccine Rejection in Chronically Neglected Communities across the G7

Hosted by the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa

How can we initiate conversations that will contribute to the production of recommendations to improve vaccine uptake among disenfranchised groups?

Principal Investigator: Dr Elizabeth Storer 
Co-investigator: Dr Iliana Sarafian 
Co-investigatorDr Naomi Pendle 
Co-investigator: Prof Marco Burgalassi 



Ethnographies of (Dis)Engagement explores orientations towards COVID-19 vaccines among social groups who have reported some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 vaccine uptake across the G7, and the world.

We understand decisions to reject vaccinations as political manifestations linked to ongoing structural disempowerment, serving as both an articulation of state mistrust and reaction to discrimination. Additionally, we recognise that these neglected communities have long histories of navigating public health emergencies through particular channels, and trust particular types of information.

Research is based with Roma collectives living across Italy, migrants in Rome and at Italy’s border, and African diaspora communities in Canada. Among these diverse groups, we are motivated to direct contextualised evidence and methodologies to practical solutions within and beyond selected case studies.


Ethnographies of (Dis)Engagement provides a unique opportunity to unite ongoing research to understand COVID-19 responses through in-depth qualitative methods. To date, this type of evidence has been side-lined in governmental and EU decision-making, in favour of epidemiological approaches driven by statistics and models. Yet, prior experiences during Ebola, Polio, and HIV/AIDS epidemics have demonstrated the need for qualitative social science approaches to inform policymaking. We know that many hard-to-reach communities are excluded from national, and EU COVID-19 evidence bases, and none more so than the populations included within this proposed research.

As such, Ethnographies of (Dis)Engagement will: reverse significant ‘blind’ spots in national COVID-19 responses; raise the profile of ethnographic evidence in epidemic/ pandemic preparedness; and use this evidence to develop urgently needed recommendations to improve vaccine uptake among disenfranchised groups.

Aims and Objectives

  • To produce an understanding of the historical and contemporary contexts which lead to vaccine disengagement in specific communities across the G7, reversing chronic ‘blind spots’ in the EU and national COVID-19 response and vaccination campaigns.
  • To produce community-specific recommendations for health interventions, including how to enhance understandings of who (dis)engaged communities do trust, to facilitate vaccine engagement across G7 countries
  • To facilitate shared learning across diverse communities
  • To make findings translatable to future pandemics, and to a broader engagement of communities with national health care systems
  • To raise the profile of ethnography in shaping a post-COVID world, in so doing complementing and challenging epidemiological models which have dominated academic analyses of COVID-19 impacts

Research team

Academic Partners

Project Network



Workshop 1

Ethnographies of (Dis)Engagement: Emplacing Vaccine ‘Hesitancy’ in Chronically Neglected Communities across the G7 

10 January 2022
Zoom link on request :

This workshop explores research findings from the Ethnographies of Disengagement project. Featuring presentations based on research with Roma Communities, Undocumented Migrants and African Diaspora in Italy and Canada, this workshop explores vaccine disengagement among social groups who have reported some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 vaccine uptake across the G7, and the world. Moving beyond simplistic understandings of vaccine ‘hesitancy’, we ask of the dynamics and structures which produce reluctance to engage with state-led COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

Workshop 2

‘Vaccines at State Margins: Exploring Italy’s COVID-19 Response from the Margins’, Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa Workshop

January 2022

Workshop 3

Theorising ‘Trust’: Ethnographic Interventions into COVID-19 Vaccine Policies

10 February 2022
3:00pm to 5:00pm

This workshop employs anthropological perspectives to excavate the multiple meanings and mechanics of ‘trust’. Here we cast the net wide, bringing together a diverse group of anthropologists who have theorised trust in relation to rumour and doubt, witchcraft, public authority, faith and NGOs, public institutions and healing. We ask anthropologists to draw from their distinct empirical contexts in order to question, what is trust? The aim of the workshop is to come to come to a more nuanced theorisation of trust that might be deployed beyond the anthropological context, to better understand the issue of vaccine hesitancy as it unfolds unevenly across nations and communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It also aims to question and complicate the place of trust in the models of policy makers, economists, and epidemiologists, as they assess the impact of the pandemic and prepare for future crises. 

Workshop 4

Multi-disciplinary contributions to understanding COVID-19 vaccine mistrust: A conversation between ethnographers, epidemiologists and behavioural economists

15 February 2022
3:00pm to 5:00pm 

The proposed workshop response to an acknowledgement for the need for multi-disciplinary conversations of COVID-19 relations. We recognise that the engagement between disciplines founded on often contrasting epistemological assumptions and methodological approaches is not simple. In this workshop we encourage reflective assessments of what is revealed and concealed through different types of method.

Workshop 5

Translating ‘Trust’: Ethnographic Interpretations of Vaccine ‘Hesitancy’, Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa and LSE Department of Anthropology Collaborative Workshop

March 2022

Workshop 6

The Role of Multi-Disciplinary Collaborations in Vaccine Policy-Making, Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa 

March 2022

Workshop 7

‘Constructing Reality’ Critical Approaches to Misinformation - Policy Workshop, hosted at LSE, in partnership with Prof Itziar Castello Molina, University of Surrey

May 2022