Professor Jemina NapierFAcSS

  • Linguistics

Chair of Intercultural Communication, Heriot-Watt University 

Professor Jemina Napier was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in spring 2024. She is Chair of Intercultural Communication at Heriot-Watt University and since November 2022 has been the university’s Associate Principal for Research Culture and People. Her research sits at the intersection between the social sciences and humanities in the areas of applied linguistics, interpreting studies and deaf studies, and focuses on sign language communication, including linguistic access, mediated communication, family language policy, and gendered communication.

Jemina grew up as a hearing person in a multigenerational deaf family using British Sign Language (BSL) and English as her home languages, which led her to becoming a professional sign language interpreter in several sign languages. Since completing her PhD in Linguistics, she has become a globally respected research expert on sign language mediated communication in different contexts including education, employment, healthcare, justice, conference, families. She still practices as a sign language interpreter today.

Jemina’s research adopts a community participatory framework, collaborating with key stakeholders to produce impactful research that has: generated new theoretical insights; produced applied best practice guidelines for interprofessional working between public service professionals and interpreters; and led to recommendations on effective research methodologies for community engagement.

Her work has been recognised through various accolades, including being awarded (with the BSL team at Heriot-Watt University) the 2017 Guardian University Awards for Social & Community impact, the Australian Journal of Human Rights Andrea Durbach Award for best article in human rights scholarship (2017), election as Fellow of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK (2017) and as Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities (2021).

Find out more about Professor Jemina Napier.

Why do the social sciences matter?

The social sciences enable researchers to utilise a range of (sometimes creative) methodologies to engage with communities so we can better understand societal issues, barriers and solutions. I believe in social justice, where we can live in a world that strives for equitable experiences, values diversity and actively encourages inclusive practices in all parts of society. The social sciences provide the evidence of where we need to improve practices, services and policies to achieve social justice. They bring together disciplines that ask difficult questions about human behaviours and communicative repertoires, which are the bedrock of any societal change.

The social sciences matter not only because we need to understand these behaviours and communications, but also because they enable wider changes in society by supporting STEM research. The social sciences tackle real-world issues that affect people in their everyday lives, and in particular, enable marginalised voices to be heard.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

There are two things that I enjoy most about my work. One is collaboration: doing interdisciplinary research with other academics and also working closely with professionals, service users and community members to effect change. The other is dissemination: sharing the evidence from research in different ways. I enjoy writing academic articles, but I think it is important to engage with the communities who might benefit from my work and make the research evidence accessible to them. So, I produce bilingual v/blog posts, hold community information events and webinars and use other creative dissemination methods such as training videos and mini-documentaries.

What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?

I am passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), so I actively campaign for equitable opportunities and capability building for academics and PhD students from minoritised and disadvantaged groups, especially deaf and female researchers. But for a truly equitable society, there is much work to be done to embed principles of EDI throughout all walks of life, not just in academia.

What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?

I am truly honoured to join other Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences in highlighting and promoting the important work of social scientists, and how our research makes a difference in the everyday lives of people in society.