[New publication] The Translator 24 (4): Translation and Development
The Translator 24 (4): Translation and Development
Edited by Kobus Marais
Introduction by the editor, open access: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13556509.2019.1602306
Linking translation studies and development studies have a number of advantages for translation studies. I would anticipate that such a pairing would also hold advantages for development studies, especially in community development (Westoby 2013; Westoby and Dowling 2013) and in response to the growing interest in semiotic approaches to development (Pieterse 2010), but I leave that for development scholars to judge. As for translation studies, the bringing together of these interdisciplinary areas has just started and is still emerging. In this introduction, I thus stand back for a moment to consider the advantages, the possibilities and the way forward for such an interdisciplinary endeavour.
In my view, the main advantage that the link between translation studies and development studies offers is the potential to consider the complex of politics, society and the economy as causal factors in translation studies – and to consider it as a complex. Proponents of critical theory in translation studies and the large body of postcolonial studies in translation studies engage mostly with ideologies and the politics of culture (see, for example, the special edition of Target 29(2) and (Mazrui 2016)). Theirs is, fundamentally, a cultural studies endeavour. For its part, the sociological approach to translation studies tends to focus on the history of social change or on the ways in which society is a causal factor in translation, i.e., the ways in which social factors cause or require translations to be made.
While all of the above are to be regarded as important advances in translation studies, they do still represent serious biases against materiality, in particular material economy. Up to now, translation studies scholars (Baker 2006; Robinson 1991; Tymoczko 2007) have been reticent in linking translation studies to theories of economics and issues relating to the materiality of production. While I think there is huge scope to look at the relationship between translation and economics, the link between translation studies and development studies offers one way into this debate. Seeing that development studies is itself an interdiscipline, linking sociology, economics and political science, it offers translation studies scholars the opportunity to engage economic theory as well as the sociology-economics-political science complex in their thinking.
The link between development studies and translation studies also offers something of an antidote to the idealism (Marais 2019, 149–152; Pym 2016) and constructivism (Baker 2006) that are rife in translation studies. What I mean is that translation studies seem to be biased towards studying ideas, and if scholars study reality, they study it as constructed in human representations. This bias means that the influence of materiality and the body (Robinson 1991) is neglected in certain circles in translation studies. By exposing translation studies to the materially other in economics, development studies challenge the focus on the translation of ideas. By considering the implications of space and time in global relations, the materiality that underlies human activities, including translation, is brought to the fore. After the fall of Communism, Marxism has seemingly lost some of its popularity, leaving the humanities and social sciences without a theory of materiality, a void that the link with development studies could start to address.
Furthermore, the link between development studies and translation studies should allow translation studies scholars to study domains that up to now have been outside of the purview of translation studies. I think here of agriculture, mining, construction, housing, the informal economy in general, early childhood development, indigenous knowledge and others. Even the university and its role in the development of Global South societies could become a topic of study in translation studies, as would the role of translation in particular fields of study and their development in the Global South. Robinson’s (2016) work on translation in philosophy and Colon’s article on translation in semiotics in this volume are examples the role of translation in intellectual development, but these could be expanded to physics, theology, management, law, etc.
It is, however, not a given that the link between translation studies and development studies will continue to grow or be regarded as successful. In order for the translation development connection to grow, translation studies need to expand its conceptualisation of translation from its linguistically biased conceptualisation (Marais 2019, 11–46; Robinson 2016, 11) into a fully semiotic conceptualisation. What I (and Robinson) mean is that translation theory should consider not only inter- and intra-lingual translation but also the full scope of intersemiotic translation practices and products. As long as translation studies deal only with texts written or spoken in human language, it will not be able to explore the full extent of social emergence, also known as development, which takes place in the comprehensive variety of meaning-making (semiotic) interactions between human beings (Marais 2019, 155–181). As long as translation studies dialogue predominantly with literary theory and cultural studies, it will not be able to account for this wide variety of meaning-making activities. In addition, as long as translation studies operate from an anthropocentric bias (Cronin 2017), it will not be able to make sense of the wide variety of translational activities in other living organisms, thus maintaining this bias.
This means that the link between translation studies and development studies is fraught with danger. There is the danger, as with all new approaches, of writing about ‘the same old stuff’ but calling it by new names. Translation studies scholars working in this field will need to distinguish carefully and clearly between development studies and cultural studies. Translation studies scholars face the real danger that they will continue to study culture while calling it development. This is not to say that culture does not develop, because it does. However, the dialogue needs to change. In addition to dialoguing with cultural studies, translation studies scholars need to dialogue with development studies. Translation studies scholars will have to put in hard work to understand the debates in development studies and to engage in those debates. They should also carefully consider the type of data they use when researching translation and development. Continuing to focus predominantly on literary texts and (high) culture under the guise of development will not advance this line of thinking. Lastly, this approach means that much empirical work is needed. Translation studies scholars will need to expand the anthropology angle in their methodological array in order to study the emergence of social, economic and political forms as they emerge.
Turning to development studies, the idea of development originated in the post-World War II efforts by the USA to construct a new world order in which colonisation would no longer be an option (Coetzee et al. 2001). As a field of study, development studies originated in the UK in the 1960s. Usually, development studies are seen as an interdiscipline that links economics, political science and sociology in an effort to study the ‘development’ of regions, countries, societies, or communities. Built on the belief in progress, development thinking strives towards ‘making things better’, in particular by economic growth and political reform (Rist 2002). Initial thought on development, called modernisation theories, assumed that all societies would develop along similar lines, thus suggesting that ‘undeveloped’ societies follow the development strategies of ‘developed’ societies. When this failed, it sparked research into ‘alternatives’ to development, including human-centred development (Nussbaum 2011), local development and community development (Westoby 2013). Some scholars considered the development task to offer opportunities to create alternative societies (Escobar 1995; Kaplan 2002), rather than following the neo-liberal route of developed countries. These days, so Pieterse (2010) argues, alternative development ideas have been integrated into mainstream development thinking to the extent that it becomes counterproductive to try to distinguish between the two. In addition, development is seen as a nexus or complex, i.e. the flowing together of a number of influences and factors that need to be considered simultaneously. In this regard, development scholars (Brett 2009) argue that development would have the best chances of success if the state, the market and the community work together in a complex relationship.
While all of the above provides room for an interface between translation studies and development studies, the work of the development anthropologist Olivier de Sardan (2005) seems particularly useful in relation to that interdisciplinary link. He conceptualises development as the task of adapting to an environment, in particular by responding to it through meaning-making actions. Development therefore has a semiotic aspect to it, which is to be studied from the expanded, semiotic approach to translation studies that I suggested above. With this perspective, one is able to study and talk about development without buying into the inevitable neo-liberal ideology that underlies much of it. Arguing that all societies have to adapt to changes in their environment means that all societies are, to some extent, underdeveloped, but it also means that different societies are adapting to different constraints, i.e. that what might be underdeveloped in one context may be developed in another one (Marais 2017). In a coauthored article Marais and Delgado Luchner (2019) argue that the notion of development could be saved from its ideological bias by considering the differential constraints under which different societies have to adapt. This means that development indicators are not normative, i.e. reflections of how much of the norm has been achieved, but comparative, i.e. a comparison of the constraints under which the process takes place.
One of the reasons that I initially suggested the link between development studies and translation studies relates to the internationalisation of translation studies itself (Susam-Sarajeva 2002; Tymoczko 2006). Most of the theories with which translation studies dialogue, e.g. theories of literature, culture and society, have been developed in the Global North. Development studies also have its origins in the Global North, but it has since acquired strong input from the Global South, as the alternative development debate (Escobar 1995) demonstrates. Notions like ‘Global North’, ‘Global South’ and ‘development’ are obviously highly contested, and they have been criticised for being binary. Yet, irrespective of whether and how it makes sense to distinguish between a Global North and a Global South, irrespective of whether this distinction is an ‘evil’ binary maintained by ‘evil’ people from the Global South against the pure intentions of ‘good’ people from the Global North, and irrespective of whether development studies itself is fraught with conceptual, ethical and ideological problems, the translation-development debate allows translation studies scholars from the Global South to find their own voice in translation studies. This debate in itself could be deconstructing the established patterns of hegemony in the current translation studies debates. To put it simply, translation studies scholars from the Global South now have the opportunity to venture into new avenues of research with data from their own contexts, inviting their Global North colleagues to meet them on their own turf.
Whether this will happen, however, remains to be seen.
Lastly, the contributions in this volume represent a variety of authors from a variety of contexts: Africa, Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Europe. The authors deal with an assortment of data, some working on written texts, some on multimodal texts and some on electronic texts. The fields of translation that were investigated also vary from medicine to semiotics to Civil Society to the role of electronic texts in the sharing economy. The contexts range from information campaigns to the rebuilding of countries after the war to the advance of intellectual agendas to everyday economic activities. All contributions, however, investigate the role that translation plays in somehow taking a particular society forward, developing it.
Chibamba points out how the particular development trajectory in Zambia, including but not limited to its colonisation, requires a particular translation strategy in communicating about health-care issues. In contrast, Colon argues that the work of a specific translator, Navarro, has had implications for the development of the field of semiotics in Cuba. Troqe, using Lotman’s cultural semiotics and referring to post-Communist translations in Albania, shows how translations enlarge the semiosphere in a culture, while Todorova considers the development of indigenous terminology in NGOs in post-Communist Macedonia. Chan presents data about the sharing economy in China to argue that translators may need to focus not only on translating between texts but also on mediating between the sources and users of knowledge. Marais and Delgado Luchner flesh out a comparative theory of development, showing, with data from East Africa, how different development projects take place under different constraints, which determine the translation strategies used.
The papers thus provide evidence of the complex relationship between translation and development, a relationship in which either could be used to change the other.
As authors, we hope that this volume will stimulate dissent, which will lead to further research. Many scholars might disagree with the approaches we have taken, and we invite them to take these disagreements up with us. In particular, we hope that this volume will itself contribute to the development of the field of translation studies – internationally and in particular in the Global South. We also hope that our research will contribute to the debate on what type of development the Global South needs and wants – and to enhancing that agenda.
Altmetric Translation and communication for development: the case of a health campaign in Zambia