[New Publication] Haken conference interpreters in Japan: Exploring status through the sociology of work and of professions

By Deborah Giustini


This article investigates the professional status of conference interpreters in Japan, by focusing on interpreters employed as haken, that is, dispatched temporary workers. Combining the perspectives of interpreting studies and the sociology of work, it addresses both internal and external factors upholding interpreters’ status: expertise, autonomy, and authority, on one hand, and social and market dynamics, on the other hand. It provides a thick empirical analysis of status-related factors by drawing on fieldwork data in Japan, including 46 interviews with interpreters and 7 interviews with agency managers. The findings show that internal and external factors intertwine in limiting or upholding interpreters’ status recognition. Despite their expertise and qualifications, conference interpreters in Japan have limited control over their work, because of clients’ expectations of subordination. Furthermore, the monopoly of agencies in the Japanese market constrains their professional visibility. Last but not least, interpreters’ employment as temporary workers and the disproportionate feminisation of the category contribute to societal perceptions of interpreting as an insecure and unrewarding occupation. The findings bear practical implications for the advocacy of interpreters’ status and its betterment in Japan.