[CFP] Panel “Who translates, who benefits?” Digital translation work in posthuman multilingual societies

Wednesday, 10 May 2023, Department of Translation Studies, University of Graz

Organized by Şebnem Bahadır-Berzig & Stefan Baumgarten

“Who translates, who benefits?”
Digital translation work in posthuman multilingual societies

Translation technologies and digital translation work are amongst the major transformational drivers in contemporary multilingual societies. Translators and interpreters shape and service the communication needs across a huge array of (institutional and industrial) agents belonging to different language communities. Most research on digital translation work tends to ascribe decision-making processes to the extended and distributed cognitions of human agents. However, with the steady intrusion of novel technologies, the stakeholders in transcultural communication – whether translators, interpreters, educators or researchers – have developed differing attitudes towards digital translation work. On the one hand, a long-standing discourse of techno-scientific and industrial triumphalism keeps hailing the benefits of translation technologies for education and learning as well as for the optimization of linguistic data flows. The utopian dream of overcoming Babel by means of neural machine translation, however, has come to be increasingly challenged by an emerging critical approach towards the all too ready acceptance of the apparent liberating powers of automated translation tools.

Yet, while Translation Studies has been haunted by a rigid modernist differentiation between human translation and machine translation, critical posthumanist approaches have begun to fruitfully debate the splitting of agency between humans and machines alongside new conceptions on hybrid identities and the automation of industrial (translation) workflows (Baumgarten and Cornellà-Detrell 2017, Braidotti 2013, Cronin 2020, Rozmysłowicz 2019). Seen from a critical perspective, therefore, digitalized translation has severe consequences not only for a new understanding of the corporeality and materiality of transcultural communication, but also for the survival of linguistically diverse societies and the political and social participation of language minorities. Today, the translation industry remains enthralled to an exclusivist neoliberal ideology, especially concerning the neo-Taylorist organization of digital workflows. This workshop therefore aims to critically assess the wide-ranging phenomenon of digitalized translation in posthuman multilingual societies in connection with a host of sociocultural, ethical and economic ‘real world’ challenges.

• Benjamin’s and Derrida’s seminal thoughts on translation have been widely discussed through a cultural prism: But what is the ‘task of the translator’ or what constitutes a ‘relevant translation’ in the digitalized societies of ‘posthuman’ times?
• Critical Posthumanism challenges a rigid anthropological divide across human and non-human agents: How can we rethink the question of translator identity with respect to today’s digitalized translation flows?
• Modern translation technologies generate new skills profiles for translators and interpreters, e.g. postediting or crowdsourcing work: But who actually translates in these brave new ‘posthuman’ networks of translation?
• There is continuous debate about the human-machine interaction continuum in digital translation work: How can we (re)conceptualize this interaction in terms of hybrid agency or corporeal prosthesis?
• Based on huge volumes of language data, neural machine translation systems deliver good quality translations to an unprecedented degree: But what do these data consist of and who benefits in material terms?

KEYWORDS: translation studies, critical posthumanism, digital translation, multilingualism, neo-Taylorism

Baumgarten, S. and J. Cornellà-Detrell (eds.) (2017) ‘Translation in times of technocapitalism’, Special issue, Target: International Journal of Translation Studies 29:2.
Benjamin, W. (1923/2012) ‘The translator’s task’, in The Translation Studies Reader, ed. by L. Venuti, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 75–83.
Braidotti, R. (2013) The Posthuman, Malden and Cambridge: Polity Press.
Cronin, M. (2020) ‘Translation and Posthumanism’, in The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Ethics, ed. by N. Pokorn and K. Koskinen, London and New York:  Routledge, pp. 279–293.
Derrida, J. (1999/2012) ‘What is a “relevant” translation?’, in The Translation Studies Reader, ed. by L. Venuti, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 365-388.
Rozmysłowicz, Tomasz (2019) ‚Die Geschichtlichkeit der Translation(swissenschaft). Zur paradigmatischen Relevanz der maschinellen Übersetzung‘, Chronotopos 2:1, 17-41.

In part 1, and following the organizers’ thematic introduction, we will begin with short 10-minute positioning papers. Framing their case with a cultural and critical theory stance, each positioning paper will present one theoretically-framed concrete scenario surrounding digital translation work in posthuman multilingual societies. We welcome abstracts for positioning papers on any concrete scenarios or case studies. In part 2, each previous presenter will react to one of the previously discussed scenarios and its theoretical framings by presenting one critical 5-minute reflection. The concluding panel discussion in part 3 will further encourage interdisciplinary debate by bringing all the relevant themes and connections together.

• Submission of positioning papers (max. of 1000 words; either in essay or outline format): Wednesday, 19 April 2023.
• Notification on accepted papers: Monday, 24 April 2023.

Please send your positioning papers of between 600-1000 words in one email by Wednesday, 19 April 2023 to stefan.baumgarten@uni-graz.at and sebnem.bahadir-berzig@uni-graz.at.

The papers and concluding panel discussion will be included in a collected volume to be published with John Benjamins Publishing Company.