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Panel 20. Re-Thinking Translation and Politics

The panel is designed to be a forum for the discussion of a subject—translation and politics—that cuts across the entire field of Translation Studies.

The topic of translation and politics comprises historical studies of texts (such as those on the role of translation in the nation-building process, censorship in repressive regimes, etc.); studies of agents (translators and other agents involved in the production and dissemination of translated works, subversive translators, etc.); as well as studies on the role translation has played in recent social movements (for example, the Arab Spring and the Gezi Park Protests) and in specific historical contexts (such as the Cold War). It can also relate to issues of access to translation and interpreting services.

Although questions of politics and power have been addressed in the field since the 1990s, a number of phenomena encourage a theoretical re-examination of the topic. These phenomena include: post-Foucauldian conceptualizations of political power and individual agency, recent manifestations of grass-roots political power facilitated by new technologies, as well as the continued and accelerating movement to broaden translation studies to include cultures outside the developed West and in the pre-modern period, which has decentered some basic Western assumptions about political power and agency. Also, changing conceptions of translation itself—for example, as a bordering practice and as heterolingual address, or translation as performance— make it necessary to fundamentally rethink translation as an act of politics.

Further reflection on the topic is also necessary due to changing forms of political action related to, among other things, the advent of new technologies and developments, as well as the opening of archives in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, which have given researchers access to new sources of information regarding censorship and other practices.

While there are quite a number of methodological and conceptual tools available for the study of translation and politics from different angles, as exemplified in the concepts of  manipulation', 'patronage', 'censorship', and 'asymmetrical power relations,’ further reflection is needed. There has been relatively little discussion on the conceptual level as most studies adopt—often uncritically—already-existing concepts and frameworks. The panel will discuss conceptual and methodological issues and will also bring in perspectives on politics from other disciplines (media studies, book history, censorship studies, political theory, and multilingualism studies).

Contributions on the effects of the politics of translation for other fields and their concepts (such as ‘canon’ or ‘world literature’ in comparative literature) are also invited.

Finally, the panel would include the politics of Translation Studies, addressing such questions as: How do institutional politics (universities, EU policies, etc.) shape the outlook of the discipline? How does politics, more broadly conceived, shape the training of translators, as evidenced, for example, in the dominance of “technicism” and its effects, and, of course, the effects of censorship and national contexts on the field.


  • Name(s) of convener(s): Brian James Baer and Dilek Dizdar
  • Affiliation: Kent State University (USA), University of Mainz (Germany)
  • Email address: bbaer@kent.edu; dizdar@uni-mainz.de