Translation and development

The Translator journal
Call for papers for a special issue of The Translator, guest-edited by Kobus Marais

Recent advances in translation studies have focussed on geopolitical factors that influence translation practices (Gentzler, 2008; Simon, 2012). This opens the door to studying translation in particular geopolitical constellations, e.g. the Third World, the Global South or what could be called developing contexts. It thus allows one to study the relationship between translation and development, i.e. both the developmental role played by translation and developmental contexts as either constraints or enablers in translation. A troublesome concept, development is usually studied at the interface of economics, political science and sociology (Coetzee, et al., 2001) and is in its recent theorising also trying to avoid reductionist tendencies (Haynes, 2008) and to deal with criticism from poststructural quarters (Rabbani, 2011). Although postcolonial translation studies has been dealing with issues of what could be called a development context, Marais (2014) has argued that there are advantages in doing so in dialogue with development studies.

At the same time, it has become common place to talk about the sociological turn in translation studies (Tyulenev, 2014). This development, which started with sociolinguistic approaches to translation in the 1960s and which included pragmatic, cultural, and ideological approaches to translation studies, is aimed at liberating translation studies from the confines of a narrow linguistic perspective to include the whole of social reality in its purview. In the current sociological debate in translation studies, the focus is on the agency of translators, i.e., the way in which translators contribute towards the creation of various domains in society.

Furthermore, recent decades have seen criticism levelled against the reductionist project in Western scholarship (Coffman & Mikulecky, 2012; Hoffmeyer, 2008; Kauffman, 2013). In this paradigm of thinking, development has been reduced to economic development (Nussbaum, 2011) and has been influenced by Enlightenment thinking on progress as a single, linear process according to which quality of life improves (Coetzee, et al., 2001, pp. 27-43). Currently, scholars are looking for possible avenues through which to deal with the perceived limitations of reductionism.

Call for papers

This special edition calls for papers that are able to link translation to development, in non-reductionist ways. This requires, firstly, considering the constraints that lead to the emergence of social patterns. The reference is here to Deacon’s (2013, p. 161) use of the term as “the configurational effect that the whole has on its parts”, meaning that emergence is not only the effect of bottom-up causation but also, and simultaneously, the effect of top-down causation, explaining the constraining effects that social forces have on translational actions. Secondly, the conceptualisation calls for considering the agents that influence the emergence of society, i.e. development, through bottom-up causation. Thirdly, the sociological turn in translation studies and development studies calls for exploring the semiosic substratum of development through acts of translation (Latour, 2007; Mezzadra & Nielson, 2013), conceptualising development as the creation of complex systems of meaning (Olivier de Sardan, 2005).

In light of the above, the overarching question for this special edition is the following:

How is one to conceptualise the relationship between translation and developing society?

Related questions entail the following, amongst others:

  • How does the notion of development relate to translation, i.e. is a development context a constraining and/or enabling factor in translation?
  • If so, how is this relationship to be conceptualised, and what are the implications for translation theory and for the education of translators in such contexts?
  • How does the notion of translation relate to notions of development, i.e. what role does, can or should translation and translation studies play in development as a social ideal?
  • Can the same claims about the construction of culture through literary translation by, for example, Gentzler (2008) and Bandia (2008) be made for the construction of social reality through communicative texts in developing contexts?
  • What new vistas does the notion of development open for translation and translation studies? For example, how would translation practices in the informal sector of the economy differ from those in formal sectors of the economy?
  • If it is true that societies emerge from the semiosic interactions between individuals (Sawyer, 2005), how can theories of intersemiotic translation contribute to understanding society?
  • What are the implications of the work of semioticians like Lotman (1990) on cultural semiotics for development thinking?

Far from being parochial, these questions feed into pressing global debates such as the power differentials between developed and developing parts of the world, the negotiation of ideas when they travel and when they interact with contexts in which they did not originate, cultural translation and the representation of the Other, notions of post- and neo-colonialism, and the foundational role of human interaction and semiosis in all of the above.


1 February 2017 – Call for papers issued
1 April 2017 – Deadline for submission of abstracts
1 May 2017 – Inform selected authors
1 November 2017 – Authors submit papers and review process begins
1 February 2018 – Feedback on reviews and begin reworking
1 May 2018 – Submit reworked papers
1 November 2018 – Submit manuscripts to The Translator Editors for final check
7 December 2018 – Revised manuscripts submitted to Production Editor
Publication date: March 2019


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To find out more

The Translator website, including instructions for authors

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