Cultural translation, universality and emancipation

Gabriel Dols, Caterina Calafat


In a way, the history of Translation Studies, at least for the last decades, has been that of a continuous broadening of the field of study. If the 1990s witnessed the “cultural turn” famously heralded by Mary Snell-Hornby, more recently scholars have turned towards the role that translation plays in cultural dominance and cultural resistance, in what has been referred to as the power turn. At the same time, a converging movement could be observed from outside the field of Translation Studies: Some thinkers, in their quest for new intellectual paradigms to tackle the challenges faced by emancipatory projects, have veered towards translation as a way to overcome particularism and nationalism, while at the same time avoiding the risks of a monocultural universalism that is seen to lead inevitably to imperialism. Translation, by necessarily reaching out to the Other and creating hybridity, offers a unique chance to “square the circle” and find “equivalence in difference.” In this paper, we discuss the ideas about translation of four such thinkers, coming from very different backgrounds and traditions: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Étienne Balibar, Judith Butler and Boaventura de Sousa Santos.


Cultural translation; politics; ideology and power

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