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'In your experience': research as gendered cultural translation

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Current debates on the use of interpreters in social research have seldom attended to the politics of translation in the production of knowledge. Where the use of interpreters has been analysed, this has primarily been with a concern for the validity and accuracy of the translated text rather than a sustained analysis of how translation shapes meaning-making. This article draws on an illustration from a research project on gender and violence in times of conflict to reflect on the dilemmas of working across languages for feminist anti-racist work. Treating translation as an act that is necessarily cross-cultural and political, this article attends to the gendered and spatial-political consequences of the co-construction of meaning in the interview process. It argues that a 'transparent' translation is neither possible nor desirable if we take seriously the ways that language produces meaning in research. It considers the centrality of the translators and translation decisions in the production of all knowledge and argues for a sustained reflection on the politics of cross-language work. Far from reflecting a limitation of cross-language research, this reflection itself provides useful analytic starting points for interrogating, in this case, the gendered politics of knowledge construction.

Keywords: culture; feminism; gender; identity; interpreters; nationalism; translation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Forced Migration Studies Programme, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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