In this author interview, we speak to Olga Castro and Emek Ergun about their recent edited collection, Feminist Translation Studies: Local and Transnational Perspectives (Routledge, 2017), which explores feminist approaches to translation across diverse geographical and historical locations as resistant transnational practices that challenge multiple forms of domination. In the piece, they introduce feminist translation studies, discuss the role that translation plays in the transnational and examine the relationship between feminist praxis, translation and activism.
This essay is part of the LSE RB Translation and Multilingualism Week, running between 10 and 14 December 2018. If you are interested in this topic, all posts published as part of the week can be accessed here. If you would like to contribute on this topic in the future, please contact us at Lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk.
Q: You describe the collection as emerging ‘at a historical moment of geopolitical and inter/disciplinary growth’ for feminist translation studies. Could you introduce feminist translation? When did it begin and how has it evolved to date?
If we accept that feminism, as a sociopolitical struggle aimed at challenging and disrupting gender power relations (as well as other relations of power that intersect with gender), is an approach to absolutely any and every aspect of our lives, then feminist translation is a political meaning-making praxis that challenges hegemonic power relations in any and every aspect of translation. This feminist perspective to translation involves identifying where different mechanisms of gender discrimination lie in translation and disclosing the ideological values behind them, as a first step to proposing alternatives for gender equality. Feminist translation could be defined as any conscious discursive intervention that seeks to contribute, through translation, to global social justice.
When trying to set the origins of feminist translation, there seems to be academic consensus in referring to the theories and textual practices developed in bilingual Quebec, Canada, by a group of translators and translation scholars in the 1970s and 1980s. They were indeed first in openly self-claiming the label ‘feminist translation’ to describe their efforts to incorporate feminist values into their avant-garde and experimental literary translation projects. However, we argue that other theories and practices of feminist translation had emerged long before and in other geographies, even if they were not self-proclaimed as such – examples include Margaret Tyler, Aphra Behn, Julia E. Smith and Lucy Cady Stanton, to name just a few.
In early feminist translation scholarship, the emphasis was mainly placed on studying linguistic aspects of translation (how gender is represented in different languages and the challenges that poses to translation) and on doing comparative textual analyses of women-authored literature and feminist philosophical texts. But feminist translation has been rapidly evolving, and it now welcomes new interdisciplinary encounters with, for example, audio-visual translation, machine translation, queer translation, interpreting and, more recently, social media translation. It has also expanded its geopolitical scope, which we explain later.
Q: You take care to make a distinction between studies that look at ‘gender and translation’ or ‘women and translation’ and feminist translation. What is crucial about this difference?
Feminism is a political term: it puts the emphasis on activism to dismantle power relations and to change the world. As a political praxis and a field of enquiry, feminism analyses how gender relations are structured in society to reveal the ways in which women, as a social group, have been and still are systematically discriminated against – while acknowledging that women is not a unitary category and adopting an intersectional approach to pay attention to differences and inequalities among women across the globe.
It is true that sometimes studies investigating translation theories and practices developed from multiple feminist perspectives are presented as ‘women and translation’ or ‘gender and translation’. Neither of these labels, in our view, fully expresses the emancipatory nature of the work feminist studies pursue. Studies looking at ‘women and translation’ also prioritise women-centred knowledge, which we find absolutely crucial, but not necessarily from a political, liberatory and critical stance. And ‘gender and translation’ – which may be seen by some scholars as more inclusive than ‘women and translation’ – has two drawbacks for us. First, gender as a binary Anglophone concept is not universally applicable (scholarly discussions on the ‘trouble’ of translating Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble are enlightening in this respect – see, for example, Henry-Tierney 2016). Second, very often the choice to use ‘gender’ is a pragmatic move to present this field as less threatening or confrontational, but comes at the expense of losing its political nature.
It is for these reasons that we prefer ‘feminist translation studies’ – with its open-endedness and political emphasis on plurality and power, feminist translation studies is for us the best way of naming a field that investigates translation theories and practices carried out from multiple feminist perspectives, responding to challenges met by women in different locations in the world.
Q: Your introduction to the volume has a great opening line: ‘The future of feminisms is in the transnational and the transnational is made through translation.’ Could you explain this statement and how it shaped the collection?
The term transnational both criticises the violent operations of national borders that pit us against each other and recognises the possibility of crossing those borders and forging connectivities despite antagonistic and asymmetrical borderings. In this regard, it is a term that simultaneously condemns the heteropatriarchal, neoliberal machineries of contemporary globalisation and celebrates alternative forms of global connectivities that help create conditions of planetary justice and peaceful co-existence – so we firmly believe that the future of feminisms is in the transnational.
Our collection aims to reveal the role of translation in enabling such alternative cross-border connectivities and solidarities, particularly those that pursue feminist politics of justice and equality on a global scale. This is why most of the chapters in the collection provide examples of feminist translation praxes from a wide range of geographies and histories. While the contextual details of these chapters are unique to the specific geohistory they focus on, they all show how resistance against various systems of oppression expands when it is translated and transnationalised – that we have a lot of political lessons to learn from each other and the only way to achieve such transnational learning is translation.
Revealing the liberatory operations of translation’s connectionist power is important because it has also been systematically used in service of heteropatriarchal, colonial enterprises. Only by comprehending the political (progressive or reactionary; liberatory or oppressive; but never neutral) work of translation, we can claim it for planetary justice. So, by highlighting the centrality of translation in building transnational feminist politics, we hope to stimulate more interdisciplinary studies and conversations on the politics and ethics of translation and inspire more feminist translation praxes.
We wanted the collection to not only include the voices of translation studies scholars, so we decided to include a roundtable chapter where well-known scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds would engage in a conversation on the feminist politics of translation. This is how we brought Judith Butler, Richa Nagar, Kathy Davis, AnaLouise Keating, Claudia de Lima Costa, Sonia Alvarez and Ayşe Gül together – all of them scholars who had either written about translation or raised questions of translation in their works – generating a truly fruitful exchange of ideas on the topic. We believe such cross-border feminist knowledge production in and on translation is essential. As Butler states in the roundtable chapter: ‘there can be no solidarity without translation, and certainly no global solidarity’ (113).
In this regard, the collection is designed to be both an epistemological and political intervention. In a world that is marked, on the one hand, by a rich linguistic and cultural plurality, and on the other hand, by devastating global structures of inequality and violence, transnational/translational knowledge production is a crucial front of resistance and solidarity.
Q: A running theme throughout the book is this relationship between translation and activism – in her preface, Patricia Hill Collins states that ‘translation is central to feminist praxis’. How did this stress upon the relationship between translation, feminist praxis and activism inform the contributions that you included?
When we embarked on this book project, one of our concerns was that the existing ‘feminist translation scholarship’ had lost touch with feminist politics. Critical analyses and theories of translation conceived as a praxis of resistance against intersecting structures of power (patriarchy, heteronormativity, racism, neoliberalism, colonialism, etc) were largely missing from the field. In fact, the term ‘feminist’ was rarely being uttered in recently published works on ‘translation and gender’. Feminist Translation Studies wanted to bring this political language back into the field by framing translation as activism – a political activity that seeks to intervene into discursive structures of domination and disrupt epistemic mechanisms of marginalisation – while at the same time emphasising the plurality of feminisms – hence, our emphasis on the plurality of feminist translation praxes.
All of the chapters in the collection, including Collins’ preface, discuss the activist work of translation, both locally and globally: how translation mobilises feminist discourses to travel around the world; connects feminists and feminist movements across borders and expands social justice movements; changes hetero/sexist languages; facilitates feminist knowledge production; inspires local feminist praxes; helps build geopolitically hybrid feminist discourses and practices; enables transnational exchanges of lessons of resistance; and allows the formation of multilingual feminist coalitions. In short, feminist translation not only brings us together, but also changes the definition of ‘us’ into a polyphonic, cross-border community of social justice activists.
The chapters demonstrate such translational activisms by focusing on a wide range of examples from China, France, Galicia, Germany, India, Italy, Morocco, Poland, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US. The chapters also provide cautionary tales on feminist translation activisms, which take place in a world marked by colonial relations of power that position languages, texts and activists in asymmetrical relations (reminding us that the translational flows of political texts and discourses do not take place in a vacuum). Such a critical reflection on feminist translation underlines the importance of expanding the political agenda of feminist translation activism – one that focuses on resisting and disrupting not only patriarchy, but also racism, orientalism, heteronormativity, colonialism, etc.
Q: What kind of strategies might we employ to continue this necessary work of challenging Eurocentric or West-centric approaches to feminist translation studies, avoiding – as you put it – the ‘add and stir’ approach in the process?
A variety of strategies can help us contribute to this, which could be grouped together in four categories. First of all, we need more publications that not only analyse feminist translation praxes developed in different linguistic contexts but also written in different languages. Then, this scholarship itself needs to be translated into other languages (particularly along South-to-South axes, so the hegemony of English is disrupted). Such a multilingual increase in feminist translation studies will both increase political awareness on translation and inspire more feminist translation activisms around the world. In fact, hegemonic languages could be used as bridges to increase the translation traffic from South to South. Also, feminists in the Global North need to make a more concerted effort to learn the languages of marginalised communities around the world and translate feminists’ works from those languages with a clear decolonial feminist ethics of translation. And when talking about the Global North, we must remember that many communities placed in that geography are subjected to intra-colonialism and are politically and linguistically marginalised too. All this means that the field needs to become more attuned to the politics of decoloniality in relation to feminist translation.
Second, we need better translation mechanisms to make the global flows of feminisms more egalitarian. For instance, we can include more translations of articles included in feminist journals – this will not only increase the flow of texts from the Global South to the Global North, but it will also encourage us to think and write more about the critical role of translation in feminist politics.
Third, we need to include questions of translation in our feminist writing and teaching practices, no matter what discipline we are affiliated with. Feminist translation is a promising pedagogical tool for courses that aim to help students develop critical, complex understandings of globalisation and transnational social justice movements. In fact, we co-authored a chapter in our edited volume precisely to inspire such a pedagogical expansion, providing teachers with practical strategies to put the transgressive and connectionist power of feminist translation into action.
Finally, we must globally organise feminist translation scholars/activists using online networking systems. For instance, we currently have a Feminist-Translation-Studies listserv dedicated to this mission with over 130 users. While the vehicular language of the listserv is English, the circulated announcements and calls (about publications, events, conferences, etc) include different languages and geographies. The listserv also enables users to ask critical questions and raise issues regarding the field (e.g. translating black feminisms).
Another example is the Feminist Translation Bibliography, FemTS, which we have been working on for years and will make available online soon. Currently, most of the references in FemTS are in English, French, Turkish, Catalan, Galician and Spanish; but as soon as it is published, we plan to make a call for references so that works published in more languages make it to the list. By creating a bibliography that is as inclusive as possible, we hope to provide a comprehensive point of reference for anyone interested in feminist translation studies. We recognise that we have our own blind spots due to our academic and geopolitical situatedness, and the only way to compensate for these is to make the bibliography a transnational-communal project where we cover each other’s blind spots. In other words, in creating the transnational forums of the listserv and FemTS, we hope to grow together and expand the geographical scope of Feminist Translation Studies as much as possible.
The research discussed in this interview has been supported by the project, ‘Bodies in Transit: Difference and Indifference’ (Ref. FFI2017-84555-C2-2-P; Ministry of Science, Education and Universities, Spain).
Note: This interview was conducted by Dr Rosemary Deller, Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books blog. The interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.
Image Credit: (Jeanne Menjoulet CC BY 2.0).