Corps de l’article

With the rise of research on translation and politics in Translation Studies, the time is ripe for a handbook on the subject. This is exactly what The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics provides, that is, an overview of the key ideas in and tendencies of translation and politics worldwide. The 33 chapters that comprise the handbook are written by leading scholars who have been chosen for their expertise and knowledge in the field (for instance, Eric Cheyfitz on translation and colonialism, Reine Meylaerts on translation in multilingual states, and Christina Schäffner on institutional translation). The handbook is co-edited by Fruela Fernández and Jonathan Evans. Fernández is a lecturer in Spanish translation at Newcastle University (UK), and his past work deals with the political impact of translation and the role of translation in contemporary politics (2014, 2017), whereas Evans is a senior lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Portsmouth (UK), where he specializes in political and community aspects of translation (2016).

The introduction of the handbook, entitled “Emancipation, secret histories, and the language of hegemony,” not only contextualizes the concepts of “politics” and “translation,” but also demonstrates the fact that translation is political by crossing or creating borders between languages and people. On the one hand, translation increases access to texts of different languages, facilitating communication and language policy, but, on the other hand, it creates a wall between speakers of different languages. Indeed, the readers of translated material often forget that the text they are reading comes from another culture (pp. 3-4). Hence, translation has an effect on the representation of communities. The introduction also reviews the works on translation and politics from before the twentieth century to the new millennium, with an emphasis on the late 1980s and the early 1990s. During the latter period, the relationship between translation and politics was explored with the help of concepts or approaches such as ideology, postcolonial studies and minority languages. For example, the editors examine André Lefevere’s essential Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (1992), which links translation to politics and ideologies, investigating the factors that control the function of translation in literary systems. In a similar vein, they discuss Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology (1992), edited by Lawrence Venuti, which has clearly demonstrated the political and ideological implications of translation by delving into questions of language, discourse and subjectivity. Fernández and Evans also examine the political role of translation by looking at other adjacent disciplines, such as area studies and comparative literature. Political science, as an asset to untraditional and innovative interpretations of translation, also finds its way into the introduction, regarding “‘translation’ as a process of communication” between different political languages (pp. 9-10).

As explained by the editors, there are two threads running through the study of the intersecting concepts of translation and politics: “translation of politics” (“How translation has contributed to the evolution and transformation of political practices”) and “politics of translation” (what is “the place of translation within political structures”) (p. 2). However, they argue that “these lines of analysis are not mutually exclusive: a political praxis largely shaped by translation […] can eventually evolve into a political structure that impacts and shapes translation” (ibid.). The various thematic parts of the handbook, “Translation and political ideas,” “Translation and structures of power,” “Politics of translation” and the last part, “Case studies,” all represent the intricate relationship between translation and politics, but it could be said that the last two parts articulate it in specific domains, and that they target specific periods and/or specific locales.

The first part of the book, which includes eight chapters, presents a survey of translation as a political concept in political science and praxis; it draws on Marxism, Fascism, economics, democracy, globalization, development, cosmopolitanism and feminism. These mainly theoretically oriented chapters conceptualize the political process in terms of “translation,” which is distant from the traditional idea of linguistic transfer and a welcome change. A case in point is the chapter “Translation and globalization,” where the author, Shaobo Xie, introduces the “mutually constitutive relationship” between translation and globalization (p. 79), meaning that these elements are intertwined. Xie also looks at the global present, noting that globalization has irreconcilable consequences: it brings benefits to people but it also leads to wars, hostility and arrogance. As invisible walls are erected in the world—such as Eurocentrism, western capitalism and lingual imperialism—, the author reminds us of the four models of translation proposed by Gayatri Spivak (1993), Judith Butler (2000), Maria Tymoczko (2009, 2014) and Jacques Derrida (2001) that celebrate and represent different forms of otherness in response to domination, hegemony, violence and inequality in the age of globalization.

The second part of the handbook, made up of nine chapters, is devoted to translation and power structures. In any power structure, factors such as censorship, war, multilingualism and colonialism have an impact on the translators’ work, and these factors are dealt with through resistance or compliance. A representative example is found in Moira Inghilleri’s chapter “Translation and violence,” which focuses on the effects of violence on translator and interpreter behaviours, as well as the role of translation at specific moments in time and space, and during which national or ideological power was in play. The violence studied in this chapter is not physical, but rather symbolic, meaning “power converted into a symbolic form where it is endowed with a particular kind of legitimacy that it would not otherwise have” (p. 148). This legitimacy is conferred by the dominant group as in the cases of Bible translation in the Middle Ages, diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire, gunboat translation in Imperial China, dangerous liaisons in Colonial America, and interpreting at gunpoint in Modern Iraq and Afghanistan.

The third part, which comprises five chapters, investigates the politics of translation in specific fields and domains, ranging from the role of politics in translators’ associations and localization to the politics of translation of different genres, including literary translation, audiovisual translation and popular music translation. For instance, the chapter studies the relationship between politics and professional associations for translators and interpreters. In this chapter, Sarah Griffin-Mason presents the current situation of leading British commercial and literary translators’ associations, alongside other translation sector entities throughout Europe and the world. Professional associations are frequently confronted with political concerns, such as a lack of resources and regulations to successfully shape the profession, the ensuing confusion over professional levels of qualification and practice, the strategic direction of professional entities, and the impact of globalization and technologies on translation. What’s more, the author presents the future outlook for professional associations by pointing out existing and potential challenges and by proposing tasks to enable professional associations to meet them (pp. 302-303).

Following the part on politics of translation in specific fields and domains, the fourth part probes into translation and politics in specific periods and locales in the Arab world, India, medieval Europe, Eastern Europe, Japan, China, the French Caribbean, Africa, and Vietnam. In one of the case studies, “Translation and revolution in twentieth-century China,” Ning Wang reviews the role of translation in the long process of Chinese revolution. As an instrument of enlightenment and ideology, a way of opening up to the world, and a remapping of global culture and world literature, translation has played four different roles at distinct historical stages throughout twentieth-century China. Apart from this chapter, part four consists of ten other case studies, which could be considered the highlight of the book, because they put the concepts and theories of the first two parts into practice, not exhaustively, but rather persuasively, helping the readers to better understand the issues of translation and politics by placing them in specific contexts.

In general, the handbook has many strong points: each chapter of the book is well structured with an introduction, body and conclusion, and gives substantial examples. It is worth noting that, at the end of each chapter, three or four related topics are identified and suggestions for further reading are made, accompanied by an extensive bibliography. The book is a clear, accessible and thought-provoking guide for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. In addition, it also serves as a carefully edited source for university teachers who give introductory courses on translation and politics, and for readers of the general public who are interested in this domain as well.

However, although the editors have made a concerted effort to pull the chapters together in a cohesive fashion, we argue that the handbook’s structure could have been designed differently. For instance, the first, second and last parts are given a lot of importance, in contrast to the third part, “Politics of translation.” This could indicate that the politics of translation in specific fields and domains continues to be a fertile area of investigation for translation studies researchers. By contrast, it could also mean that the different sections of the handbook could have been labelled and organized differently. After all, the category, “politics of translation,” is very broad, and it is surprising to see that such a potentially rich area of research has not generated more studies. Furthermore, the geographical coverage of the last part that deals with specific geographic areas in translation and politics is unbalanced, with the glaring absence of three continents: North America, South America and Australia. The editors explain in their introduction that space was limited and that covering all locations in the case studies was impossible, but in a handbook of this scope, we expected more comprehensive coverage. That being said, when looking through the Index, we note that these regions are actually covered throughout the book. Indeed, examples pertaining to the United States, Canada and Québec, Brazil and Australia are numerous and easily found in the Index. Moreover, when “manually” searching for mentions of South or Latin America in the handbook (these labels do not appear in the Index), many examples are also found. The book is, hence, more comprehensive than the table of contents suggests, but the editors could have done a better job explaining how to take advantage of it.

In sum, the handbook is a great addition to the literature on translation and politics, because it not only studies the spaces of interaction between “politics” and “translation,” showing that disciplines such as sociology, diplomacy or international politics can engage well with Translation Studies, but it also shows that Translation Studies, conversely, is very receptive to a dialogue with them. The handbook, moreover, addresses developments in the field of politics and translation, making the connection between theory and practice, and unfolding the key subdisciplines and the primary debates of translation and politics today.