Translation as Sociological Practice

Maria Lopez-Portillo, Brown University

The pretension that English is the lingua franca of academia obliviates the myriad acts of translation that researchers coming from and working in non-English contexts do to participate in knowledge production. Pushed by social studies of science, historical sociology is becoming increasingly cognizant of the practices underlying all stages of research, from conception and data gathering to analysis and publication (Abbott 2001, Benzecry 2020, Clemens et. al. 2004, Lamont 2009, Maryl and Wilson 2020a and 2020b). As this extensive literature shows, the stages of research are each “social worlds”, enmeshed in dynamics of class, gender and race. At the same time, a growing literature is pushing us to rethink the global colonial structures that undergird networks of knowledge production (Bhambra 2014, de Sousa Santos 2006, Vásquez 2011). In this paper, I argue that although translation is a constitutive practice of sociological research, it is taken for granted and remains largely unquestioned by the discipline. The invisibility of translation as a method, a practice, and a layer of qualitative interpretation, limits the capacity of sociology to recognize the power asymmetries that define it. At the same time, the field of translation has moved closer to sociology, in both a consideration of its own power as an interpretative act that can reproduce dynamics of inequality and empire, and of its own reflection as a professional field of research (Wolf and Fukari 2007, Zanotti 2018). The paper has two goals. First, to bridge these movements in historical sociology and in translation studies towards a reflexive practice of research. Second, alongside scholars who have discussed translation as ingrained in sociological research, to provide suggestions on how to improve our teaching and learning about translation in the practice of historical sociology.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 140. Reflexivity, Ethics, and Translations in the History of Social Science