Cultural translation

Kyle Conway
Table of contents

Cultural translation is a concept with competing definitions coming from two broad fields, anthropology/ethnography and cultural/postcolonial studies. In anthropology, it usually refers to the act of describing for members of one cultural community how members of another interpret the world and their place in it. In cultural studies, it usually refers to the different forms of negotiation that people engage in when they are displaced from one cultural community into another, or it refers to the displacement itself. In both cases, scholars have typically explained the term's use by pointing out that “translation” derives from the Latin translātus, the past participle of transferre, meaning “to carry across.” (Scholars who cite non-Latin etymologies are exceedingly rare.) What is “carried across,” however, varies by field. For anthropologists, foreign cultures are “carried across” to domestic readers in textual form, as described in articles and books, while for cultural studies scholars, what is “carried across” is not so much culture as it is the people who leave their place of origin and enter a new locale, bearing their culture with them.

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Further essential reading

Bhabha, Homi
1994The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Conway, Kyle
2012“A Conceptual and Empirical Approach to Cultural Translation.” Translation Studies 5 (3): 264–279. DOI logo  TSBGoogle Scholar
Geertz, Clifford
1973The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Readings. New York: Basic.Google Scholar
Papastergiadis, Nikos
2012Cosmopolitanism and Culture. London: Polity.Google Scholar
Translation Studies forum on cultural translation
vols. 2 (2) in 2009 and 3 (1) and 3 (3) in 2010.