Conceptual Work and the "Translation" Concept

Sandra L. Halverson


The concept of "translation" is required to carry a considerable load at several levels of inquiry. It functions as a causal element in sociological theories, and as a methodological tool, when used extensionally. Most importantly, it is the concept which in some way structures the field which we take as our object of inquiry. As such, it has particular functions in serving as a basis for generalizations and as a means of determining category membership. In response to what are perceived as difficulties in some of these areas, some scholars have hinted that the concept of "translation" might be fruitfully viewed as a prototype category. In this paper, I review the philosophical and empirical arguments which support such a move, and outline some of the programmatic consequences. The focus is on the resolution of current conceptual problems, and on the theoretical and metatheoretical implications.

Table of contents

In a paper which in many ways is a forerunner to the present one, I argued that major philosophical differences underlie much of the past, and some of the present theoretical dissension in the field of Translation Studies (Halverson 1997 [ p. 2 ]). I also argued that what evidence there is of a rapprochement has suggested that scholars are falling down on the side of relativity, which I believe to be the lesser of two evils, though still problematic in the long run. As has been pointed out so many times before, a complete surrender to the strongest form of relativity leaves us quite unsatisfied in our efforts to account for, or motivate, the comparability of concepts and theories and the ultimate selection of one over the other (see Lakatos and Musgrave 1970, Putnam 1981, Shapere 1981, Laudan 1990). In short, concepts whose validity is completely relative to a particular constellation—either a real-world, time-space one, or a theoretical one—do not provide an adequate basis for scientific generalizations; one of the major pieces of work that we need our concepts to do is not getting done.

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