Habitus, field and discourse: Interpreting as a socially situated activity

Moira Inghilleri
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Taking Toury’s model of norms as its starting point, this paper examines the macro–micro relationship evident within the context and culture of interpreting activity. The paper theorises this relationship drawing on Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and field and Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic discourse. It proposes a model which directs the analysis of norms to the social dimension of language and cognition, as well as to the sociological and ideological determinants of what counts as a legitimate meaning in a particular context. The paper draws on the analysis of a particular context—the interpreted political asylum interview. However, it suggests the possibility of applying a similar theoretical model across a range of interpreting contexts.

Table of contents

The object of this paper is to explore the notion of translational norms in relation to the context(s) and culture(s) of interpreter training and practice, specifically with respect to political asylum interviews. As a contribution to the theoretical and methodological debates on norms (see Schäffner 1999) drawing on my reading of Toury’s model of translational norms (Toury 1995; 2000), Bourdieu’s notions of field and habitus (Bourdieu 1977; 1990b), and Bernstein’s model of pedagogic discourse (Bernstein 1990; 1996), it proposes a theoretical framework with which to analyse interpreting as a norm-governed translational activity. The framework developed here is intended to generate a language for describing both the empirical relations of a particularised context, in this case, the interpreted political asylum interview, and also to extract and analyse the [ p. 244 ]underlying principles which generate the activities, practices and/or rules associated with interpreting activity in a range of contexts. The model directs the analysis of norms to the social dimension of language and cognition, as well as to the sociological and ideological determinants of what counts as a legitimate meaning in a particular context. It attempts to explicate the generative status of norms, viewing them both as socio-cultural constructions and as constructive of socio-cultural practices.

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