Shared culture? Reflections on recent trends in Translation Studies

Kaisa Koskinen
University of Tampere / Academy of Finland

Ever since the “cultural turn” in Translation Studies it has been commonplace to state that translation is an act of cultural mediation. However, the concept of culture as such has remained elusive. A number of questions remain unanswered: How can we define a culture? What kind of empirical evidence is needed to prove the existence of a particular culture? Looking for answers, I start with a personal note, with my own previous attempt at conceptualizing translators’ work in the European Commission by defining the EU institutions as a (multilingual and institutional) culture of its own. Responses to this model convey varying views of the concept of culture. By analyzing and contextualizing these responses it is my aim to provide some answers to the question of what kind of a construction culture is. The results of the analysis are then used to reflect on recent developments in Translation Studies.

Table of contents

The concept of culture is one of the core concepts in today’s Translation Studies. Not only have we witnessed a “cultural turn” that has directed research towards approaches with affinities to cultural studies, but the concept of culture has, ever since the pioneering work of Eugene A. Nida and his contemporaries, also been embedded in a number of other schools of thought. Translation is regularly defined as intercultural communication; Descriptive Translation Studies puts a strong emphasis on the (target) culture system; and cultural conditioning is one of the central explanatory forces in functional translation theories. Linguistic approaches to translation, too, have recently integrated cultural [ p. 144 ]considerations. This trend has been particularly evident in studies related to discourse analysis (see, e.g., Hatim 2000).

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Arrojo, Rosemary
1998 “The revision of the traditional gap between theory & practice & the empowerment of translation in postmodern times”. The translator 4:1. 25–48.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Baker, Mona
1996 “Linguistics and cultural studies: Complementary or competing paradigms in Translation Studies?Angelika Lauer, Heidrun Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Johann Haller and Erich Steiner, eds. Übersetzungswissenschaft im Umbruch: Festschrift für Wolfram Wilss. Tübingen: Gunter Narr 1996 9–19.Google Scholar
Bassnett-McGuire, Susan
1980Translation Studies. London and New York: Methuen.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Bassnett, Susan
1998 “The translation turn in cultural studies”. Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, eds. Constructing cultures: Essays on literary translation. Clevedon: Multiligual Matters 1998 123–140.Google Scholar
Brisset, Annie
1990/2000 “The search for a native language: Translation and cultural identity”, tr. Rosalind Gill and Roger Cannon. Lawrence Venuti, ed. The Translation Studies reader. London and New York: Routledge 2000 343–375.Google Scholar
[ p. 155 ]
Brownlie, Siobhan
2003 “Distinguishing some approaches to translation research: The issue of interpretative constraints”. The translator 9:1. 39–64.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Calzada Pérez, María
2001 “A three-level methodology for descriptive-explanatory Translation Studies”. Target 13:2. 203–239.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2003 “Introduction”. María Calzada Pérez, ed. Apropos of ideology: Translation Studies on ideology—Ideologies in Translation Studies. Manchester: St. Jerome 2003 1–22.Google Scholar
Chesterman, Andrew and Rosemary Arrojo
2000 “Shared ground in Translation Studies”. Target 12:1. 151–160.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Chesterman, Andrew and Emma Wagner
2002Can theory help translators?: A dialogue between the ivory tower and the wordface. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Crisafulli, Edoardo
2002 “The quest for an eclectic methodology of translation description”. Theo Hermans, ed. Crosscultural transgressions: Research models in Translation Studies II. Manchester: St. Jerome 2002 26–43.Google Scholar
Delabastita, Dirk
2003 “Translation Studies for the 21st century: Trends and perspectives”. Génesis 3/2003 7–24.Google Scholar
Derrida, Jacques
1976Of grammatology, tr. Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press.Google Scholar
Fairclough, Norman
1992Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
1995Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. Harlow: Longman.Google Scholar
Godard, Barbara
1984 “Translating and sexual difference”. Resources for feminist research 13:3. 13–16.Google Scholar
Hall, Stuart
1992Kulttuurin ja politiikan murroksia (Collected writings in Finnish). Juha Koivisto, Timo Uusitupa, Mikko Lehtonen and Lawrence Grossberg, eds. Tampere: Vastapaino.Google Scholar
Hatim, Basil
2000Communication across cultures. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
Hermans, Theo and Ubaldo Stecconi
2002 “Translators as hostages of history” (17–18 April 2002). Http://​europa​.eu​.int​/comm​/translation​/theory​/seminars​.htm. Viewed 20.2.2003.
House, Juliane
2002 “Universality versus culture specificity in translation”. Alessandra Riccardi, ed. Translation Studies: Perspectives for an emerging discipline. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press 2002 92–109.Google Scholar
Koskinen, Kaisa
2000a “Institutional illusions: Translating in the EU Commission”. The translator 6:1. 49–65.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2000bBeyond ambivalence: Postmodernity and the ethics of translation. Tampere: Tampere University. [Acta Univeristatis Tamperensis 477. (Diss.)]. Also available in http://​acta​.uta​.fi.
Lefevere, André and Susan Bassnett
1990 “Introduction: Proust’s grandmother and the thousand and one nights. The cultural turn in Translation Studies”. Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, eds. Translation, history and culture. London and New York: Routledge 1990 1–13.Google Scholar
Niranjana, Tejaswini
1992Siting translation: History, post-structuralism, and the colonial context. Berkeley: University of California Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
[ p. 156 ]
Nordland, Rasmus
2002 “Equality and power in EU language work”. Perspectives 10:1. 31–54.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Pym, Anthony
2002 “On cooperation”. Maeve Olohan, ed. Intercultural faultlines: Research models in Translation Studies I. Manchester: St. Jerome 2002 181–192.Google Scholar
Scollon, Ron and Suzanne Wong Scollon
1995Intercultural communication: A discourse approach. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Silverman, Sydel
2002 “Foreword”. Richard G. Fox and Barbara J. King, eds. Anthropology beyond culture. Oxford and New York: Berg 2002 xv–xix.Google Scholar
Simeoni, Daniel
2000 “When in doubt, contextualize...”. Target 12:2. 337–341. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Snell-Hornby, Mary
1988Translation Studies: An integrated approach. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph
2002 “Adieu, culture: A new duty arises”. Richard G. Fox and Barbara J. King, eds. Anthropology beyond culture. Oxford and New York: Berg 2002 37–60.Google Scholar
Tymoczko, Maria
1999Translation in a postcolonial context: Early Irish literature in English translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Tymozcko, Maria
2000 “Translation and political engagement: Activism, social change and the role of translation in geopolitical shifts”. The translator 6:1. 23–47.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tymoczko, Maria
2002 “Connecting the two infinite orders: Research methods in Translation Studies”. Theo Hermans, ed. Crosscultural transgressions: Research models in Translation Studies II. Manchester: St. Jerome 2002 9–25.Google Scholar
Venuti, Lawrence
1995The translator’s invisibility: A history of translation. London and New York: Routledge.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1998The scandals of translation: Towards an ethics of difference. London and New York: RoutledgeDOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vuorinen, Erkka
2001 “Kielitoisintoja Euroopasta—EU-kääntämisen erityispiirteitä” [Language versions from Europe—on the special features of EU translation]. Riitta Oittinen and Pirjo Mäkinen, eds. Alussa oli käännös. Tampere: Tampere University Press 2001 109–130.Google Scholar
Wagner, Emma, Svend Bech and Jesús M. Martínez
2002Translating for the European Union institutions. Manchester: St. Jerome.[ p. 156 ]Google Scholar