Transculturation and Bourdieu’s habitus theory: Towards an integrative approach for examining the translational activity of literary translators through history

Jesús Sayols

In the last two decades, Bourdieu’s sociology has provided appropriate tools for examining the work of literary translators through history. However, Bourdieusian approaches to literary translation seem to reproduce a major problem underlying Bourdieu’s theory; namely, a deterministic view of human behaviour. This article, against the alleged incompatibility between sociological approaches and culturalist paradigms, proposes to combine Bourdieu’s sociology with the notion of transculturation borrowed from Latin American cultural studies. The article demonstrates how transculturation helps elucidating the divided and contradictory nature of the habitus, as it was originally formulated by Bourdieu in his early writings on Kabylian society. Data from my previous study on the translational activity of Dai Wangshu in Republican China are used to illustrate how transculturation reveals itself as a valid model for the study of literary translators through history beyond the limitations of a sociologically-informed approach based exclusively on a Bourdieusian perspective.

Publication history
Table of contents

Over the last two decades, sociological approaches to translation drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories have been used both to examine the agents involved in the production and reception of translations and the importance of translation as a cultural product. As regards studies on literary translation, the relational nature of Bourdieu’s notions of ‘field’, ‘habitus’ and ‘capital’ has helped scholars analyse more comprehensively and systematically the complexity of sociocultural factors involved in the translation of literary texts, by connecting the translator’s biographical events to the historical context in which they occurred, and by connecting their translations to the field of their production. Sociological perspectives drawing on Bourdieu’s theories, then, contributed to the elaboration of a model that attempted to overcome the dualities of the social and the individual, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective. In doing so, their aim was to unravel the relationship between the translator’s choices on a textual level, the translator’s life history and the sociocultural factors conditioning the translator’s behaviour and the production of translations.

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