Without fear or favour? The positionality of ICRC and UNHCR interpreters in the humanitarian field

Carmen Delgado Luchner and Leïla Kherbiche

Interpreting in complex transnational contexts has emerged as a recent area of interest for translation and interpreting scholars. These contexts provide a fertile ground for a sociological conceptualization of interpreting, as an emergent practice situated at the interface of individual agency and a socio-professional context. Drawing on our experiences in training interpreters for the ICRC and the UNHCR we develop a positionality-based understanding of ‘humanitarian interpreting’ and define this new analytical category. Based on two paradigmatic profiles of humanitarian interpreters, we present a comparative analysis of the intrinsic and relational factors shaping the positionality of ICRC and UNHCR interpreters in the humanitarian field and describe some of the ethical dilemmas these interpreters face. We furthermore discuss potential similarities and differences between interpreting in humanitarian and other contexts, such as military operations and asylum settings.

Publication history
Table of contents

There is currently a growing interest in the role of interpreters in complex transnational contexts, such as asylum procedures (Blommaert 2001; Pöllabauer 2004; Maryns 2015, 2013) and conflict zones (C. Baker 2010; Footitt and Kelly 2012; Inghilleri 2010, 2008; Ruiz Rosendo and Persaud 2016). Humanitarian organizations operate at the intersection of these two settings, not only in armed conflicts but also in refugee and asylum settings, and often rely on interpreters to communicate with their beneficiaries (Kherbiche 2009; Moser-Mercer, Delgado Luchner and Kherbiche 2013; Delgado Luchner and Kherbiche, forthcoming).

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