Wikipedia as a translation zone: A heterotopic analysis of the online encyclopedia and its collaborative volunteer translator community

Henry Jones

Abstract

Recent research has highlighted the emergence and proliferation of online communities of volunteer translators whose intensely collaborative activities are largely facilitated by the participatory and interactive nature of new networked communication technologies. Much of the discussion regarding these forms of web-based translation has tended to focus on what brings individuals together to give up their time, skills and effort when co-operating within such prosumer-led projects. By contrast, this paper presents a case study focused on the construction of the English Wikipedia article about Tokyo in order to argue that it is important for translation scholars to additionally take into account the difficult processes of fierce conflict and debate which often characterise interactions within such communities. It does so by means of the spatial mode of analysis encouraged by Foucault’s writings on ‘heterotopia’, demonstrating how this conceptual method can be applied to explain and explore the multifaceted negotiations that occur in this environment.

Keywords
Publication history
Table of contents

The advent of networked digital communication technologies has had a profound impact on translation practices over the past two decades (Jiménez-Crespo 2017, 1). Most notably, recent research has highlighted the emergence and proliferation of online communities of volunteer translators whose intensely collaborative activities are largely facilitated by the open, participatory and interactive nature of these new tools (O’Hagan 2011, 12; Pérez-González and Susam-Saraeva 2012, 152). Much of the discussion regarding these forms of web-based translation has tended to focus on what brings individuals together to give up their time, skills and effort when co-operating within such prosumer-led projects. For example, Pérez-González (2010) has drawn attention to the shared sense of political affinity binding an ‘ad-hoc’ group of activists, known as Ansarclub, which formed temporarily online in 2006 in order to produce Spanish-language subtitles for a controversial BBC News interview with Spain’s former Prime Minister José Maria Aznar López. His analysis examines how the members of this translation community “jointly construct[ed] the gravitational core of their emerging affinity space” through their interactions within the comments section of a progressive blog and hence how they developed into a collective force for political action (276). Similarly, Baker (2013) has investigated groups such as Babels, Translators for Peace and Tlaxcala, and highlighted the central ideals of global justice and pacifism by which these groups define themselves and their interventions. For instance, by examining the ‘manifesto’ included on the Tlaxcala group’s website, she shows how the activities of this group revolve around “a narrative of an inherently conflictual world where different imperial powers have subjugated weaker nations and groups and reinforced this subjugation through their language since time immemorial” (28). The translators belonging to the collective are then framed as ‘resistance fighters’ in this culture war, with a specific role to play in de-imperialising the English language and in combatting the homogenising tendencies of Anglo-centric neoliberal globalisation. Further studies of other online translation communities have additionally emphasised altruism as a ‘core value’ guiding the activities of many multilingual participants and drawing them together from disparate backgrounds for a common cause (see, e.g., Čemerin and Toth 2017; Dombek 2014; McDonough Dolmaya 2012; O’Brien and Schäler 2010; Olohan 2014).

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