The role of the affective in interpreting in conflict zones

Lucía Ruiz Rosendo


This article explores the role of the affective in interpreting in intractable conflicts. Drawing on the results of a participatory research project exploring the lived experiences of civilian interpreters and Spanish military personnel who worked in Afghanistan, the article argues that emotions shape the interpreter’s behaviour and have an impact on the interpreter’s positionality. There are differences, however, between national and local interpreters, which stem from their previous experiences and how these have shaped their understanding of the conflict. This has also led them to develop different attitudes that influence their perception and interpretation of reality. Accepting that emotions do exist and that they influence the interpreter’s decisions and behaviour should inform the design of tailored training programmes. The key aspects of a well-informed training programme are therefore not limited to language and culture, professionalism and ethics, and military competencies, but also include awareness about the role of emotions.

Publication history
Table of contents

The role of the interpreter in conflict has received considerable attention in the literature (e.g., Dragovic-Drouet 2007; Palmer 2007; Inghilleri 2008, 2009; Takeda 2009; C. Baker 2010; M. Baker 2010; Footitt 2010; Footitt and Kelly 2012, 2018; Juvinall 2013; Baigorri Jalón 2019). Scholars have investigated the specific role of interpreters, focusing on the notions of identity and neutrality (Dragovic-Drouet 2007; Salama-Carr 2007; C. Baker 2010; Footitt and Kelly 2012; Todorova 2016; Ruiz Rosendo and Persaud 2019). These studies problematise aspects of the interpreter’s positionality, such as belonging to a specific ethnic group that is potentially considered to be the enemy and therefore distrusted by certain actors in the conflict (Snellman 2016; Gómez Amich 2017). Various narratives have described the dangers interpreters face on the job and the obstacles encountered by interpreters seeking to relocate to another country (Anderson 2014).

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