Translation as cultural technique: Constructing a translation history of media


Even though studies at the intersection of translation and media are a burgeoning subfield within Translation Studies, the integration of media theory into the scholarship on translation remains underdeveloped. Joining a recent surge of interest in adapting media theory to a broad analysis of the impacts of the technologies that organise and support translation, this article takes up the concept of cultural technique to argue that, just as technological revolutions have reshaped translation practices, translations have structured media systems. Following its exploration of a medial methodology in Translation Studies and the benefits of a historicist perspective, the article turns to a set of case studies, all sourced from the Romantic period, which was characterised by a complex attitude to mediality and translation prefigurative of the current digital turn. The case studies demonstrate the benefits of a medial view in the study of translation.

Publication history
Table of contents

Even as professional practices of translation have been decisively reshaped by technological advances, research and teaching in Translation Studies have been slow to act on this “technological turn” (O’Hagan 2013). Automation may have been one of the translation industry’s founding ambitions (Weaver [1949] 1955; see O’Hagan 2020, 2–4), but recent successes in accomplishing this goal are yet to be “mirrored within translation studies” (Christensen et al. 2017, 7). By the same token, even academic studies on translation technology have been slow to impact debates on the interplay between technology and translation within the broader academic discipline of Translation Studies (Doherty 2016). This is due, in part, to a sense that tools must be implemented if a practitioner’s offerings are to remain commercially viable, even if this does not actually enhance the quality of their translations (Chandler 2012). More fundamentally, translators and scholars express doubts regarding the benefits of a projected “posthuman” world (O’Thomas 2017), in that this future would entail not just a disciplinary displacement of “the human factor” (Kaindl 2021, 3), but might well trigger the withering of the profession (Cronin 2013, 115). Still, even as such misgivings continue to circulate, the pressures of the technosphere are increasingly proving such that scholars of translation feel compelled to study its nature and its influence, slowly working towards a perspective that seeks to expand what Cronin (2003, 10) characterises as the presently “instrumental fashion” of work on “translation technology.” A key aspect of this work is the development of a conceptual framework which might trace the role of technologies and their interaction with human agents so that pragmatic or specialist studies can be elaborated into an integrated vision of the technologies that support processes of production and reception.

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