Instrumental thinking in Translation Studies

Dilek Dizdar
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

This paper concentrates on instrumental thinking to analyse the conceptualization of translation in praxis and theory. First, instrumental thinking is introduced as a general mode of thinking which can be traced across different academic disciplines. A critical position is adopted with reference to Horkheimer/ Adorno and Bourdieu. Based on Bourdieu’s work on “the state of the unthought” and the “pre-constructed,” some examples from academic discourse are discussed to foreground how a certain type of instrumental thinking is linked to market-oriented politics and how this shapes concepts in academic discourse as well. It is argued that the effects of the instrumental can be found on several levels in Translation Studies and that these levels are interrelated. These include the ways translation is understood and approached in practice by interaction partners involved in translation and interpreting processes, in the discourses on translation and interpretation in fields outside academia, and in scholarly work on translation.

Table of contents

A market-driven perspective on translation and the teaching of translators and interpreters has been gaining ground in the European departments in which translators and interpreters are trained. This perspective often serves as a non-refutable common-sense basis for institutional decisions, such as those concerning the design of translation and interpreting curricula. In the last decade, the Bologna process influenced the structure of the programs significantly. The follow-up documents of the Bologna Declaration (1999) show that the European Union continues to have a strong interest in linking higher education to the needs of the market. In the Bucharest Communiqué (2012), for example, mobility, employability and quality are identified as “three key priorities” to foreground the “importance of higher [ p. 207 ]education for Europe’s capacity to deal with the economic crisis and to contribute to growth and jobs” (Bologna Process). In Germany, this development directly follows or even coincides with efforts to consolidate Translation Studies as an independent discipline. Before, translation research and training was in the care of Applied Linguistics departments; therefore, it already had a strong practiceoriented design. There was little theory and fundamental research that was institutionally anchored in Translation Studies. Instead, TS grew out of a combination of linguistics with the scholar’s experience in the practice of translation and/or interpreting. The crucial point is that there was very little time between the independence of Translation Studies from Applied Linguistics and the call for marketorientation as articulated by the EU institutions. Germany is just an example, and, rather than being an exception, it seems to be part of a general inclination towards the market. There are numerous symptoms of this development, such as the increasing use and teaching of technologies to accelerate the translation process, increase efficiency, competitiveness and employability. There is no question that the students need to be prepared for the jobs on the market. From the perspective of Translation Research, however, we have to ask how this market-oriented thinking affects research on translation and shapes its institutions. Another related question would be whether and how translation as a phenomenon and the way it is handled in everyday life interacts with the instrumental view. In other words, what are the relations between the pragmatics of translation, where it is dealt with as an instrument, and the discourses on translation (in Translation Studies and in other fields) in which instrumental thinking dominates?

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