A False Opposition in Translation Studies: Theoretical versus/and Historical Approaches

Dirk Delabastita


After some preliminary notes on the fragmented state of Translation Studies, the author directs his attention to one of the seemingly irreconcilable oppositions within the discipline, namely, between "theoretical" and "historical" approaches to translation. On the basis of insights from modern epistemology it is claimed that the two are, in fact, complementary and that one should aim for a continuous interplay between them. Normative approaches fail to achieve this and prove to have little explanatory power when confronted with the historical reality of translation. Four discursive strategies are discussed whereby this anomaly is often camouflaged or explained away.

Table of contents

In spite of its young age the discipline of translation studies now has its standard books and bibliographies, its own specialized newsletters, journals and series, its research groups, conferences and university chairs; in short, [ p. 138 ]it is beginning to show the marks of academic respectability. Yet, it could be argued that the conceptual advances in the discipline have not kept pace with the gradual establishment of its present material and social infrastructure. Such a skeptical attitude is maintained by certain outsiders but—more disconcertingly—also by some of its foremost practitioners:

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