Dealing with Difference: The Multiple Façades of Translation


‘There is no such thing as technological innovation in this country,’ I recall having been evoked in a discussion on innovations made in Turkey. Such claims rest on the assumption that countries like Turkey transfer technologies that have already been developed in other parts of the world, and technology transfer is more or less a linear process. What does this statement conceal? How can we unveil what is hidden behind this statement, and advance our conceptions on innovative moments included in the process during which an innovation is adopted and launched in a different country? I trace the answers of these questions in a conversation with Dr. Öznur Karakaş by focusing on the concept of translation and extending its meaning, from textual to technological translation, to various kinds of practices we conduct in our daily lives.

Let's start with academic practices. In every kind of work we produce in academia, there is always translation because there is always a narration whose structure and content are organized in the narrator's world regardless of how "scientific" or "objective" the conveyed knowledge is. This organization has many layers to which being a scholar from the Third World adds an additional layer, obliging the scholar to deal with the asymmetries at least in terms of the language. This is also one of the many façades of innovation: translating in the face of these asymmetries. Having studied "Translation and Interpretation Studies" in her bachelor's degree, Öznur stresses the importance of adopting different strategies when translating from English to Turkish and vice versa. Öznur discusses the unprivileged position of the so-called Third World when it comes to translating her knowledge in a different discipline into her current research in the STS field and this makes yet another layer visible: the layer of disciplinary structures with distinct sets of knowledges and values that consolidate into particular narrations. Then, if the boundaries of the language are stretched towards the languages that are particular to the disciplines, what might be the source of the driving force that do the work of stretching? "The thing that is always before us and that we have to cope with is difference and the question of what we would do with difference", says Öznur. In this respect, for Öznur, the matter of difference stands as a binding material that enables a continuous thinking process when traveling from translation studies to philosophy; from philosophy to STS.

We can also think about our bodily relations from the perspective of difference. When we do this, we immediately see translation at a different level, at the level of practices, the level that makes translation a productive analytic for the technology studies, especially for the studies of technology transfer. At this point, it is possible to discuss how STS innovates the idea of translation and how the process of translation, in itself, is also a process of innovation. Öznur mentions Latour when we are talking about how STS enables a rethinking about translation at the level of practices. She reminds us of the fact that Latour conceptualizes translation as an act of mediation that creates a difference, an act through which the translator creates a difference. Latour stresses the importance of looking at the practices of a scientist both inside and outside of the laboratory and the reciprocal nature of translation between the two. In his narration of Pasteur, for example, it is not only the farm whose conditions are being set up in the laboratory; the farm itself is made fit for the laboratory experiment, extending its very boundaries. Therefore, it is on the translator to take the responsibility of being a part of the world upon which she produces knowledge, narrates it in particular ways, and creates that very world by means of her narration. In this respect, the difference becomes both the focus and the outcome of an act of emergence, whether it be the emergence of an academic work or the emergence of an activist movement, as the Gezi Movement of Turkey that Öznur studied in her Ph.D. 

When I ask about her experience in translating Gezi Movement to the audience in Catalonia where she completed her PhD dissertation, Öznur draws attention to the relations between practices of the movement and the broader setting in which the practices emanated from. Turkey had its idiosyncratic setting that both led to the emergence of the Gezi Movement, and required an act of translation to be relayed to the foreign audience. Yet, when the practices of Gezi are considered, it is possible to trace certain parallels between Catalonia and Turkey, while acknowledging the translocality of social movements as Öznur does while discussing her work in different settings.

Putting similarities and differences together in this manner signifies making connections between different occasions of distinct spaces and times. So, in the quest for certain moments of innovation, a likely starting point is to focus on the very differences that compel the translator to find particular solutions in the face of the dilemma of incommensurability. And it will be this dilemma that guides us to trace moments of innovation whether it be the moment of translating a text or building a technology. The acknowledgment of these moments will hopefully be an antidote to the immediate assumptions that obscure the agency of the translator with respect to the difference she makes.


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Contributed date

August 27, 2019 - 4:22am

Critical Commentary

This text is Aybike Alkan's reflection on the interview she made with Dr. Öznur Karakaş on the issue of translation and how it speaks to the idea of innovation.