Executive Session - Oral Presentation
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: The Political
Translation, commensuration and transduction have newly become central terms in anthropological studies of a wide range of processes: capitalist commerce, neoliberal governance, knowledge production, and NGO activism. Though the necessity of translation is familiar from classical ethnographic writing, the combination of these three terms has opened new intellectual problems. Linked in this way, the concepts are relatively novel in the anthropological tool-kit. Together, they are indisputably key to the global circulations of people, discourses, products and models, indeed even to forms of measurement within and across institutions. The processes they pick out are expanding the anthropological imagination, providing new understandings of how circulation and change in values and social process happens. And they promise to unify a surprisingly disparate range of phenomena: transfers between standard languages; spread of political messages/discourses; transformation of lab results into therapies; textual into embodied practices; qualitatively different conditions into quantitative measures; juxtaposed medical ontologies; social life into "theory." Such processes – apparently different and occurring in different problem areas – have much in common, yet they have rarely been considered together. We therefore convene a group of scholars who are working ethnographically on such phenomena, but with diverse appoaches: broadly sociocultural and semiotic, STS, linguistic and legal. The goal is cross-subfield engagement. We wish to unpack the "black box" of translation by asking, in each paper, about the values that frame and define what counts as transfer at different sites, the cultural presumptions about what can be transferred/transformed (what "moves"), what performatively accomplishes the change; what is thereby stabilized or enclosed; how translation can enact resistance to international contexts; who is authorized to act, with what techniques, political-economic consequences, power struggles, and erasures. Moreover, there are reflexive questions as well: why the renewed urgency about matters of translation and transduction at this historical juncture? Why have these rubrics – translation, commensuration, transduction – proven so resilient, supple and persuasive in analyses across problem areas. But also, no less resilient for the social actors and organizational forms we study, which themselves invoke these concepts, to resist or authorize interventions in political processes. This panel strengthens conversation across subfields. The session itself might well be a venue for translation, with (as often happens) unpredictable yet productive results.