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Workshop 1 - Abstracts

Gurminder K Bhambra / Vicky Margree

Translating justice across boundaries

To the extent that History is a translation of the past for the present, it cannot be equivalent to that past, but simply a version of it. This should not be understood as problematic, but rather, recognised as an opportunity in that all approximations leave the space for other voices to acknowledge, contradict, question, affirm the historical narratives thus far existing. New narratives may supplement existing ones, or they may require a rethinking of them. Insofar as injustices in the present have historical roots, interpretations of that past are significant in the address of injustice. In this paper we use two examples to examine these issues. In the first, we look at the commonly accepted historical narratives associated with ideas of democracy and freedom in the United States and discuss the ways in which these narratives themselves limit the possibilities of justice in the present. In the second, we use literary sources to examine a similar issue in the context of European identity. We further examine the issues that arise in juxtaposing historical narratives with literary narratives in the process of making arguments for justice.

Ipek Demir Lost in translation? Try ‘second language learning'

In my paper I will discuss the impediments to translation between frameworks. Taking science as an example, the incommensurability thesis which defends the impossibility of full translation and mapping of ideas and practices between systems of thought will be elaborated. The paper will then propose ‘second language learning’ as a more suitable thesis for describing the movement of ideas and practices across frameworks, spaces and times, including disciplines, moral frameworks and political ideologies. The paper will argue that whilst translation is procedural and embedded in difficulties of one-to-one mappability, the ethnographic character of the ‘second language learning thesis’ is political, reflecting that interactions and exchanges between frameworks are outcomes of the extent to which members of different communities are willing to enter the other’s world and engage with it.
Sarah Easterby-Smith

'Polite Plants': Translating natural knowledge in the late eighteenth century

How have people constructed knowledge across cultural, social and linguistic boundaries? The science of botany is based upon the classification and study of plant specimens that have been collected from across the world. These are brought back to centralised institutions, where botanists analyse, describe and categorise specimens. But the process of obtaining and transferring these plants involves several additional stages of communication, during which natural knowledge is also transferred between practitioners. This paper explores how information about the natural world was communicated in the late eighteenth century. It uses the example of the Scottish plant-hunter Thomas Blaikie (1750/1-1838) to understand how such information was transmitted and translated between actors of very different social and cultural backgrounds. The paper will highlight some of the ways in which information is ‘translated’ in accordance with the social and cultural contexts in which it has been produced and received.

Søren Rud

The re-introduction of “tradition”: Ethnology and administration in nineteenth century Greenland  

The administrational strategy employed in the Danish Colony of Greenland in the second half of the 19th century was marked by a perception of the seal hunt as the most essential feature of Greenlandic culture. In accordance with this perception the protection of the indigenous Inuit culture dominated the strategy employed in the colonial reform known as “The Boards of Guardians” (forstanderskabsordningen).  Local boards, in which only the most proficient sealers could attain seats and benefit from the political influence and status such a position entailed, were established in each of the colonial districts. A “strategy of cultural protection”, based upon a romanticised and idealised perception of the Inuit/Greenlanders “traditional” society was developed under the influence of ethnographic descriptions of the inhabitants of the yet uncolonized parts of Greenland. The notion of authentic, uncolonized Greenlanders, uncorrupted by the negative sides of western civilisation, was used to contrast the allegedly lazy, spoiled and inauthentic Greenlanders in the colonized areas. [...] [click here for complete abstract]

Paula Restrepo

Some epistemic and methodological challenges in the intercultural experience with SIIDAE

Anthropology is a social science that was created to study a part of the world population that could not be studied by other social sciences. This part of population was called “primitive” in nineteen century. That is, the people of the colonies of developed countries. The reason why these people needed to be studied by a different science was that in the beginning of the colonialism —sixteen Century— was created something that Walter Mignolo calls colonial difference. This concept is understood as the mistakes and excesses marked by hegemonic thinking of each time from the sixteenth century.
Ethnography is the primary method of anthropology and was based on the writing of a text from a long stay in a “primitive” community. In the nineteen century these peoples could be studied because they were under the political jurisdiction of a modern state, which guaranteed access and security of the anthropologist. In other words, what are behind Anthropology and its methods are colonialism and its construction of differences. I am a Latinamerican Anthropologist and my education is based on all this concepts and ideologies. As an anthropologist, doing a research about intercultural dialogue of knowledge, I thought that philosophical vision was not enough to face this problem. [...] [Click here for complete abstract]

Robbie Shilliam

Keskidee Aroha: Translation on the colonial stage 

In 1979 a London based Black theatre group toured the north island of Aotearoa New Zealand, visiting community centres and marae (traditional Māori meeting places). The group was known as Keskidee, named after a small Guyanese bird that is known for its resilience. The troupe consisted of Black British, Afro-Caribbean, African-American and African performers including a trio of Rasta musicians called Ras Messengers. The collectives in Aotearoa NZ that organized the tour were called Keskidee Aroha, aroha being the Māori word for compassion and empathy. The paper sketches out the shape of the colonial stage in late 1970s Aotearoa New Zealand upon which Keskidee played, and assesses the type of translations that are prompted when (post-)colonized subjects speak to each other rather than to the imperial centre.

Nico Slate

Race, caste, and coloured cosmopolitanism: Reflections between African American and South Asian freedom struggles

In the late nineteenth century, Indian and African American social reformers began to articulate analogies between the injustices of colonial India and the United States.  Inspired by the juxtaposition of emancipation and empire that characterized much of the nineteenth century world, the discourses that linked Indians and African Americans operated within a unique transnational context, dominated by the tension between two at times contradictory pairs of analogies.  Some historical actors, such as Jotirao Phule, compared struggles against racial oppression in the United States with movements against caste oppression in India.  In contrast with this race/caste analogy, other thinkers and activists, including Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and W.E.B. Du Bois, compared American racism and British imperialism, pairing African Americans with all the colonized subjects of the British Raj.  From their inception, connections between South Asian and African American freedom struggles called into question the meaning of freedom itself and its relationship to equally contested notions of race and caste. [...] [click here for complete abstract]

Rolando Vázquez

The question of translation, erasure and plurality at the borders of modernity / coloniality

This text circles round the question of translation in the light of the modernity coloniality debate. Translation is here addressed as a key element of hegemony as well as a possibility of emancipation. Translation designates the permeability, the movement at the borders of a given language, a given system of meaning and also of a given epistemic territory. We will explore two divergent processes that are revealed through the focus on translation. The first one, translation as erasure, speaks of the coloniality of translation; that is of the way in which translation performs a border keeping and expansion of modernity's epistemic territory. The second, translation as plurality, speaks of the movements and the thinking of the borders that are bringing to question the modernity / coloniality system of oppression. The fight against exclusion makes use of translation to define a territory of difference that is dialogical and plural, the borderlands. [...] [click here for complete abstract]

Georgie Wemyss

'"Lascars" or "Seafarers"?  Interdisciplinary challenges and understanding twenty-first century British-ness'

In previous ethnographic research in east London I have demonstrated how, to varying levels of sophistication, dominant discourses about Britain and Britishness consistently assert particular narratives of Britain’s past whilst suppressing alternative histories, especially about the British Empire and related histories of white violence. I name this pivotal element of the dominant discourse the ‘Invisible Empire’. When it does acknowledge colonialism, it is as a constituent of a discourse of merchants and the spread of civilisation that works to suffocate competing memories. The absence of these histories also works to obscure the colonial genealogies of the homogenizing ‘ethnic’ or ‘religious’ categories that have dominated twenty first century discourses and policies of multiculturalism. Exposing the silences in nationalist narratives and understanding the practices of modern ‘multiculturalism’ demands an interdisciplinary approach that mobilizes a broad range of ethnographic, sociological, political and historical research and intellectual trends that challenge scholarship framed by nationalist visions and Eurocentrism. [...] [Click here for complete abstract]

Ozan Zeybek

Translations of the ever same

Any attempt of acquiring knowledge involves an act of translation. That is, a conversion of an inherent experience, of an irreducible complexity into another language. Translation is not only matching equivalent signs in two different languages; it is rather a transfiguration of the sign itself, of the temporal-spatial existence of an entity.  That is not to say that any translation is a wrong translation. Sure, it is always an imperfect one; but this is not the point I want to make here. The issue, I rather want to discuss, is a particular predicament of translation. How through translation “familiarity” is produced exclusively by placing the other into a province which is already known? As if translation takes place before the actual translation, before the encounter and exchange, or even, with no exchange at all. [...] [click here for complete abstract]