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The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture edited by Sue-Ann Harding and Ovidi Carbonell

Reviewed by Anisha Netto, University of Southampton

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture, edited by Sue-Ann Harding and Ovidi Carbonell Cortés. New York: Routledge, 2018. £175.00. ISBN: 9781138946309.


Today, the intertwining of translation and cultural studies is taken for granted. Susan Bassnet and André Lefevere’s seminal 1990 work Translation, History and Culture (amongst other works) called for a ‘cultural turn’ in translational studies, away from the linguistic discourse dominant at that time. Since then cultural and translation studies have developed in tandem. In the same vein, extending the scope of study to encompass the last four decades, the editors Sue-Ann Harding and Ovidi Carbonell Cortés acknowledge the ‘great revolution’ translation studies has undergone as a ‘cultural shift’ (1), which has contributed to a definitive ‘coming of age of the discipline’ (1).

            The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture compiles a wide-ranging overview of the recent developments and paths traversed by translation studies with respect to cultural studies into a single volume, divided into thirty-two standalone chapters. These are further grouped into five broad sections, the first of which discusses ‘Core issues and topics,’ followed by ‘Translation and cultural narratives,’ ‘Translation and social contexts,’ ‘Translation and cultural creativity’ and finally ‘Translation and culture in professional settings.’  

            Part I is composed of five chapters that aim at establishing a ‘working definition’ (3) of both culture and translation, beginning with David Katan’s ‘Defining culture, defining translation,’ which  attempts to update the very twentieth-century idea of equivalence (that translation is mostly a subordinate action) to the new idea of ‘transcreation’ (4), wherein the translator is a co-creator. Katan’s survey of definitions of translation and culture is extensive, and sets the framework for the subsequent chapters. This can be particularly noted in Bielsa’s chapter on ‘Identity’ and Muñoz Martin and Lopez’s on ‘Meaning’, which both offer a reassessment of some of the most fundamental questions of translation theory over the years, including the problems of (un)translatability and the more recent cognitive-centred approaches.

            The second part of the volume focuses on the domain that has been frequently encountered in literary scholarship in recent years – ‘Translation and cultural narratives.’ In this section, Schäfer’s chapter is noteworthy in that it takes the concept of translation as an agent of literary mediation and its role in canon formation and applies it to the concept of nation building. Using the example of China, this chapter opens up new strands of research inquiry into a canon that is not adequately written about. Benmessaoud and Buzelin’s chapter on ‘Publishing houses and translation projects’ positions publishing houses as key players in the process of translation and offers fresh perspective on the post-globalisation scenario in terms of the role of multi-lingual demand and of translation. As opposed to the emphasis on the literary canon, the final chapter of this section, Blumczynski and Israel’s ‘Translation and religious encounters’, brings into focus the dialectics of interreligious dialogue and proposes translation as a form of encountering the Other in such texts, in an approach that underlines the interdisciplinary nature of translation and cultural studies today.

            Part III, ‘Translation and social contexts’ offers a myriad of angles from which to view the intersection between translation and culture in pertinent currents of (post)-modern thought through the use of diverse examples in the chapters. For instance, Gilbert’s opening chapter ‘Social contexts, ideology and translation’ makes use of the case of Granada post-Spanish conquest in 1492 to explore translation in (post-)colonial contexts. Baldo and Inghilleri’s chapter ‘Cultural resistance, female voices: translating subversive and contested sexualities,’ deserves special mention for the unique manner in which the role of translation in feminism has been explored – the first part of the chapter is situated in Italy and looks at how translation functions as a tool of resistance against the currents of patriarchy, trans- and homophobia for ‘emerging queer transfeminist collectives’ (8) while the second half of the chapter is situated halfway across the globe in south-east Asia, focusing on how sex workers and domestic workers ‘re-narrate themselves and self-translate’ (8) against the normative notions of femininity and sexuality. Using translation as the common thread, this chapter exemplifies the globalised nature of cultural issues that are central to translational studies.

            Nana Sato-Rossberg’s chapter on ‘Translation in oral societies and cultures’ sheds light on the role played by translation in making oral histories accessible to research, and presents a thorough framework of scientific study that also addresses the ethical issues of authorship as regards oral tradition. One of the highlights of this volume is the fact that chapters across sections act as complementary reading, thereby opening up the possibility of interdisciplinary perspective: as with publishing houses in the earlier part, Neather’s closing chapter focuses on museums as a space of cultural representation, and these in turn, can be read in conjunction with the chapter on space in Part I.

            The fourth section ‘Translation and cultural creativity’ focuses on ‘the creative dimensions of translation and culture’ (9), and is by far one of the most powerful sections which acknowledges and debates the creative agency of translation in the production of a second work. Rossi’s opening chapter on ‘Translation as creative force’ sums up the arguments in this regard succinctly and the final chapter by Federico Zanettin on translation of comics and graphic novels is a very welcome addition to the volume, as it navigates not only the specificities of linguistic translation but also the nuances of translating a medium that is visual-textual.

            The fifth final section of this volume ‘Translation and culture in professional settings’ provides a snapshot of the role of translation in mediating professional scenarios, specifically that of law, medicine and science, diplomacy, business, media and finally education. This mélange sets this particular volume apart from other translation-cultural studies handbooks, and lends a certain fluidity to the concept of culture, and thereby to our understanding of translation, complementing the consistent attempt across the chapters to stretch and challenge the definition of culture and cultural translation. The globalised, interdependent and interdisciplinary link between these essays comes out very clearly, and is also the specific highlight of Cifuentes-Goodbody’s closing chapter ‘Culture and translation in the rise of globalised education.’  

            As with any academic undertaking attempting to work with two terms such as ‘translation’ and ‘culture,’ there always exists the risk of either oversimplifying the task at hand to just ‘cultural translation.’ However, given the expansive spectrum of issues covered, this collection averts that risk and instead presents a balanced and nuanced reading of the core ideas around translation and culture, drawing on more recent discourses in the area as well as their intersections in domains as diverse as the literary canon and professional settings. The chapters in this volume are thoughtfully laid out, and as mentioned earlier, lend themselves to be read in conjunction with those in different sections. The ensuing multi-layered, interdisciplinary approach helps open up scholarly discussion on novel avenues of research, and renders this volume an extremely beneficial tool for both students and scholars across the spectrum of translation and cultural studies.