Translation and the Many Languages of Resistance
Call for Papers
Cairo, 6-8 March 2015
Deadline: 15 September 2014
Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, UK
Organized by Mona Baker, Yasmin El Rifae, and Mada Masr
Call for Contributions
Activists from various regions and countries connect with and influence one another through practices involving various types of translation, including video subtitling, written translation, and oral interpretation. The Egyptian Revolution and the activists and collectives who have worked to move it forward have been highly visible to other protest movements in large part through such practices. This conference aims to explore themes related to translation and its role in creating a global image for protest movements, and in connecting different movements to one another.
Held in Cairo, the conference will engage extensively with the Egyptian Revolution and the values and practices that Egyptian activist groups have shared with other groups around the world. It will also accommodate contributions relating to other protest movements insofar as they shed light on some of the ways in which global networks of solidarity are enabled and mediated by different types of translational practice. The event is ultimately intended to highlight the political import of translation and to provide a space for local, regional and international activists to reflect on the processes of mediation that allow them to connect with other movements and publics.
Translation is understood here in both its narrow and broad senses. In its narrow sense, translation involves rendering fully articulated stretches of textual material from one national language into another, and encompasses various modalities such as written translation, subtitling and oral interpreting. This type of translation is part of the fabric of practically all oppositional groups in Egypt – from the written translation of statements and campaigns by groups such as No to Military Trials to the subtitling of videos by collectives such as Mosireen and Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution. As Rizk (2013)* explains, it is translation that allows activists involved in a group such as Mosireen to connect with protest movements elsewhere and to see themselves “within a broader struggle and not an atomized battle against local dictatorship”. In its broad sense, translation involves the mediation of diffuse symbols, narratives and linguistic signs of varying lengths across modalities (e.g. words into image), levels of language (e.g. fusha and ‘amiyya) and cultural spaces, the latter without necessarily crossing a language boundary. As such it also encompasses the use of languages other than Arabic in writings and discussions about the Egyptian Revolution, the use of (forms of) Arabic in addressing regional audiences, as well as the journey of visual and musical artefacts across social and national boundaries.
Themes to be addressed include but are not limited to the following:
- Forms of mutual solidarity that are enabled and enhanced by various acts of translation;
- Video activism and the role of subtitling in negotiating the shift from representation to narration;
- Critical appraisals of the internet savvy middle class in Egypt as translators and interpreters of the Revolution;
- The role of translation in situating the Egyptian Revolution within broader struggles, especially in the global south (Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, etc.);
- Case studies of the contribution of translation to specific activist projects connected with the Egyptian Revolution or with similar movements elsewhere (Turkey, Greece, Argentina, etc.);
- The political import of creative strategies of translation, in its narrow and broad senses, in the context of protest movements;
- The extent to which new technologies and software support or restrict the subversive potential of translation;
- The interaction between textual and visual media, and between different languages, in sites of protest such as graffiti and street performance.
The languages of the conference are English and Arabic (with volunteer interpreting provided where feasible).
Registration for this event is free.
Submission of Abstracts for Presentations
Abstracts of 300 words should be sent by 15 September 2014 to:
Notification of acceptance will be given by 30 November 2014.
Keynote Speakers & Abstracts: (see website for further details)
Changing Frames and Fault-lines
The story of the Egyptian revolution carries a heavy burden. Its many tales travel across contexts and experience, within Egypt and beyond it, influencing movements and revolutions while building dreams and threatening them. Solidarity fundamentally entails sharing an interpretation of a story. How that story is told and re-told has political and historical implications that are as much about the current moment as they are about the future. Political events are hard to follow at the best of times and solidarity is broken when the thread of a story is lost or events within it become subject to confusingly competing narratives. Meanwhile, a revolution is in itself a radical break with old political frameworks and the interpretations of possibility and the present they represent. And like any story, the longer it gets the more complicated it becomes. At stake is not only solidarity within the Egyptian revolution itself, but also a story of change and how it happens, or might.
Over the past four years I have worked with a range of forms and collaborators to engage in telling many of the stories of the Egyptian revolution, translating experiences and perspectives between a diverse range of contexts and audiences. With each form and each language, each event and each audience, comes a framework within which those stories can be told and shared – some infrastructural, some political, some legal, some linguistic. In this presentation I will reflect on what I see as the fault lines in translating events between contexts and the interpretative lapses that threaten meaningful solidarity. I will also reflect on strategies that have been used to attempt to bridge some of these gaps, giving my reading of certain successes and failures, while asking how to adapt and re-strategise amidst a period of extraordinary struggle and change.
Text and Context: Translating in a State of Emergency
Samah Selim, Rutgers University, USA
This presentation will explore the problems associated with activist translating in revolutionary historical moments like the one that began in Egypt in 2011. Using my experience working as a subtitler with the radical video collective Mosireen in 2012/13, I want to reflect on how the process and experience of translating in a state of emergency – when the state mobilizes its arsenal of violence on the streets – profoundly shapes how we think about terms like profession and objectivity, and about the roles of both translator and audience in building effective cross-border virtual solidarity networks in real time.
I also want to broadly distinguish between what I see as the two closely related and equally urgent modes of political translating work described above; crisis and building. While the former is defined by transposable and widely-circulating spectacles of violence and resistance, the latter seeks to mobilize the broadest possible array of socially embedded source texts (tracts, statements, press conferences, testimonies, manifestos, analysis) in order to fully territorialize the spectacle and give it political meaning. I will argue that building effective and sustainable international solidarity networks absolutely depends on this kind of multi-directional territorializing translation work, particularly at this time when militant popular movements are exploding across the globe.
Translation and Solidarity in Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution
Leil Zahra-Mortada, transfeminist queer anarchist; founder of Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution; member/contributor to Operation Against Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH), No to Military Trials for Civilians, and Mosireen.
Translation has been an integral part of Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution from its very first stages. Subtitling the speech of the women interviewed into a variety of languages is not just an issue of disseminating information and making their unique experiences accessible to as many people as possible, but is part of a broad expression of political commitment that assumes different forms. First and foremost, it is part of a wider post-colonial and feminist commitment to allowing the subjects themselves to shape their own voices and representations. Speaking in Arabic, the women translate their first hand experiences into a discourse that counters the widespread appropriation of the voices of both women and people of colour. These voices have traditionally been constrained and distorted by patriarchal, xenophobic and racist interpretations and streamlined into simplistic generalizations that oscillated between imposition and exoticism. Making subtitles into a wide range of languages an integral part of the project is a further step towards empowering Egyptian women by connecting them to networks of rebellion across borders. Subtitles constitute a tool that extends the messages of empowerment to other locales, makes local political struggles visible to other protest movements, and further fosters international networking and solidarity. This contribution will offer a critical account of both levels of translation as they evolved in Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution.
The Translation of Protests and Movements across Time, Space and Culture
Cristina Flesher Fominaya, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Protests and movements in one place can inspire and influence people far beyond the point of origin, with unexpected and impossible to predict consequences. In this talk I will draw on examples from the recent wave of anti-austerity and pro-democracy movements to describe some of these processes across not only space but also time, to show how transmitters and adopters must work hard to effect a process of movement translation across contexts, how these processes are not always successful and why, and how ideas, practices and repertoires can take on a life of their own.
Translating Rebellion: From Local Protests to Global Uprisings
Brandon Jourdan, Global Uprisings
Since 2011, streets and squares across the world have become the site of massive demonstrations, strikes, occupations, riots, rebellions, and revolutions. From the Arab uprisings to the movement of the squares in Southern Europe, and from there to the global Occupy movement and the recent uprisings in Turkey and Brazil, people everywhere have been rising up against the power of governments, corporations and repressive regimes, representing a global legitimation crisis that has affected authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies alike. While mainstream media, filmmakers, sociologists, and writers have often worked to explain the local contexts for the rebellions, many have not adequately attempted to try to connect them in their global economic and political context. Many instead have chosen to view the Arab uprisings as simply people fighting for Western-style democracy or the European movements as purely anti-austerity protests or the protests in Brazil and Turkey as fights against urbanization projects. However, the neo-liberal policies that became globalized over the last four decades led to the transformation of the world political economy and connected populations in a manner often unreported and the timing of the wave of rebellion over the last few years coincided with a breakdown of both neoliberal capitalism and representative democracy. In many cases, protesters related to other movements much more than to the ruling figures within their own countries. The symbols, tactics, and motivations for going to the streets translated easily across geographic and political boundaries.
This audio/visual presentation will focus on showing how the recent uprisings and protests are connected through the global political economy and how movements have bridged the divide of national boundaries using shared symbols, slogans, memes, tactics, and ideals.
Is There a Right to Translation?
Vicente L. Rafael, University of Washington, USA
In October, 2010, the European Union Parliament issued a Directive “On the Right to Interpretation and Translation in Criminal Proceedings”. It stipulated that member nations must provide a competent interpreter when needed in prosecuting a crime, and that all legal proceedings and documents pertaining to the case of the accused must be available in the language understood by the defendant. This right to translation is part of a much larger right to defense designed to protect the defendant against legal proceedings in languages foreign to him or her. The model for this right to translation, as with the right of defense, is economic. Just as the European Union seeks to ensure that a commodity sold in one market can cross over and be sold in another, so legal decisions in one country, regardless of the nationality of the accused, will follow the same procedures and, thanks to translation, will be equally valid in another. In such cases, the need for extradition vanishes, as the fairness of a trial in one EU country is deemed to be valid in another.
Another way to put this: thanks to the right to translation, the law itself will be fully transparent and unerringly translatable from one country to another. Barriers to justice, like barriers to trade, will simply melt away. Translation will help to ensure justice is done. The body of the accused can be held accountable to a law that now speaks in the same, fully substitutable language. The right to translation thus is also the right of the law to operate across borders — linguistic, political and economic. Translation amplifies the law’s trans-national reach. At the same time, it transforms the individual who is accused. Seeking to protect his or her rights, translation turns the accused individual, regardless of his or her linguistic particularity, into a subject recognizable to the law.
The right to translation as a right of the State to preside over the body of the accused, to find the accused either guilty or innocent according to the law, would seem to suggest that translation is merely a handmaiden to governance. It can at best claim to be a subsidiary to a larger set of civil rights, such as the right to a fair trial, the right to health care, or the right to an education, social security, and so on. In this way, the right to translation puts it in its traditional place: as the subordinate, dutiful, often invisible supplement of power.
But is there another way in which we can think of the right to translation that isn’t simply subsumed by the law? Is translation, as a practical matter, also above or beyond the law? And exceeding the law, can it also upend it? How does the right to translation, for example, relate to the right to the humanities, or to literature? And more to the point of this conference, how does this right, if there is such a thing, relate to social movements, often organized against the State? Like literature, do social movements have a right not to be translated, to remain opaque and unreadable to the eyes of the law and the interpretive commands of the marketplace? These are the questions I propose to explore in my talk.
Translating the Arab World: From Orientalism to Eurocentrism, and the Limitations of Modern Thought
Magid Shihade, Institute for International Studies, Birzeit University, Palestine
As soon as the events that started in January 2011 began to unfold in the Arab world, journalists, academics and commentators in different parts of what is often referred to as the ‘West’ jumped immediately to analyze, explain, name and translate what is taking place in the region. Overwhelmingly, these translations treated the developments in the region as events that ended and can thus be named, judged and completely understood. A similar pattern could be observed within the region itself, with local journalists, academics and experts almost mirroring the interpretations and translations provided by western commentators. The main questions were, and remain to this day, as follows: whether to name these developments as revolutions, coups, revolts, uprisings, etc.; whether these developments were the making of local energies or outside forces; and whether they follow archetypal patterns attested in western history.
The analyses and translations of these developments have been and remain constrained by old forces that we might be tempted to think are long gone, especially after decades of critiquing the certainty with which social human behavior was analyzed and translated in the past. Orientalism, as theorized by Edward Said decades ago, seems to continue to impact the way people see the region and the way people in the region see themselves. As does Eurocentrism, which means that events in the world and human social behavior continue to be evaluated through the lens of western history, experience and tools of analyses.
This presentation will discuss the various frameworks that have led to ‘mistranslations’ of world history and recent events, often with huge impact and consequences for the people who live around the world and are the object of analyses that often have little to do with local history.