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The Many Faces of Translation: Language, Culture and Power


UPDATE January 31: The location has been changed to LIPSIUS building, room 118

Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Topics: The course engages with the notion of translation, a key concept in academic work and social interaction as well as cultural production.
Entry points for the discussion include colonialism, censorship, resistance, gender, law, gepolitics, media, human/technology relations, and more.
The course invites reflection on convention and individual agency as regards subject matter, theory, and method in the humanities and the social sciences.
Disciplines: Humanities, Social Sciences.
Skills: Reading across various fields of inquiry, interdisciplinary thinking, collaborative research, critical thinking.

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.


Translation is everywhere. And: it is never innocent. Even in the conventional sense—say, Shakespeare in Swahili—translation is a complex, dynamic phenomenon. It is hard to predict, control, or evaluate. It has language at its core but it far exceeds language. It reflects power relations, norms, and values, and it raises ethical questions at every turn. And that’s just the interlingual variety, but there is much more. The last several decades have seen the notion of cultural translation establish itself. There are those who argue that cultural translation can occur within a single language and that it is about people that migrate rather than texts—what is going on, for instance, when rural-urban migrant workers in China turn themselves into poets? Are these translated people? Translation at large relates to the experience of sameness, difference, and transfer, from bookstores to courtrooms and from anthropological fieldwork to philosophical reflection.

This course invites students to explore the notion of translation from entry points including colonialism, censorship, resistance, gender, law, geopolitics, media, human/technology relations, and more. We focus on culture (broadly defined), with ample room for social and political perspectives. We will also consider translation as an integral part of the research experience, manifest in source material, theory, and method; and in the individual researcher’s trajectory. What gets translated, by whom, for whom, to what effect, and what questions does this raise?

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have:

  • A general awareness of core issues surrounding the notion of translation across various fields of inquiry;

  • Heightened sensitivity to the positionality of the learner and researcher as an integral part of what it is that is learned or researched;

  • Heightened sensitivity to the nature of specialized expertise as part of a larger landscape of academic inquiry.

Programme and timetable:

The 12 sessions of this course that will take place from 17.15 to 18.45 on the Mondays and Wednesdays:

Session 1: Monday, February 7
Session2: Wednesday, February 9
Session 3: Monday, February 14
Session 4: Wednesday, February 16
Session 5: Monday, February 21
Session 6: Wednesday, February 23
Session 7: Monday, February 28
Session 8: Wednesday, March 2
Session 9: Monday, March 7
Session 10: Wednesday, March 9
Session 11: Monday, March 14
Session 12: Wednesday, March 16

  • Introductory session on course structure and content, definitional issues and so on: lecture and response ◦ Will include planning of presentations (see below)

  • Seven themed sessions on core issues in translation: seminar format ◦ To be specified closer to the date. Will include themes like the history of translation, identities and roles of the translator interlingual and cultural translation, ethics of translation, translation and colonialism, censorship, gender, law, technology, translatability, the hegemony of English, translation as part of research practice, and so on.

  • Four sessions dedicated to team-of-two presentations and discussion

  • Term paper due two weeks after the final session.

LIPSIUS building, room 118

Reading list:

We will read scholarly literature on translation from authoritative reference works, coupled with case studies. This will be complemented by texts in other media. “Texts” is taken broadly, and while students are welcome to assign scholarly essays for their presentations, they are equally welcome to draw on other kinds of writing (e.g. life writing, activist manifestos, fiction, all manner of “reporting”) and audio-visual material (e.g. exhibitions, catalogues, documentary / fictional film, photography, web lectures). Whatever works best in preparation of the discussions they will lead.

Details to follow closer to the date. Students will receive a detailed course description.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours. The numbers below are an approximation of what to expect:

  • Class sessions: 12 x 2 = 24 hrs;

  • Preparation for class: 12 x 4 = 48 hrs;

  • Postings on Brightspace: 3 x 1 = 3 hrs;

  • Position paper: think piece (response to assignment): 16 hrs;

  • Presentation in teams of two or three: 16 hrs;

  • Term paper: think piece (students identify topics), in teams of two or three: 30 hrs;

  • Self-assessment: 3 hrs.

Assessment methods:

  • 20%: contribution to group work in postings and in-class debate (continuous);

  • 20%: individual position paper;

  • 20%: presentation, in teams of two or three;

  • 20%: term paper, in teams of two or three;

  • 20%: self-assessment of personal growth as an academic.

It is not required to successfully complete all partial exams in order to pass this course. Students are allowed to compensate a ‘fail’ (grades up to and including 5.0).

The assessment methods will be further explained in the first session of the class.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 1 November 2021 up to and including Thursday 11 November 2021 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.

Prof.dr. Maghiel van Crevel