Today's post is a continuation of the previous post on why study translation sociologically:
Translation is social both within and without: from the viewpoint of the constitution of its practitioners and from the viewpoint of the context of its practice. The interrelation of the individual and society is one of the central and hotly debated themes of sociology. Let us consider the following simple example. In some gardens and parks, we may see flowerbeds, such as this one in a park in Durham:
Flowerbeds may be simple collections of various flowers or a pattern forming a figure or an inscription (a word, e.g., 'Durham', or even a short slogan). Seeds of the flowers are planted so that when the flowers grow and blossom a certain shape would appear. Each plant is a living plant as plants should be—with a root system, stems, leaves, a flower or a cluster of flowers. Yet each is also a part of the overall design—a dot of a letter in a word or in a company logo. So, is a plant only an individual plant or a part of the whole? The answer is—both. Let us remember this example when discussing the important theme—Individual and Society, which has been a stumbling block not only in TS, in order to appreciate what sociology is about and how and to what extent it is applicable to the study of translation and translators.
If the translator is inevitably an individual, although a socialized one (that is, the one who internalized the culture of the society into which s/he is born), then obviously the social aspect of his or her behaviour is only one aspect. There are still his or her personal feelings, moods, character traits, convictions, will, abilities and even physical states of the organism which can affect the translator’s professional performance. The individual inescapably influences the social. You may be a very professional interpreter but this morning you may have a headache, this may make your performance in the business conference in which you are interpreting somewhat below your usual standard, you may have to concentrate harder and still make a few slips here and there, in phrases which otherwise would be plain sailing for you. Or you may dislike a particular topic, yet being an in-house translator you will be asked to translate texts on that particular topic and feel that your translations come out not as inspired as your versions of texts treating more engaging subjects. Over years, as you gain experience, you will be able to control your performance more and more efficiently, but your individuality will never disappear.
In reality, the individual and the social are two extremes of one continuum. Every translational decision is an interface between the translator’s own individuality and the society of which s/he is a part. If so, what is the ratio of your individuality and the society in which you grew up in your translation or interpreting performance? How to understand both sides of your translator experience? To what extent can sociology with its focus on the social, understood as collective, explain translation practice? And to what extent can psychology emphasizing the individual help? To answer these questions, which ultimately will help us answer the principal question ‘Why study translation sociologically?’, the difference between the individual and the collective or, as this relationship is sometimes termed, between sociology and psychology needs to be appreciated. Such division may seem too crude, but since, as Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology, explained: “…the substance of social life cannot be explained by purely psychological factors, that is, by the states of the individual consciousness”—a line is drawn between sociology and psychology and ultimately between the collective and the individual. There are, however, hybrid usages: ‘individual psychology’ and ‘general psychology’ (Durkheim) or ‘general psychology’ (Asch). Individual psychology concentrates on individuals, while general or social psychology moves towards generalizations about human psychology which it strives to explain in its natural social ‘habitats’. Although the separating line, if any, cannot be drawn easily, the tendency is clear—the individual and the social are two extremes, albeit of one and the same continuum.