“How do I apply narrative theory?”: Socio-narrative theory in translation studies

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  • How do I apply narrative theory?Socio-narrative theory in translation studies

    Sue-Ann HardingTranslation and Interpreting Institute Hamad Bin Khalita University

    Since the publication of Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account (Baker 2006), there has been a growing interest in applying socio-narrative theory to Translation Studies, with Bakers ideas extended and applied to several differ-ent areas of inquiry. This article gives a brief overview of these projects, and discusses in more depth the example of my own application and development of narrative theory. This includes a revised typology of narratives, the combination of narratological and sociological approaches, an intratextual model of analysis, and a new emphasis on the importance of narrators and temporary narrators in the (re)configuration of narratives. The article ends with a brief discussion on further topics within Translation and Interpreting Studies to which narrative theory might be applied.

    Keywords: socio-narrative theory, research methodology, textual analysis, narrator(s), news reporting, online media, Beslan, Russia, Russian/English

    1. Introduction

    The use of narrative as a tool for academic investigation beyond the confines of fiction and literature has steadily gained ground over the twentieth, and now into the twenty-first, century. From the narrative form of the case study developed in medicine, psychology and psychoanalysis, to a shift towards narrative in fields such as history, anthropology, law, biology, physics, education, philosophy, theol-ogy, gender studies, and political science, and the use of narrative in the study of contemporary topics such as gaming, street art, and urban geography, scholars from a wide range of disciplines and inter-disciplines have critically and fruitfully engaged with narrative.1

    This article looks at ways in which scholars in Translation Studies have also begun to engage with the theory, and uses my own work as an extended example

    Target 24:2 (2012), 286309. doi 10.1075/target.24.2.04harissn 09241884 / e-issn 15699986 John Benjamins Publishing Company

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    of its application and development. These include a revised typology of narratives, the combination of sociological and narrative approaches, the elaboration of an intra-textual model of analysis and a new emphasis on the importance of nar-rators and temporary narrators in the configuration of narratives. I have found socio-narrative theory to be a robust, intuitively satisfying conceptual framework, useful for describing and accounting for the complex, dynamic, constructed, re-constructed, and translated worlds in which we live and act, including our own place(s) in it as researchers. This article is intended as something of a map for other Translation and Interpreting Studies scholars interested in narrative theory and its application to new areas of research. It offers a sketch of recent research, a more detailed discussion of a particular case and a conclusion that briefly consid-ers other areas to which the theory might be applied.

    2. Narrative theory and translation studies

    In his account of descriptive and systemic approaches to the study of translation, Theo Hermans (1999) draws on the notion of the invisible college (Crane 1972) to describe the growth and diffusion of these approaches through the personal interaction and intellectual exchange of (originally a small group of) like-minded, interest-sharing scholars. The process he describes occurred, in this case, over sev-eral decades and so is not immediately analogous to the very recent introduction of narrative theory to translation studies. Nevertheless, Hermans (and Cranes) emphasis on both social and cognitive contexts, on material as well as intellec-tual circumstances (Hermans 1999, 15), is relevant here. The communication, exchange and development of ideas involves practitioners working in an insti-tutional environment, regular personal contacts and a sense of solidarity, and a material as well as an intellectual infrastructure (Hermans 1999, 10), all of which could, over the last few years, be found among narrative theory scholars.

    Baker (2006) initiated the application of narrative in translation and inter-preting studies.2 Baker draws on and with her focus on translation aims to supplement, a strand of narrative emerging primarily from psychology and social and communication theory, the crucial idea of which is that narratives do not merely represent, but constitute, the world. Narratives are the stories we elaborate in order to make meaning of our lives and to both guide and justify our actions. They are not limited to a particular genre or to single texts but cut across time and texts (Baker 2006, 12) and are configured from the elements around us. Bakers monograph is structured around a typology of four kinds of narratives (discussed in 2.1 below), eight features of narrative,3 the notion of framing as an active strat-egy that implies agency (Baker 2006, 106), and, drawing extensively on the notion

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    of Fishers narrative paradigm (1984, 1985, 1987, 1997), ways in which we assess, and ultimately subscribe to, different narratives. As the title of her book indicates, Baker is chiefly concerned with the roles of narratives, translation and interpret-ing in situations of violent political conflict, and the way narratives and translated narratives are used by various powers to legitimize their version of events (Baker 2006, 1). These initial interests continue to be reflected in her work (see 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010a, 2010b).

    Harding (2009, 2012) is a direct response to Bakers work and an attempt to further develop her application of socio-narrative theory to Translation Studies. While Baker uses a broad-spectrum approach to exemplify narrative theory and its relevance to issues of translation, my study offers a sustained textual analysis and detailed case study that functions as a testing ground for both the applica-bility of narrative theory to, and the investigation of, a sample of online media reportage. Other scholars who have sought to apply Bakers approach explore a variety of data, including Italian diaspora fiction, Arabic childrens literature, (re)narrations of Edward Said and Palestinian women in Arabic, and networks of po-litically motivated, activist interpreters. Thus, Baldos (2008) study, Translation as Re-Narration in Canadian-Italian Writing, investigates a trilogy of novels by the internationally-acclaimed Italian-Canadian author Nino Ricci that traces the lives of an Italian family before and after they migrate to Canada in 1961. Drawing on poststructuralist narratological understandings of plot, focalisation and voice, Baldo explores the novelists use of codeswitching (between English and Standard Italian or dialect) and the ways in which codeswitching passages are negotiated in the Italian translation of the novels. Also a literary study, Ayoubs research (2010) examines the set of stories rewritten, adapted, and translated for children by the renowned Egyptian author Kamil Al-Kilani (18971959). Rather than on the texts themselves, Ayoubs primary focus is on the ways in which framing is effected at sites around text, and she investigates introductions, titles, cover blurbs, footnotes, and additional glossaries, poems, testimonials and questions.

    Al-Herthani (2009) also focuses on paratextual material, drawing particularly on Genette (1991, 1997), and the notions of framing and counter-framing. His topic is the legacy of Palestinian-American cultural theorist Edward Said,4 the translations of his work into Arabic, and the re-narrations of Saids works by vari-ous types of Arab institutions and mediators, such as the academy, media, publish-ing houses, intellectuals, writers and translators. Al Sharif (2009) also turns her attention to translated Arabic and its impacts on regional cultures and politics. She examines the translation programme of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a highly influential web-based advocacy group.5 Al Sharif carries out a detailed analysis of MEMRIs online reports and investigates ways in which the site actively uses translation to select, deselect and frame material in order to

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    systematically elaborate and widely circulate negative, dehumanising, and reduc-tionist narratives of Palestinians and Palestinian women.

    Finally, Bori (2009) adopts a socio-narrative approach to investigate the workings of Babels, the international network of volunteers recognised as one of the most politicised communities of translators and interpreters (2009, 6), partic-ularly with regard to the Alter-Globalization Movement and members active, yet complex, pursuit and negotiation of an alternative society marked by a commit-ment to organizational principles such as (linguistic) diversity, inclusive participa-tion and horizontality. Boris work examines online data posted by members on Babels online forums to trace the evolving narrative positions of the organisation in terms of its scope of involvement, financial structure, and decision-making pro-cesses. She also examines online data published by AIIC (Association internatio-nale des interprtes de confrence) to explore the external re-narration of Babels by members of the professional conference interpreting community (see also Bori 2008 and 2010).

    While these projects might be thought of as first generation responses to Bakers work, narrative continues to interest both new and established research-ers. For example, Abou-Bakr (in progress) is a contrastive study of the translations and paratextual features of published collections of Palestinian folktales, examin-ing ways in which these frame the stories with regard to Palestinian identity and nation building. Summers (in progress) uses theories of social narrative to analyse translations of the writings of East German writer, Christa Wolf, examining the extent to which the author and her texts have been appropriated into different social narratives of intellectual dissidence or complicity within the Socialist re-gime in the GDR. Pasmatzi (in progress) looks at how conflicts between histori-cal and political narratives manifest themselves in the Greek translations of sev-eral high-profile Anglophone historical novels concerning the Greek Civil War (19461949). Youssef (in progress) aims to problematize the idea of European influence on 1920s Arabic discourses by investigating processes of translation in the Cairene press of the time. Helin (2006) examines representations of the Islamic world in Finnish translations of National Geographic. Elliott (2008) explores the intersection of translation and narrative discourse in relation to Bible translation, and particularly with regard to literary characters. Jones (2009) examines interna-tional conflict resolution and mediation, Aaltonen (2009) looks at Finnish theatre translation, McDonough Dolmaya (2010) works on the localization of global and Canadian top brand websites in Canada, and Al-Ghamedi (2012) writes on the paratextual framing of two novels by Saudi writer Turk al-Hamad.

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    3. Applying narrative theory

    My own work (Harding 2009, 2012) turns to the hostage-taking of School No.1 in Beslan, Southern Russia. On Wednesday 1 September 2004, an armed group seized and held captive over a thousand people, including many children. By the time the siege came to its bloody and chaotic end three days later, more than three hundred people had been killed and hundreds more wounded. The atrocity at-tracted significant international attention, and even as the details of the attack re-main contested and unclarified (Dunlop 2006, 2009, Phillips 2007), it is now seen as a vital turning point in Russias approach to terrorism and in the operations of the Putin presidency (Hutchings and Rulyova 2009).

    I have undertaken a detailed, sustained textual analysis examining online reporting published by three very different Russian-language news websites: 1) RIA-Novosti (www.rian.ru, 3 March 2011), a large, state-controlled agency with close ties to the Russian government; 2) Kavkazcenter (www.kavkazcenter.com, 3 March 2011), the major site of the Chechen armed resistance, and 3) Caucasian Knot (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, 3 March 2011), a regional specialist site founded by Memorial, Russias internationally-renowned human rights organisation, all of which covered the events in Beslan as they were unfolding during the course of the three day siege and its immediate aftermath. The examination of both Russian and English texts also raises issues of translation, particularly in regard to online and fringe media, and ways in which translation and omission affect the construction and reconstruction of narratives. It also extrapolates from the case study of Beslan to reflect upon the potential for certain kinds of narrative to either perpetuate or dissolve situations of violent political conflict.

    Narrative theory is adopted not only as an analytical tool with which to ap-proach the data, but in order to investigate and develop the theory itself. Thus, while the study takes Baker (2006) and her major sources (particularly Somers and Gibson 1994 and Bruner 1991) as its starting point, it departs from these by pro-posing and exploring a revised typology of narratives, the combination of narra-tological and sociological approaches, an intratextual model of analysis, and new emphasis on the importance of narrators in the configuration and reconfiguration of narratives. All of these are discussed in this article.

    3.1 A typology of narratives

    A cardinal assumption of a narrative approach to data is that the narrative is the unit of analysis. Somers and Gibson (1994) distinguish between four different di-mensions or kinds (Somers 1997) of narrative: ontological, public, conceptual, and meta-narrative. Ontological narratives, the stories that social actors use to make


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    sense of indeed, in order to act in their lives (Somers and Gibson 1994, 61) are what Baker calls personal narratives, defi ned as personal stories that we tell ourselves about our place in the world and our own personal history (2006, 28). Public narratives are those narratives attached to cultural and institutional formations larger than the individual (Somers and Gibson 1994, 62), such as the family, the workplace, religious and educational institutions, media, government, and nation, examples to which Baker (2006, 3338) adds literature and a societys literary system, advertising, cinema and political activism; Bori further includes professional narratives, stories and explanations that professionals elaborate for themselves and others about the nature and ethos of their activity (2008, 26). Th e third type of narrative in the model is conceptual narrativity, expanded b...