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RE: Re:Thinking Management as Translation


Dear Martin!
Thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring note on re-thinking management as translation.

Yes, how to re-think management is the key-question indeed! This relates not only to the quest(ion) into which direction management might be re-thought, but also on which (path)ways it and we may move on and how. Thus, we need to think about the moves of the ‘re-‘ of re-thinking?

Your invitation to follow the ‘translational turn’ sounds fascinating and promising. Knowing about translatability and using translation as an approved, key concept and practice has been around for quite some time, for example like hermeneutics or specific research methodologies as in ethnographic studies as well as cross-cultural management research.
We can observe that this turn to translation is in parallel or part of other turning patterns. I am particularly attracted in those turns that aim at ‘re-turning anew’ towards life-worldly phenomena and experiences. Interestingly, these turns can be seen as already being a translational result and will probably lead to further turnings.
I take it that you mean translation in an extended and metaphorical way as a cultural, performative practice. But, as I see it, understanding cultural translations as performative acts that are staging difference (Bhabha 1994) alone is not sufficient. We need to supplement such concept by considering translation itself as a culture (Spivak, 2007). For me, the latter one call for affective sensitivities in relation to other(s), including a responsive listening with care and patience. Accordingly, to process creative and valuable translational act(ion)s cultural practice requires to be qualified as a responsive “con-passionality”.

I agree with you that the metaphor of translation can help to see and analyze different social practices as actions of transformative bridging that is for me also revealing also gaps and lacunas. Taking translation metaphorically allows looking at current formations and deformations of management, and opening up to developing new interpretations.
In this way, translation facilitates re-thinking management, related to socio-cultural practices in critical and novel ways while moving between theory and practice as well as other specific in-betweens.

Related to your approach we might ask how to think of translation as metaphorising practice that mediates for example between management and humanities or social and cultural studies and realities. This bridging calls for and should lead to an inter-disciplinary search and research that can be part of an adventurous quest and venturing questions!
For quite some time, I am involved in such cross-disciplinary research, bridging between phenomenological approaches and management and organization studies. Accordingly, I try to build bridges for example between a phenomenology of the body and embodiment in relation to research and practice in organizational life-worlds and its management.
That is also why I do resonate with the idea that cultural translations are not only linguistic or representational, but also extra-linguistic, embodied processes. This entails for example patterns of matter-ing, sensing, feeling, thinking, valuing and modes of actions that all require moving beyond disciplinary frames.
A pooling of disciplines and transfer of contents and methods from one discipline to another allows spilling over disciplinary boundaries in order to create new knowledge. But does this not need to imply the necessity for being competent in and staying connected to frameworks of disciplinary research or discipline? Where does one have to be ‘located’ to do interdisciplinary research?
Furthermore, how do we deal with disciplinary boundaries that function as barriers, and monolithic constructs as well as how these can become more like permeable membranes?
Which language (games) do we need to speak or change, and how? Metaphorically speaking, how to be on the same page, while using different books or even other libraries?
How to move in those dislocating zones of strangeness between diverse fields that might be as uncomfortable as what a traveler experiences in an unfamiliar land, while grappling with language barriers and seemingly odd cultural understandings?
As I see it, a critical translational interdisciplinary practicing problematizes and questions existing borders, structures of knowledge, here with regard to management theory and practices.
For radically rethinking and redoing management, we need even more a post- and transdisciplinary orientation, which is at once in-between disciplines, across different disciplines, and also beyond individual disciplines, and science, towards involving other stake-holder. The intricacies of such orientation are a story of its own, perhaps for another conversation.

I agree with you that agents and agencies involved in the delicate translational process are implicitly connected to powerful and ideological regimes. But what does it mean practically that cultures of translation are social and political arenas guided by interests, ideologies and power games. How do travelling translational practices undergo negotiations and shifts of meaning, especially concerning transcultural and trans-national moves (Bachmann-Medick, 2014)?
Furthermore, rethinking management need to be integral in that it allows to see and connect different trans(re-)lations. While considering several levels and dynamics of realities at once, these post-binary trans-relations are situated between contents and practices in collaborative knowledge-building and social relationships as transformative practices.

Let me briefly comment your second important point. I agree that translation implies its own failure, or even impossibility in the sense of what you call ‘un-translatabilities’. Always there remains something untranslatable and the challenge will be to move between translatibilty and untranslatability.
Although talking about inter-lingual translation on a literal level, Benjamin’s notion of the mysterious untranslatable in his famous essay ‘The Task of the Translator’ comes to mind. With him, the mission would be to develop provisional translations that are more and different than transmissions. This implies not only avoiding modes of problematic transport, especially of inaccurate or irrelevant contents. Rather, creative transpositions are also re- and transforming ideas, values and meanings.
But what limits and resistances to translatability may emerged and encountered? What about inner-cultural contradictions, counter-discourses, inconsistencies or exclusions? What about mis-translations due to mis-understandings or mis-interpretations?
What are possible forms of translation that work as modes of cross-cultural mediation of pluralistic, heterogeneous, and fragmented meanings? How can we embrace ideas and understandings held by differently bounded cultural agents, producers, receivers or theorizers being situated on various, but interwoven levels?
Recognizing that translational practices cannot be true or pure, we need to think about how to develop, process and evaluate a proper ‘translatability’. How do we know that translations are creative and generative, instead of being limited and reductive? As much as there are always losses in translation, as you mentioned rightly, what are possible ‘gains’ of translational interpretation, and how to assess them?

For responding to these critical issues with regard to an adequate transrelational re-thinking it would make sense to discuss the role of media and form involved as well as their interplay.
Speaking about forms, translation is in danger of being trapped in the same formation or ‘logic of the same’. Accordingly, it would reproduce, thus merely perpetuating ‘business as usual’ in new dresses. Metaphorically expressed, such pre-formed translation would only ‘address’ old vestments, but not ‘re-dress’ that is co-create new cloths. If translation only transports without causing and mediating a creative responses or shifting alterations it remains monological and without resonance.
We need to transcend a mere translational modification on the surface that is merely transfering back and forth, towards an embodied, emotional and aesthetic trans-+-formation in more radically creative ways.
If translation is not simply an act of faithful reproduction, how can it become a deliberate power-ful and subversive act of selection, assemblage, re- structuration, and fabrication and even, in some cases, of falsification, refusal of information, counterfeiting, and creation of secret codes (Gentzler & Tymoczko 2002), all part of ongoing process of political discourse, and strategies of social change

The question then will be how such trans-+-fomative trans-relation can generate practically a sur-plus through moving between management and other fields. How to translate insights and findings of trans-re-lational processes into actions and policies in organization and management as well as eco-socio-cultural praxis? One way might that transformative translation becomes effective for example be ‘relevating’. This rendition refers to elevating the seemingly irrelevant relevant and bringing peripheral issues into focus through strategic partnerships (Paton et al. 2014).

To sum up: The concept of translation is not radical enough for rethinking management, as we need ways and practices of moving beyond forms, towards a genuine trans-+-formation.
Radicalized as a transformative one, your idea of a cultural translational practice, can then contribute to overcoming given assumptions, habits of mind and behaviors, isolated or fragmented paradigms and theories as well as understandings of individual and social and cultural realities of organization and beyond. This overcoming in turn is then a re-turn forward towards co-creating and enacting critical knowledge of managing and living differently and wiser.

Trans-+-Forming our very understandings and practices, including translational ones may then open up a ‘re-evolutionary’ interpretation and realisation of what management could mean differently and what it serves.

What do you and others think about these comments and suggestions? Looking forward to responses.
With kind regards,
Wendelin

Reference list_RE ReThinking Management as Translation_Kuepers