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RE2: Re:Thinking Management as Translation

Dear colleagues,

Thanks a lot to the two of you for your inspiring contributions! I hope I’ll be able to connect to both your ideas.

I’d like to start a “quick” look at translation and its relation and impact in society and business/management today, from a sort of communication theory point of view. What, to me, none of the existing models of communication patterns set out to, are able to or even dare to achieve is to take a stance at the reflexive (reflective or reflecting, i.e. translational or translating) processes and the various factors that constitute and influence the corresponding actors and processes. Here, I’m not gonna go a lot deeper into the WHYs of this matter, as I presume you know what I mean – the discussion which paths communication takes, how it is en- and decoded on a structural rather than a processual, let alone an internal (or integral?), level, and focusing on explicit rather than implicit notions.

Alongside this mentioned lack of explanations for the intra-actors’ sense-making processes within a communicating network, the necessity for cultural translation and its analysis is today justified by the need for stronger interlinkages and interactions in a multicultural society. This necessity does not only manifest in intercultural spheres, though, as often and mainly investigated in the literature, but becomes just as apparent when we perceive and accept the media- and infrastructurally-empowered diversity of identities and experiences of modern human beings – as Doris Bachmann-Medick also brings into play when considering the unequal power distributions of cultural constellations that would alter the ways in which different entities shape and justify their self (Bachmann-Medick, 2010). We can see here the connections to the blurriness and shift in power constellations through media(ted) (mass) communication. With a culturally informed kind of translation, we can reach a more interdisciplinary, methodological and life world related level of comprehension. Beautifully-enough, this assumption can be related to Franz Liebl’s makes on brands, as one field and example from the business/management, and today ever more leadership-, world, as their function would be to serve the worlds of their customers in order to create meaning and to make sense. (Liebl, 2006)

The Translational Turn, in my understanding and interpretation of it, set out to expand the traditional understanding of translation in the sense of philological and linguistic text and language translation. Unlike most approaches from the international Translation Studies, the idea of cultural translation is not only to be comprehended as a metaphorical term. It rather aims to perceive translation as a social and (inter)cultural practice, as a mediation and negotiation, as a shift of sense and a transformation through transfer into new contexts – and, after all, as a category of analysis (Bachmann-Medick, 2012). This understanding would not only enable the bridging but even more the hybridization, the merging, the blurring between and within social categories (social groups, cultural systems etc.) and between and within scientific traditions and disciplines. Translation, successively, becomes a complex cultural technique to deal self-reflexively with deviation experiences as well as code and paradigm shifts. It stands as an in-depth analysis tool that makes us dive into the multi-layered dynamics of actors: their discursive and medial involvements, particular reference systems and frameworks (i.e. life worlds) and the ways in which they deal with ignorance and dissymmetries – factors that influence every step and layer of one’s interactions (Bachmann-Medick, 2012). This translational examination finds its relevance through the standardization of everyday notions as identity, nation, culture, society etc. and is, therefore, ever more relevant for notions of purpose-built, artificially applied languages – such as, in my field of interest, brand communication. How would we be able to sell a brand, a deeper structure, a promise of value, a symbol of lifestyle, a community, a way of identification and orientation, a sense of knowledge, familiarity and trust behind a (economic, interchangeable or even redundant) product if not by first understanding (the worlds of) the people (rather than the customers) we want to address (rather than aim at)?

The critical question, however, is to what extent translation would actually work in empirical studies as a methodically applicable category with which to encounter singular translational steps and complex relationships, i.e. to what extent a Translational Turn can really exist. In order to tackle this problem, one would have to go into the critical natures and practices of relationships – into the inner worlds of actors, on the one hand, and concrete discourse scenarios of approach, transition and transformation on the other (Bachmann-Medick, 2012). Furthermore, this critical examination must not stop at the boundaries of one’s own comprehension or imagination. In fact, these boundaries need to be reflected and expanded themselves to exceed our, in the western world, eurocentric perception and interpretation. We need to localize, historicize and explore the origin points from where respective contexts develop in order to reach a level of “cross-categorical translation” (Chakrabarty, 2000) which goes beyond a cross-cultural translation. This would enable us to understand (translate) concepts outside our own limits (life world, system, culture, identity, field, discipline etc.).

Looking at the topic from a more meta perspective, the role of translation seems to be rather systematically ignored in an intercultural and multicultural business context. As Steyaert/Janssens would have it: “The question of languages is generally seen as an issue of foreign language teaching which is the responsibility of the education community and individual employees but not of management.”. Also, “Translation is supposed to offer no additional value, it can only make mistakes.” (Steyaert/Janssens, 1995) Accordingly, it is aimed to clarify and facilitate communication through literal translation. Managers would expect translations to be finished quicker than in due time. Translation becomes an unloved by-part of To-Do lists and is not reflected after its first execution – a neutral everyday act, not more than a means to an end, where translational communication can never be defined in unidirectional terms and as a mere execution (Toury, 1980).

Now, I could go on talking about signs, codes, meaning, interpretation and further semantic dimensions in this context, and/or apply my ideas to possible impacts in relation to the field of brand communication etc etc. But I think I’ll close for now and look forward to your comments and further discussion.


Reference list_RE2 ReThinking Management as Translation_Sixt