chapter  8
Exploring the Postcolonial Turn in Translation Theory
Pages 31

In his recent study of Anglophone and Francophone literature from a translation perspective, Bandia (2008:6) identifies postcolonial translation theory as a “subfield of translation studies”, and argues that it was developed in the 1980s. Although the main strands of thinking that Bandia identifies as being characteristic of postcolonial translation theory – a focus on non-Western cultures, an emphasis on the hybridity of texts and cultures, an interest in unequal power relations – have undoubtedly increasingly become part of research into translation, positing “postcolonial translation theory” as a particular subfield within a broader domain of enquiry implies a level of unity (within the subfield) and of delineation (from other subfields) that is far from actually present. To take the first of the strands of thinking identified by Bandia as an example, the recent deliberate broadening out of the field of translation studies as marked by the founding of IATIS, an organization that actively seeks to facilitate exchange between translation scholars in the developed and developing worlds, the publication of collections of essays such as Translating Others (Hermans 2006), Asian Translation Traditions (Hung and Wakabayashi 2005), or For Better or For Worse (Fenton 2003), a collection which examines the role played by translation in the South Pacific, would suggest either that postcolonial translation theory is fast becoming one of the broadest areas of translation research, or that mainstream translation studies is itself becoming postcolonial. If the strands of thinking identified by Bandia are becoming important elements in translation research more generally, the issue of whether or not such translation research should – or would wish to – label itself ‘postcolonial’ is debatable, given the range of cultures and cultural histories that are involved. While inequalities in power relations might well be relevant to, say, translations between Swahili, one of Kenya’s official languages, and one of the country’s local languages such as Gikuyu, framing those power relations in terms of colonial relationships would generally be considered inappropriate. The limits and applicability of ‘postcolonial translation theory’ thus become a matter for debate, in much the same way in which the taxonomy and boundaries of postcolonial studies itself have become open to discussion and dispute. For these reasons, it may be more appropriate to speak of a ‘postcolonial turn’ within translation studies, or in other words of a variety of impetuses, originating in the area of postcolonial criticism, which have been and can be explored in relation to translation, within a large range of cultural and linguistic contexts.1 In some respects, this postcolonial turn might be viewed as a continuation, or extension, of the “cultural turn” identified by Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, which they summarize as follows:

The study of translation practice ... has moved on from a formalist approach

and turned instead to the larger issues of context, history and convention ... The object of study has been redefined; what is studied is the text embedded within its network of both source and cultural signs and in this way Translation Studies has been able both to utilize the linguistic approach and move out beyond it. (1990:11-12)

Just as the “cultural turn” in translation studies was accompanied by a “translation turn in cultural studies” (see the title of Bassnett’s essay in Constructing Cultures), bringing the realization that “translation deserves to occupy a much more central position in cultural history than the one to which it is currently relegated” (Lefevere 1992:xiv), it is to be hoped that the postcolonial turn in translation studies might contribute towards a move away from the monolingualism that has tended to characterize postcolonial criticism since its inception.2