burgess & kleinman on translation

“Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.”

Anthony Burgess, Is Translation Possible? (1984)

“Medical, including psychiatric, research often proceeds as if translation was a nuisance to be managed in much the same way as one controls the demographics in matched samples. For psychologists, translation looms as a larger concern but one that is reduced to a technical problem in research methods … For the ethnographer, in contrast, translation is neither a nuisance nor a strictly technical question. Rather, translation is the essence of ethnographic research. In anthropological studies, description of indigenous categories of thought, modes of communication, and patterns of behavior is at heart the translation from one cultural system into another. That translation is what the ethnographer spends her days doing–i.e., getting it right from the native point of view. Having achieved a valid understanding of the local context in its own terms, the ethnographer then undertakes another type of translation in which she puts her findings into terms and categories appropriate for transcultural comparison. That kind of translation is the final, not as in psychiatry the first, step in research.”

Arthur Kleinman, Rethinking Psychiatry (1988)

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