Today’s post is a continuation of the previous post on why study translation sociologically:

Translation is social both within and without: from the viewpoint of
the constitution of its practitioners and from the viewpoint of the context of
its practice. The interrelation of the individual and society is one of the
central and hotly debated themes of sociology. Let us consider the following
simple example. In some gardens and parks, we may see flowerbeds, such as this one in a park in Durham:

Flowerbeds
may be simple collections of various flowers or a pattern forming a figure or
an inscription (a word, e.g., ‘Durham’, or even a short slogan). Seeds of the flowers are
planted so that when the flowers grow and blossom a certain shape would appear.
Each plant is a living plant as plants should be—with a root system, stems,
leaves, a flower or a cluster of flowers. Yet each is also a part of the
overall design—a dot of a letter in a word or in a company logo. So, is a plant
only an individual plant or a part of the whole? The answer is—both. Let us
remember this example when discussing the important theme—Individual and
Society, which has been a stumbling block not only in TS, in order to appreciate what sociology is about and how and to what
extent it is applicable to the study of translation and translators.

If
the translator is inevitably an individual, although a socialized one (that is,
the one who internalized the culture of the society into which s/he is born), then obviously the social aspect of his or her behaviour is only one
aspect. There are still his or her personal feelings, moods, character traits,
convictions, will, abilities and even physical states of the organism which can
affect the translator’s professional performance. The individual inescapably
influences the social. You may be a very professional interpreter but this
morning you may have a headache, this may make your performance in the business
conference in which you are interpreting somewhat below your usual standard,
you may have to concentrate harder and still make a few slips here and there,
in phrases which otherwise would be plain sailing for you. Or you may dislike a
particular topic, yet being an in-house translator you will be asked to
translate texts on that particular topic and feel that your translations come
out not as inspired as your versions of texts treating more engaging subjects.
Over years, as you gain experience, you will be able to control your
performance more and more efficiently, but your individuality will never
disappear.

In
reality, the individual and the social are two extremes of one continuum. Every
translational decision is an interface between the translator’s own
individuality and the society of which s/he is a part. If so, what is the ratio
of your individuality and the society in which you grew up in your translation
or interpreting performance? How to understand both sides of your translator
experience? To what extent can sociology with its focus on the social,
understood as collective, explain translation practice? And to what extent can
psychology emphasizing the individual help? To answer these questions, which
ultimately will help us answer the principal question ‘Why study translation
sociologically?’, the difference between the individual and the collective or,
as this relationship is sometimes termed, between sociology and psychology
needs to be appreciated. Such division may seem too crude, but since, as Emile
Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology, explained: “…the
substance of social life cannot be explained by purely psychological factors,
that is, by the states of the individual consciousness”—a line is drawn between sociology and
psychology and ultimately between the collective and the individual. There are, however, hybrid usages:
‘individual psychology’ and ‘general psychology’ (Durkheim) or
‘general psychology’ (Asch). Individual psychology concentrates on
individuals, while general or social psychology moves towards generalizations
about human psychology which it strives to explain in its natural social ‘habitats’.
Although the separating line, if any, cannot be drawn easily, the tendency is
clear—the individual and the social are two extremes, albeit of one and the
same continuum.