Translation as conceptual topology: relationality in 'worlding Europe' and anthropological practice
Kelly Mulvaney (Leuphana University Lueneburg)
Paper short abstract:
As a conceptual topology, “translation” can contribute to a renewed approach to “Europe” in anthropology, one capable of grappling with the radically postcolonial present. The argument is developed with ethnographic reflection on attempts to redefine Europe in transnational anti-austerity movements.
Paper long abstract:
Historical studies of translation in anthropology have demonstrated its powerful role as a repertoire of ideologically-mediated practices through which equivalences and difference were constructed in ways that secured colonial rule (cf. Cohn 1996). Language ideologies and definitions of time and space have been central in the development of what Herzfeld (2003) calls the 'global hierarchy of value', according to which 'Europe' is measure. The insight that knowledge regimes inform translational practices by setting the coordinates around which relationality is constructed provides a rich point of departure for re-considering Europe in the postcolonial/postsocialist global conjuncture, in which spatiotemporal boundaries and relations are destabilized and subject to new negotiation. Attending to translation means accounting for these epistemic coordinates of relationality, as an ethnographic object, as a mode of inhabiting the role as ethnographer, and in the representational dimension of ethnographic practice. These claims are thickened through a discussion of ethnographic study in transnational anti-austerity networks. Anthropologists of Europe and anti-austerity activists in Europe pose similar questions. Digital communication, mobility and migration mean that global knowledge circulates through 'European' networks. What gets translated and how comes to constitute what is rendered possible in a locality that translation also demarcates. Tracing how European utopian imaginaries with Enlightenment ideological coordinates overtrump, mix with, or are challenged by decolonial knowledges and practices in activist realities not only contributes to an anthropology of knowledge regimes, but also provides points for reflection of the reflexivity and role of the ethnographer. Might re-thinking Europe also require re-thinking anthropological practice?