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Accepted Paper:

Working misunderstandings and translations of child protection in Colombia  
Susana Borda Carulla (University of Geneva) Karl Hanson (Université de Genève)

Paper short abstract:

The analogy between anthropology and translation is explored in the framework of the policy-making process on child protection in Colombia. Light is shed on working misunderstandings among stakeholders. Translation is seen as a social reality and thus an object of study for the anthropologist.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper we will explore the analogy between anthropology and translation in the framework of the policy-making process concerning child protection in Colombia. Our analysis will be based on ethnographic data recovered during field-work conducted in the slums of southern Bogotá within one of the Colombian State's major child protection programmes, completed by a study of relevant domestic and international legislation. We will study the divergent logics of two of the social actors concerned by the programme: the Colombian State and the children's care-takers (the "community mothers"). The actors' divergent logics will be theorized as being different translations of the ideas contained within international children's rights legislation. We will thereby highlight a number of "working misunderstandings" (as Sahlins would put it) concerning child protection among international and domestic legislators and community mothers.

"Working misunderstandings" between ideas developed in the framework of human rights concerning what childhood protection is and how it should be dealt with, and national and/or local translations of those ideas are a common social reality in contemporary societies. In this line of thought, we see translation more as an object of study for contemporary childhood anthropology rather than as an epistemological posture. Anthropologists, not only lawyers, thus need to understand the content of law in order to make sense of those misunderstandings. The question is how to observe the content of law at work in social practices: the social regulation theory is one possible answer to this question.

Panel P093
Anthropology as translation: working misunderstandings?
  Session 1