The Translation of Social and Human Sciences Books between France and Argentina as an Unequal Exchange
For every 70 books of social and human sciences (SHS) of French authors that are translated and published in Argentina, only one Argentine title is translated and published in France. How should this inequality in symbolic exchanges between metropolitan and peripheral cultures be deemed and appraised? The subject can be approached from a political sociology of the international cultural relations.1
It is now a commonplace to assert that there is inequality among national cultures and languages in their competition to intervene in an ideal global cultural dialogue. But there is still a lack of knowledge about international symbolic exchange flows, their particularities, and obstacles, and the specific ways of the symbolic domination that crystallizes the trade of translated ideas. It is not a paradox that a phenomenon as conspicuous as this one is not a field of study.2 Quite on the contrary, it is a symptom of the (symbolic, economic, and political) power that is settled in such cultural transactions, that is, it is a denied dimension, the materialization of something that cannot be seen or is not desired to be seen. Despite its rhetoric of liberalization of information access by means of digital communication technologies, globalization has deepened the inequality among languages and markets of symbolic goods. In a similar fashion, but from a very different approach, critical voices, such as the “Epistemologies of the South”, call for the right to think differently but without carrying out scientific researches on the ways of interdependence between the North and the cultures they claim to represent.
In short, it may be posited that, in the cultural world, customs barriers range from explicit political measures to long-term implicit cultural processes. The former can be found simply by reading the newspapers. While we were writing this paper, we learned about the tuition policy for graduate studies in France, which was published in the Journal Officiel dated April 21, 2019.3 The French education authorities have established that, in order to take courses for a master’s degree in France, from now on (it was free of charge), foreign students from countries of the European Union will have to pay a tuition fee of 270 euros, while those from countries outside the EU will have to pay 3,700 euros. A policy of European integration? Perhaps. With regard to students from outside the EU, the fee might be equivalent to the one demanded by other academic powers, such as the United States. Equality with those countries? However, 4,000 euros is an unaffordable amount for students of the “third world”, except for those who come from social and economic elites. In this way, France is erasing its historical “mission” of international exchange and training, which had been guided by prior policies in favour of cultural diversity (Bustamante 2014; Sapiro 2017). These explicit (formal, open, and communicable) policies are unstable. It is very likely that they will be altered in the short run, for better or for worse. They may be contrasted with the implicit processes of cultural exchange that strengthen positions, power, and hegemonies in the long run. In contrast, these implicit cultural processes find, in the practice of the translation of books, the most powerful weapon to shape the international cultural order.
The translation of books is a concrete indicator of the circulation of ideas, the place of international relations in the configuration of national cultures, the dissemination of categories of thought across political and cultural borders (Heilbron 1999; Casanova 2002; Heilbron and Sapiro 2002). For instance, translation was a decisive moral action for the emancipation of the countries in Latin America.4 But an isolated translation does not tell us much if it is not observed in relation to the systems of translations and publishing houses to which it belongs. Each translated text is a variation with respect to other texts that are close to the subject, gender, time, and place of publication (publishing house, city), and the communities of readers that recognize them (appropriation, valuation). This premise guides the study of the construction of synchronic structures and historical processes that frame the facts of the international cultural exchange defined by translations. It is important to consider that, if a translation connects “two cultures”, the full explanation of that dyadic relation involves its contrast and relativization in more ample systems, which consist in a series of languages and ideas coexisting and confronting one another in specific markets of symbolic goods, not only as systems of interpretable signs but also as merchandise, as social facts.
These hypotheses come from the research on translation in Argentina that we have been conducting for several years. As we have already produced substantial publications on this subject, it is time to move forward with data and hypotheses not yet explored, and to increase our theoretical contribution to the sociology of translation. A transnational perspective was already clear 20 years ago, when we began a research study on the translation flows between Brazil and Argentina - two markets of symbolic goods with relatively equivalent structures (Sora 2002, 2003). In 2011, when Gisele Sapiro invited us to study the translations of books written by French SHS authors in Argentina, we had to deal with the contact between two cultures with a strong imbalance in terms of structure and power. In various publications, we analysed the particularities of the
“population” of 1,660 translations between 1990 and 2011 (Dujovne, Ostroviesky and Sora 2014; Sora, Dujovne and Ostroviesky 2014). To move forward in the understanding of this number, we broadened that study to include the knowledge of other “immigrant communities”: SHS titles translated from English, German, Italian, and Portuguese. This new chapter of the research was carried out in the framework of the Interco-SSH5 project, also directed by Sapiro.6
The figures that emerge from this work show interesting paradoxes; analysing them is an invitation to develop new studies in multiple directions, two in particular. On the one hand, it is essential to acknowledge the relativity of Argentina as a market for translations in comparison with other strong marketplaces for publications in Spanish: Spain and Mexico. This research is ongoing. On the other hand, we started the record of SHS Argentine authors translated in France. In this chapter, the results of this second experience are presented, together with a brief summary of some of the results of the above-mentioned previous investigations.