The Publishing Sector and African Literature

The publishing sector is a crucial institution in the field of literature. Bourdieu (2002) argues that it is the publisher who holds the key to

Translating Une vie de boy 247 deciding what is publishable or not, implying that publishers are important gatekeepers of the literary field. Venuti (2013) argues that while publishers usually base their decisions on the taste of their target market, they can also influence that taste by exposing readers to selected translations. In the same vein, Heilbron and Sapiro (2007) contends that publishing houses are important agents of the promotion and reception of translated works in a target system. Based on the study of Dutch works in the French book market, Heilbron and Sapiro (2007) reveal the role economic, ideological and political factors play in the selection of foreign works for translation and publication. Serry (2002) notes that, in order to compete, African publishing houses such as Le Seuil resort to publishing foreign works. Translation is thus used to gain symbolic capital, which subsequently transforms into economic capital as the publishing house’s reputation grows and it attracts more renowned authors. Heilbron and Sapiro (2007) also argues that publishers play a crucial role in the circulation of translated works. She contends that while economic gain remains the main driving force behind their actions, new publishers use translated works as an innovative way to gain recognition and compete with more established publishers.

Publishing houses played an important role in rhe development and promotion of African literature during the colonial and postcolonial periods. After independence, the book industry in Africa witnessed a boom as publishing houses raced to feed the need for educational books in post-independent educational systems (Davis 2013). These publishers were mainly European ones who created African subsidiaries because works of African authors were considered marginal in European markets (Bandia 2012). It was within this context that Heinemann Publishers in the UK set up the African Writers Series (AWS) in 1962 to publish the English works of African writers (Currey 2008:1). Heinemann became the main vehicle of African literature in English, publishing originals and translations of the works of African writers from different parts of the continent. It was in line with its African agenda that Heinemann commissioned and published the English translation of Une vie de boy in 1966 (Currey 2008:60).

Bourdieu’s Concept of Field in Translation Studies

Scholars studying translation phenomena using sociological approaches have predominantly used the approaches of Niklas Luhmann (Hermans 2007, Tyulenev 2010), Bruno Latour (Buzelin 2005), Anthony Giddens (Van Rooyen 2013) and Pierre Bourdieu (Gouanvic 2005,Inghilleri 2005, Simeoni 2005; Wolf 2007; Hanna 2016). Bourdieu’s approach is most suitable for the current study because it enables the study of the dialectic relationship between the agents involved in the translation of Une vie de boy and their social context.

Bourdieu sought to reconcile the binary opposition between agency and structure by arguing that agents have a mutually influential relationship with the structure (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992:11). He asserts that the actions of agents take place within a social space called the ‘field’, which is made up of objective positions occupied by different actors, who possess different degrees of resources for which they compete for control (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992:97). The term ‘objective positions’ implies that positions are occupied based on the volume and structure of the capital or resources that an agent has accumulated in relation to other agents occupying different positions in the same field (Hilgers and Mangez 2014:10).

Bourdieu illustrates this conceptualisation by the formula: [(habitus) (capital)] + field = practice (Bourdieu 1984:101). The field is therefore an arena of struggle in which agents compete for the interests which they recognise as accruing from the field (Hanna 2016:21). This implies that there is a hierarchical structure to the positions, and agents seek to accumulate resources that enable them to move to a position of greater influence over the field’s activities, thereby creating a situation of struggle or competition, in which agents strive to conserve or transform the structure of the field (Bourdieu 1985:734). On entering the field, agents possess different resources (‘capital’) and dispositions (‘habitus’) which determine the positions they hold and the leverage they have on the relations of the field. Agents’ capital and habitus enable them to modify the field’s structure, or the capital and habitus are modified by the field, depending on whether the agent occupies a high or low position of influence. This means that the agents’ actions shape that field’s structure, and are themselves constrained by the structure. Bourdieu (1996:227) later added the concept of illusio, which is the collective belief of the agents of a field in the interest and value of the game, i.e. agents are attracted to participating in the actions of the field because they are convinced that it is beneficial to do so. This collective belief becomes a set of regulating rules they unconsciously follow (Petrikas 2019:47).

This dialectic relationship between structure and agency forms the basis for examining the context within which Une vie de boy was translated, in order to understand how it influenced the actions of the agents involved. Although Bourdieu’s theory has been used increasingly to study social contexts of translation phenomena, studies of African literary translation from a Bourdieusian perspective are few. Talento (2019) applies Bourdieu’s social theory to study the agents involved in the translation of literature into Swahili. Vosloo (2007) examines how Antjie Krog’s habitus as a writer and a poet influenced her actions as a translator, and I used Bourdieu’s theory to study the influence of the translator’s identity on the strategies used to translate Une vie de boy into English (Awung 2014). The translation of African literature into European languages offers an interesting context within which to conceptualise agency in Bourdieusian

Translating Une vie de boy 249 terms, because the field of its production brings together institutional and individual agents with competing interests that affect their actions in the production process. Furthermore, there are agency implications in the role translators in Africa play in shaping the political, cultural and economic environment of their communities. African literature has a social commitment role and its translators are agents who assert the values of African communities and contribute to improving their economic and political situations. Bourdieu offers an appropriate framework within which to understand the social factors that underpin the actions of the agents involved in translating African literature.

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