Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space

The University of Manchester

7-9 December 2017

Genealogies of Knowledge

Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space

The production and circulation of knowledge across temporal and cultural spaces is a well-established research theme among classicists and historians of political thought, ideas, science and medicine, but recent developments have opened up new perspectives on this area of study. The study of social knowledge flows has advanced our understanding of these transit processes in critical and productive ways. While earlier ‘diffusionist’ models of knowledge production and distribution were predicated on the ascendancy of European thought and science, and the treatment of other cultures as no more than producers of data to be collected, theorised and understood, emerging models of social knowledge foreground how the very process of circulation produces new knowledge and recognise the contribution of all actors and locations traversed by such flows over time. This development is particularly welcome at a time when the media of knowledge production and circulation, successively moulded by the manuscript, print and electronic cultures, are being reconfigured in the digital culture of the 21st century. In this deterritorialised and decentralised arena of instantaneous knowledge production and circulation, “questions of trust, testimony, and communitarian objectivity are simultaneously questions of how knowledge travels, to whom it is available, and how agreement is achieved [or not]” between experts and ordinary people (Secord 2004: 660-661). Social movement and digital media scholars who advocate and practise alternative forms of political participation and collective forms of knowledge construction are therefore increasingly playing an important role in reconceptualising these trajectories of knowledge production and contestation.

The contribution of translation to these processes across centuries and cultures has long been documented and studied. A significant body of research, often undertaken by scholars outside translation studies, has drawn on a range of case studies to show how concepts and values have been and continue to be renegotiated and transformed at specific historical junctures through processes of (re)translation, rewriting and other forms of mediation. But translation is becoming enmeshed in the study of knowledge production and circulation in new and exciting ways. New and powerful computerised tools promise to enable researchers to trace the genealogy and transformation of key concepts in the humanities and sciences across temporal and cultural spaces through translation. The explanatory power of translation as a key force driving the study of transformation and change, on the other hand, has led scholars in other areas of knowledge to use the concept ‘as a trope through which the local concerns of the appropriating discipline may be addressed’ (Baker and Saldanha 2011: xxi).

Hosted by the research team leading the AHRC-funded Genealogies of Knowledge project at the University of Manchester, this conference will provide a forum for engaging with questions of current import in relation to the role of translation in the production and circulation of political, scientific and other key concepts in social life across time and space. Topics of interest include but are not restricted to the following:

  • The evolution through translation of key cultural concepts pertaining to the body politic in ancient and modern times
  • The evolution and transformation of the epistemological foundations of traditional scientific discourse (causation, evidence-based knowledge) across time and space.
  • The role of translators, interpreters and other gate-keepers in shaping the intellectual history of different periods and cultures
  • Processes of mediation impacting the construction, expansion and transformation of sacred texts and the concept of the sacred across time and space
  • Translation at the interface between positivist and constructivist scientific traditions
  • The role of historical and modern lingua francas in the production, transformation and circulation of concepts and values
  • The impact of translations from lingua francas into vernacular languages and across vernaculars from antiquity until the modern period
  • The role of both far-right populist groups and radical democratic movements in contesting the meaning of key cultural and political concepts (e.g. Brexit-Trumpism vs neoliberalism; state-centred vs non-state models of democracy; #Blacklivesmatter; #Vivapalestina)
  • The contestation of traditional scientific discourse based on notions of expertise and rationality by networked communities and independent media (post-truth era, citizen science, increased challenge to expert knowledge and ethos)
  • Corpus-based insights into the production and circulation of values and concepts in past and present times: epistemological and methodological issues
  • Developing corpus software for mapping and visualising the historical evolution of concepts

AHRC