This research deals with a critical study of the reseach Outline for a Sociology of translation: Current issues and future prospects” by Heilbron, Johan and Sapiro, Gisele.2007, published in Constructing a Sociology of Translation. Michela Wolf and Alexandra Fulkari (eds). Amsterdam: John Benjaminis Publishing Company. pp 93-107


The cultural turn shifts focus to “the text embedded within its network of both source and target cultural signs” (Bassnett and Leferevere),  and broadens the perspective and opens the doors to research on translation process revealing the power relations underlying any translation activity and therefore pointing to the fact that translation can never be neutral.

The methodologies developed through cultural turn do not provide sufficient scope to broaden research on role of translators and various agencies involved in translation process as an agent.

Translation emerged to be viewed as “socially regulated activity” (Hermans 1997). Therefore, experts turned to sociology to describe the social implications of translation in its various forms and profile.

Influenced by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu approach to power within the context of comprehensive theory of society, Heilbron and Sapiro reject the idea of interpretive approach to the text and the purely economic analysis of transnational exchanges. 

  1. Interpretive approach consists of two opposite tendencies
  2. Objectivist: arises from classic hermeneutics
    1. focus on literary and philosophical studies of translation
    2. more to do with understanding of text and involves comparison of translation with the source text, source language or source culture and examine the creative deviation from the original
  3. Subjectivist or relativist: has its affinity with framework of culture studies  
    1. Focus on various modes of appropriating texts, on the instability of their meaning and the mutual permeability of cultures
    2. Considers translation in the context where they are produced and actually function, in other words in the target culture   

2. Economic Approach

The economic approach, more powerful socially but much less widespread within studies on translation, performs a reduction that is somewhat the contrary.

  1. assimilates translated books into the most general category of goods, identifying them as merchandise produced, distributed and consumed according to the logic of national and international markets.
  2. To considering  translated books as commodities like any other commodities occults the specificity of cultural goods as well as the modalities specific to their production and marketing.

The market of symbolic goods is a specific type of economy that functions according to its own criteria of valuation (Bourdieu 1977, 1993). Thus both favor a proper sociological analysis that embraces the whole set of social relations within which translations are produced and circulated.

  1. Development of sociological analysis

The methodologies developed through cultural turn or economic approach to translation do not provide sufficient scope to broaden research on role of translators and various agencies,  involved in translation process as an agent.

Translation emerged to be viewed as “socially regulated activity” (Hermans 1997) that involves following:

  1. Questions about the stakes and functions of translations
  2. Their agencies and agents
  3. The space in which they are situated
  4. Constraints: both political and economic that circumscribe them

Therefore, experts turned to sociology to describe the social implications of translation in its various forms and profiles.

Focus : Translational circulation of cultural goods

Through sociological approach to translation, both the writers tend to analyze conditions of transnational circulation of goods as per the following

  1. Structure of the field of international cultural exchange
  2. Types of constraints – political and economic – that influence these exchanges
  3. Agents of intermediation and process of importing and receiving these by the recipient country

International Field

Based on the program proposed by Pierre Bourdieu (2002) on social conditions of international circulation of cultural goods, both the writers place transnational transfer of translation within space of nation states and language groups, and propose to analyze translation as embedded within the power relations of national sates and their languages.

Power relations are of three types

  1. Political
  2. Economic
  3. Cultural: a) power relations between linguistic communities as assessed by number of primary and secondary speakers b) symbolic capital accumulated by different countries within the relevant field of cultural production.


In these power relations, the means of political, economic and cultural struggles are unequally distributed. Cultural exchanges are therefore unequal exchanges that express relations of domination.   These relations are structured and highly hierarchical, so is the global system of translations.

Worldwide % distribution of translation   

Hyper- Central

Central Semi – peripheral Peripheral

Source language English: 50%

Source language

German: 10%

French: 12%

Source language

8 languages including

Spanish 3%

Italian 1%

Rest other languages

Less than 1%

(Sources not mentioned, acknowledges the comments made by Pym on deficiencies it contains)


Chinese, Arabic and Japanese languages are one of the widely spoken languages but do not represent central position, hence number of speakers do not play role in determining hierarchy of central language and peripheral language

  1. Flow of translations are highly uneven and flowing more from center towards periphery
  2. Communication among peripheral languages very often passes through an intermediary of a center language (mainly English, German or French)
  3. Proportionally, central languages have more genres of books translated from them to other languages
  4. Unequal share of translations in different countries also attests to these power relations that are proportional to degree of centrality and their relative significance.

Worldwide % of translated book in comparison to national production of books

England and USA : Less than 4%

Germany and France: 14% to 18%

Italy and Spain: 24%

Netherlands and Sweden: 25%

Portugal: 35%

Greece: 45%

(1990: source not mentioned)


  1. The dominant countries export their cultural products widely and translate little into their languages, dominated countries export little and import a lot of translated foreign books
  2. The more the cultural production of a country is central, the more it serves as a reference in other countries, but less material is translated into this language
  3. Therefore, Translation Studies in small countries like Netherlands, Belgium and Israel  has gained more importance and status than those countries which represent system’s center
  4. Since translation studies emerged in small countries with high translation ratios, it is possible that the cultural significance of translation has been somewhat overestimated.
  5. A country’s loss of power or prestige can result in diminuend effect. Eg. Translations from Russian decreased and underwent abrupt change after its disintegration, followed by sharp rise in number of foreign translations published in Russia.

Principles of differentiation in the dynamics of exchange

International cultural exchanges are differentiated according to three main factors:

  1. Political relations between countries and political orientation of the government - also involves type of government, liberal, communist, fascist etc.
    1. Economic relations (especially the international book market) and economic factors –
      1. also involves liberalization of the book market, as in the United States, cultural goods appear primarily as commercial products that must obey the law of profitability.
      2. calls for study of purely economic logic through more refined technique than standard models of cultural economics, as non- market forces, notably state institutions are also involved in construction of supply and demand of cultural goods.
      3. In relation to political and economic factors the degree of protection of market and degree to which culture fulfills an ideological purpose, one finds a series of possible configurations, specially with liberalization and GATT agreement of 1986 and its Uruguay Round of negotiations, TRIPS adopted in 1994 within the framework of WTO etc.
  2. Cultural exchanges between countries: within which literary exchanges may enjoy relative autonomy.
  3. From the standpoint of literary exchanges, transnational relations are above all relations of domination based on the unequal distribution of linguistic and literary capital (Casanova 1999).
  4. The dominated languages are those endowed with little literary capital and low international recognition. The dominant languages, due to their specific prestige, their antiquity, and the number of texts that are written in these languages and that are universally regarded as important, possess much literary capital.
  5. translation of a canonic work of classic literature may serve to accumulate symbolic capital, whereas the translation of a text of a dominated literature into a dominant language like English or French constitutes a veritable consecration for the author (Casanova 2002).
  6. Large scale circulation: profit vs. small scale circulation for ideology, prestige and diversity, and state intervention to curb effect of economic constraints in a free trade economy.

Agents of Intermediation and dynamics of reception

International cultural exchanges are organized by the means of institutions and individuals agents, each arising from different political, economic and cultural dynamics in a given space and time, as per the following stages:

Stage I: with formation of nation- states, the following agents played role

-          Embassies, cultural institutes, translation institutes, journals promoted by specific government agencies to promote national literature etc.

Stage II: Industrialization of book market

-          Emergence of specialized agents in trade of translated books: independent publishing houses with foreign rights departments, literary agents, international book fairs etc.

-          Development of market of cultural goods and liberalization of cultural exchange in their latter period marginalized the role of government agencies.

-          Government agencies including foreign policy representatives of the government responsible for promotion of national literature work in close cooperation with specialized agents to participate in the commercial exchanges, and they also work like literary agents, and a set of specific agents like authors, translators, critic, academics and scholars who benefit from such engagements.

-          Appearance of a group of importers and exports have added new range of activities, who apart from playing role of intermediation, also help literary production into central languages

Stage III – Professional development

With professionalization of specialized agents and emergence of professional association, the global system of translation saw new breed of social agents in the system with some peculiar characteristics.

-          World of literary translators is bifurcated into academics and professional translators characterized by strong individualism and division in terms of gender, ideology, political and social affiliations

-          They are also characterized by elitist individualism and logic of completion in order to gain symbolic capital and hence supremacy in their area of activities  

Structure of space of reception.

  1. This space is also more or less governed by either market or political factors, and depends on the functioning of its institutions: controls over print publication, specialized book series, the editorial policy of each publishing company, the space of journals and periodicals, the modes of consecration (literary prizes and awards), etc.
  2. Also depends in part by the representations of the culture of origin and by the status (majority or minority) of the language itself.
  3. Recipients reinterpret translated texts as a function of the stakes prevailing in the field of reception.
  4. In a more general way, translation has multiple functions:
    1. an instrument of mediation and exchange, it may also fulfil political or economic functions, and constitute a mode of legitimation, in which authors as much as mediators may be the beneficiaries.
    2. The value of translation does not depend only on the position of languages, but also on the positions of both translated authors and their translators, and each of them in both the national literary field and the global literary space (Casanova 2002).
    3. The translation into central languages constitutes a consecration that modifies the position of an author in his field of origin. Inversely, it is a mode of accumulation of literary capital for groups
    4. Translation is also means of accumulating symbolic power for publishers lacking economic and cultural capital
    5. Literary translation may play a role in the creation of collective identities including national, regional or social, religious or genre identities.


Thus we notice translation as a socially regulated activity that has following three dimensions

  1. Nation states and various agents get engaged in the cross- national transfer that involves existence of field of international relations of exchange forming global system of translation
  2. These exchanges involve power relations, and nation states and various agents involved compete with each other to gain supremacy through political, social or cultural dynamics
  3. The dynamics of translation depend on the structure of space of reception and the way relevant intermediaries shape social demand.


  1. How we apply social theory of Bourdieu in the field of Professional translation that deals with technical and scientific text ?
  2. Where do we place influence of IT, social media and crowd outsourcing (the role of non-human actants) in translation in wake of resources becoming global,?
  3. With reference to practice and role of various agents involved in circulation of cultural goods, where do we see improvised performance, or doxic experience (not fully conscious)  as proposed by Bourdieu? On the contrary, in international arena, especially GATT and TRIPS, or international relations, all actions are conscious and fully negotiated and deliberated?
  4. How do we explain habitus of the agents in global system of translations ?
  5. How far the research applies to Indian context, where there is multitude of layers of culture, languages, religions, beliefs and a quasi-federal structure of political system. 




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