An international workshop titled Translating Organizations: A Dialogue between Organization Studies, International Business and Translation Studies was held from 26 – 27 April 2018 at Aalto University, Finland and hosted by Professor Rebecca Piekkari from Aalto University, School of Business, Professor D. Eleanor Westney from MIT Sloan School of Management, Schulich School of Business, and Aalto University, School of Business, and Susanne Tietze, Professor of Multilingual Management at Sheffield Hallam University. The workshop was sponsored by Aalto University, the Foundation of the Helsinki School of Economics, the Foundation for Economic Education and the UK Research Funding council for the Arts and Humanities. The main emphasis was on stimulating a productive exchange about the different usages of ‘translation’ across disciplinary boundaries and amongst different communities of practice and academia. There were over 30 delegates from International Business, Translation Studies and Organization Studies and the keynote was delivered by Nina Elomaa, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Fazer, a Finnish multinational. She reflected on the transfer of organizational practices from Finland to their Russian subsidiary, and also on the linguistic challenges this entailed.
One of the most striking things to emerge from this event was discussions around the use of the concept of translation across different disciplines. In Translation Studies and International Business the concept typically refers to interlingual translation, and movement – whether oral or written – between different natural languages such as English and Finnish. However in Organization Studies, translation is used in a metaphorical sense, in order to consider the movement and transfer of ideas and practices across and between different organizational and institutional contexts.
Despite the fact that these fields of enquiry are substantively different, the terminology and concepts used across the three fields are similar enough to enable a fruitful dialogue exploring the phenomenon of translation from an interdisciplinary perspective. For example, International Business scholars may speak of “boundary spanners”, to refer to individuals with linguistic and/or cultural knowledge. These individuals facilitate a dialogue between members of different linguistic communities, and thus engage in translation in both a literal and metaphorical sense. In contrast, Translation Studies uses the term “paraprofessional translators” to denote those who engage in interlingual translation activities without having any formal training. This is a relatively new topic of investigation for the discipline. Similarly, Organization Studies (following an institutionalist approach) may speak of “copying” ideas across different contexts, which is referred to as “direct translation” in the Translation Studies field. Moreover, concepts such as “context” and “agency” are used by all three fields, thus demonstrating the linkages which could exist when theorizing about translation. As part of the workshop, scholars across the different fields also discussed how to make their work more relevant to practitioners, as guidance on the efficiency of human communication is an important and serious management challenge.
A further point of interest, which arose during the course of the workshop was methodological: how to investigate translation empirically? Which methodological approaches are available to researchers? Institutional scholars in Organization Studies have a tradition of single, longitudinal case studies. Similarly, language-sensitive work in International Business has established itself largely as a qualitative field with many studies relying on semi-structured interviews, although the field itself is quantitative in its methodological orientation. In contrast, the early empirical work in Translation Studies drew on a tradition of lab-based experiments. Despite these methodological preferences, speakers from all three areas called for more ethnographic research. Ethnography would now be well-placed to make an important contribution to the research on translation, given its emphasis on context.
Despite the different terminology of each field and a debate about the resulting limits of interdisciplinarity, there was tentative agreement that such differences could be overcome by pragmatist philosophies, although it was noted that this still presents challenges in the publication of interdisciplinary work.
The final session of the workshop was given to a panel of doctoral and post-doctoral students who summarised their key insights and take-aways from the workshop. Their willingness to engage in an interdisciplinary dialogue will safeguard future collaborations and projects. Following this, future opportunities to meet and take forward this topic were identified, including the final event in this Arts and Humanities Research Council funded series, which will be held at New Vic Borderlines Theatre, Staffordshire, UK in October 2018. Additionally, the GEM&L 2019 conference will be dedicated to the very theme of translation, and will be held in Sheffield, UK, on 4th and 5th June.
Rebecca Piekkari, Susanne Tietze and Natalie Wilmot