Webinar #4 – The Contingencies of Translation: Hope, Faith and Doing One’s Best
November 23, 2021  2PM GMT/ 3PM CET/ 9 AM EST/6 AM PST

For the 4th GEM&L webinar on language in international business, we are delighted to welcome Professor Susanne Tietze, 

Susanne Tietze, PhD is a Professor of Multilingual Management at Sheffield Hallam University (UK). Grounded in an interpretive paradigm, she is an organizational scholar and has researched a variety of phenomena, including multilingualism as it plays out in organizational arenas. An early focus of her research was the theme of translation as an empirical phenomena, as a methodological challenge, as a philosophical stance and way of being in the world. She has recently concluded a research project into the role of paraprofessional translators in multilingual (business) communities and the agentic decision-making which informs their roles.  She has also published about the role of the English language as the lingua franca of management knowledge and how its use impacts upon the research process.  Her latest books (Horn, Lecomte, Tietze, 2020) comprise an edited volume, titled Managing Multilingual Workplaces. Methodological, Empirical and Pedagogic Perspectives, and a research text (2021) titled Language, Translation and Management Knowledge. A Research Overview. In this reflexive talk Susanne will show how translation is always a precarious process which suspends the translating agents between different meanings systems and meaning worlds. Within this tension, translators make bounded decisions through which a degree of agency unfolds and understanding is generated. Translators understood as bounded decision makers are then explored through a focus on paraprofessional translators who operate in multilingual work places. Again, translation is shown to be a precarious, incomplete process. From thereon, it is argued that translation remains a fruitful endeavour whether operationalised as empirical research; whether used to raise important methodological questions or whether treated as an epistemological stance.


In this highly reflective talk Susanne will start from the premise that translation is a difficult project as it locates the translator in precarious suspension between the original text or meaning and the reproduced or created text or meaning. In this regard translating is always an incomplete and never-finished project which is bounded by the impossibility to ever fix meaning (whether original or otherwise) or represent it in any ‘once and for all’ fashion. It is therefore that the translating agent needs to bring hope and faith to the project of translation – hope that translation is possible and feasible at least to an extent that makes understanding possible. Yet, even the most faithful, diligent efforts often get thwarted as each time it is shown that translation always escapes any attempts to bound it. The translator is thrown back to an inchoate and incomplete way of operating between two languages.

It is, perhaps paradoxically, through this very boundedness that the agency of translators can unfold; albeit only partially and only to the extent as the translator is aware of the bounded contingency her very existence is located in: The lack of fixed and given meanings creates a context of fluidity and blurring, in which translatorial decisions can be made. This, as it has been shown, are not so much concerned about ‘perfect and correct’ translation, but about enabling, blocking, changing and creating meaning. Within our field of interest we have by now a multitude of studies who provide empirical evidence of the lived experience of translating agents, who located in complex contexts ‘do their best’ in the pursuit of organizational intents.

By means of a gentle, yet provocative ending to the talk, yet again questions are raised as to whether and what extent if at all, agency is possible when it comes to all matters of language (including academic research and writing) and translation. Here, questions are posed to destabilise a cherished (epistemological) assumption that we (in this case: academics)  are users of language – rather it is asked, does language use us? Likewise, the notion of individual and named authorship is being questioned: do we write texts or do texts (or genres) write us?. Beyond this rhetorical posturing are serious questions about the way we write and disseminate knowledge in institutional contexts which are, in my view, becoming increasingly constraining and unwelcoming.

In conclusion, translation is more than a way of researching empirical multilingual settings; it is more than a methodological problem of equivalence (or lack thereof): In leaning on George Steiner (1997: 22)  “[…] all understanding falls short. It questions us. It demands that we try again. It makes of our misprisions, of our partialities  and disagreements not a relativistic chaos, an ‘anything goes’ but a deepening”.  Translation is the path of creating understanding between two languages; and any worthwhile investigation located within or engaged with multilingual contexts and themes will make its limitations and defeats visible.  In turn, this rendering visible makes manifest the inexhaustibility of the researched object.