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Translating Sexuality. From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies. Schedule. Module aims. To: Increase participants’ knowledge of issues in inter- and intra-cultural communication (seen through a sexuality lens)

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Translating Sexuality


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    1. Translating Sexuality From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies

    2. Schedule

    3. Module aims To: • Increase participants’ knowledge of issues in inter- and intra-cultural communication (seen through a sexuality lens) • Enhance participants’ ability to consider the fluid, context- and culture-specific nature of understandings and enactments of sexuality, both within and across geographic borders

    4. Participants will: • Broaden their understanding of what is meant by ‘translation’ • Be able to identify and question the presumption of translatability of sexuality as a limited set of activities, behaviours and stereotypes • Specifically from a Western to a non-Western context • Be able to recognise that their own understanding of terms, concepts, and practices related to sexuality is both contextual and relational

    5. Sexuality: a working definition • Sexuality: sexual expression which is often divided into three components • Sexual desire or attraction: who (or in some cases what) someone is attracted to (physically and emotionally) • Sexual activity or behaviour: what a person does or likes to do (intercourse, masturbation, sexual fetishes) • Sexual identity: how someone describes themselves (heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian)

    6. Session 1. Sex talk

    7. Sex talk group work • Consider: • Is this sentence an expression of sexual desire/attraction, sexual activity/behaviour, or sexual identity? • Choose just one category per sentence • Then choose a second category for each sentence • Can your group suggest other sex talk sentences that blur the boundaries between the three components of sexuality? (30 mins)

    8. Feedback on classifications Brainstorm: • Did everyone in your group agree on the classifications? Did differences of opinion arise? Any examples? • Did the meaning that people read into each sentence change, once they changed the category for it? (10 mins) • Exercise in acts of translation and interpretation

    9. Session 2. Translating translation

    10. Translating translation • ‘Multidimensional’ understanding of translation (Gottlieb 2003, building on Jakobson (1959)): [Translation is] any process, or product hereof, in which a combination of sensory signs carrying communicative intention is replaced by another combination reflecting, or inspired by, the original entity … Any channel of expression in any act of communication carries [multiple potential] meaning • Channels of expression include, but go beyond, words and languages

    11. Translating translation • Within words and language: • Interlingual translation occurs between languages • Intralingual translation occurs within the same language, but between… • Different historical stages of the same language • Different geographical, social or generational variants of the same language • Change in mode, i.e. from speech to writing or vice versa

    12. Translating translation • Language is the medium through which human beings self-interpret experience • ‘This is a domain to which there is no dispassionate access’ (Taylor, 1985: 54 & 62) ‘All languaging is deficient and says less than we wish it to, and … at the same time all languaging is exuberant and says more than we know’ (Becker, 1995: 5)

    13. Translating translation • Acts of communication that occur in non-verbal channels of expression are also translated • Non-verbal communication is frequently translated into verbal communication, e.g. • Arousal of desire or sensual experience is described in words • A physical act is observed, then narrated • Music in a film showing arousal of desire or sensual experience also involves a type of translation • The music does not have to describe that which can be seen, but adds an emotional layer to supplement what the viewer sees

    14. Translating translation How do people ‘read’ social spaces and interpret each other’s behaviour within them? What are the rules and codes of interaction in a supermarket, a railway station…a bedroom or a sex-on-premises venue? (Richters, 2008: 1) A wink is a wink because of a ‘stratified hierarchy of meaningful structures…without which [winks] would not ... in fact, exist, no matter what anyone did or didn’t do with [her] eyelids’(Geertz, 1973)

    15. Review • For the purposes of this module, are translation and interpretation essentially the same, or different? • What are the three types of translation identified so far? • Who can give me an example of each type of translation? • Any questions? (5 mins)

    16. Session 3.Sexuality, in translation

    17. Interlingual* sexuality • Brainstorm terms in your first language for: • Sex • Desire • Sex practices • Sexual identity • Discuss: • Are there understandings of aspects of sexuality that exist in your first language but have no clear equivalent in English, or vice versa? • Are there particular acts not talked about directly in your language that might be talked about in English? (20 mins) * Between languages

    18. Feedback (15 mins) • Rapporteurs to identify a couple of key terms where: • Translation is particularly problematic, or • Translation is assumed to be complete but where there are, in fact, differences that get lost in translation

    19. Intralingual* sexuality • Discuss terms in your own language related to sexuality (Desire / attraction, sexual activity / behaviour, sexual identity) • Are different terms used by different groups of people or in different settings? • Consider gender, generation, ethnicity, sexual identity, location (urban, peri-urban or rural; private or public)? • Are certain terms considered ‘modern’ and others ‘traditional’? • Do the same terms carry different meanings in different groups? (20 mins) • Feedback (15 mins) * Within the same language

    20. Non-verbal sexuality • In your cultures, which non-verbal acts communicate: • Desire / attraction, activity / behaviour, sexual identity? • Are there alternate readings of these acts? • Are the same acts translated differently by different groups of people • Consider gender, generation, ethnicity, sexual identity • Or in different settings? • e.g. urban, peri-urban or rural; private or public)? • Are certain acts considered ‘modern’ and others ‘traditional’? Has meaning around these acts changed over time? (20 mins) • Feedback (15 mins)

    21. Review & pre-readings Alonso, A.M. and Koreck, M.T. 1989, Silences: ‘Hispanics,’ AIDS, and Sexual Practices. Differences 1(1):101-124. Cameron, D. and Kulick, D, 2003, Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p1-10; 18-29. • Brainstorm: • Can anyone see a connection between the activities we have just completed, and the pre-readings? (15 mins)

    22. Lecture Still from ‘Friends in High Places’ documentary (2001)

    23. Lecture notes • Translation is a context-laden process through which meaning is continually negotiated and approximated • Words, gestures, even locations can be read in multiple ways • Translation—all communication—continual process of deficiencies and exuberance (Becker, 1995)

    24. Lecture notes • So far, we have: • Messed up the boundaries between the three components of sexuality • Examined three types of translation • Identified a variety of different terms related to all aspects of sexuality in first languages • Seen that terms existing in English can have no ‘perfect fit’ translation into first languages , and vice versa • Seen that terms & non-verbal communication can have multiple meanings to different audiences

    25. Lecture notes • The ‘inevitable failure’ of translation? (Boellstorff, 2003) • Long-term failure of attempts to translate Anglo-understandings of sexuality into forms relevant to Māori men in New Zealand (Aspin, 2005) • Multiple different readings & lived experiences of sexuality • Different aspects foregrounded at different times, e.g. politics of sexual identity • Different cultures may prioritise other identities, e.g. family kinship system (Wah-Shan, 2001)

    26. Lecture notes • ‘Sexuality is produced and disseminated in language’ (Kulick, 2003) • ‘No’ may only be a two-letter word, but it can carry worlds of meaning in relation to both gender and sexuality • 10 minute break • Questions? Understandings? • What do we mean by ‘translation’ in this module? • What connections can you see between the earlier exercises and this lecture?

    27. Lecture notes • What’s to be done? • Some arguments for giving preference to presentation of non-English verbal or written explanations or taxonomies of desire or attraction, behaviour or practice and sexual identity (Aspin, 2005; Muñoz, 2008, et al.) • Temple (2002): Spread of English language usage across the globe is ‘a Western takeover bid’ • Jolly (2000): use of English terms for sexuality can feed the stereotyping of homosexuality as ‘a Western phenomenon’

    28. Lecture notes • Blending of local meanings and English language termed ‘dubbing’ by Boellstorff (2005) • ‘Where traditional translation is haunted by its inevitable failure, dubbing rejoices in the good-enough and the forever incomplete’ • All aspects of the ‘taxonomial drive’ (Najmabadi, 2006) • An ‘impulse to categorise identifications and desires’ • Results in continual re-organisation, re-categorisation, shifting around of language and meaning to create a different ‘fit’ • Do we need to resist categorisation?

    29. Lecture notes • Always participating in some form of translation • Need for shared language in certain arena, e.g. HIV prevention, but: • ‘MSM’ as shorthand buries complexities • Creates false simplification that is then difficult to unpick • Can limit capacity to develop informed interventions • Use of local language equally fraught • Which terms? What do they mean, to whom, and in which context? Are they used simply as a substitute for ‘MSM’?

    30. Lecture notes • Working language of development is English • Constantly involved in acts of translation • Translation of understanding of research participants’ lives • Translation of our own understandings of research findings and of sexuality theory • Translation of our thoughts into research papers, journal articles, and in our communications with each other. • Need to be mindful; there is no one answer

    31. Conclusion • Volunteer to summarise key points that they have taken from the lecture • Questions? • Comments? (15 mins) • Translation is initially defined by the OED as: ‘Transference; removal or conveyance from one person, place, or condition to another’(Oxford University Press, 1989)

    32. Module created by: • Gillian Fletcher, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society • Short course developed by: • The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia and • The International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) • With funding from The Ford Foundation Available under an Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike licence from Creative Commons

    33. Optional assessment exercise • Spend 10 mins writing a short reflection piece • Think about one incident from life or work where you have been involved in translation of sexuality • Remember that research is a process of translation • Reflect on this incident • Look for possible other translations that could have applied in this example • What differences might have arisen if an alternate translation had been used?