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date: 30 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Translation’s transformative potential has been studied by students of comparative literature, culture, gender, and social movements; but it has received less attention in theories of democracy. This contribution gives a survey of theories of translation, democratic dialogue, and social change drawing on migration and citizenship studies, gender and intersectionality, and research on political participation, transnational social movements, and diffusion. Based on an interdisciplinary conceptualization of translation in the literature, it first reviews existing political theories of democratic dialogue and deliberation. It then provides a sociological critique of democratic theories to explore how structural inequality creates conflict and “positional” misunderstandings within culturally diverse settings for civic participation and deliberation in globalized, unequal, and increasingly diverse societies and transnational publics. Finally, it reviews contemporary practices and radical democratic interventions used by migrants and activists, civic volunteer translators and interpreters, in order to address power inequality and diversity within contemporary democratic processes. By interpreting these grassroots democratic practices, the contribution of this chapter is to infuse democratic theory with timely sociological insights into the potential of activist “political” translations and comparative research on civic translation capacities. Political translation, distinct from conventional definitions of linguistic translation, is a disruptive and communicative practice for challenging power asymmetries and inequality in democratic processes or institutions. Based on cross-national empirical evidence, it discusses the benefits and challenges of political translation and civic translation capacities benefiting female asylum seekers and low–socioeconomic status groups who face structural barriers to access social and civic rights and education.

Keywords: political translation, civic translation, migration, social change, refugee, integration, democracy, multicultural city, multilingualism

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