As we look back and remember the lives lost, I highly recommend you take a little bit of time to read the following article by Tom Gregory, on emotions and the embodied experience of war. It’s a thoughtful reflection on the use of body counts and their political effects: ‘When dealing only with numbers, we tend to lose sight of the bodies that are left broken by the machinery of war, along with the individuals who are busy living and dying on the battlefield’.
In the piece, he cites the account of an American nurse who served in France:
‘Much ugliness is churned up in the wake of mighty, moving forces, and this is the backwash of war. Many little lives foam up in this backwash, loosened by the sweeping current, and detached from their environment. One catches a glimpse of them – often weak, hideous or repellent. There can be no war without this backwash’.
You may also wish to read the following (old) piece, on the need to remember those – often shell-shocked and under-aged – who were shot for desertion.
For more information on Combat Stress, click here.
Those watching the news over the weekend have probably noticed growing reporting on the protests in Hong Kong, under the name of ‘Occupy Central’. Discontent has been brewing for a while, in anticipation of changes to the Hong Kong electoral system. Hong Kong was officially handed over from British rule to China in 1997, and a big part of the handover agreement included the idea that Hong Kong would be ruled under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model. Consequently, Hong Kong has it’s own Basic Law, a form of constitution based on the system it inherited from British rule, which guarantees freedom of speech and assembly until 2047. On an everyday level, this means that today, Western social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are banned in mainland China, are still accessible in Hong Kong. In 2007, China promised that Hong Kong would attain universal suffrage by 2017. Hong Kong is ruled by a Chief Executive, currently Leung Chun-ying, and China promised that the post of Chief Executive would be elected – one person, one vote – by 2017, and it is this promise that is the focus of the current protests.
Currently, the Chief Executive is elected by a committee, and the plan is for the committee to remain, but that it will nominate candidates which are then up for election by universal suffrage. This is where the problem arrives: on August 31st, Chinese authorities announced that candidates would need the support of more than half of the ‘broadly representative’ nominating committee to appear on the ballot: and the committee contains a high number of Beijing loyalists. Consequently, only candidates which Beijing approve of would have a chance to get nominated. This is what the protesters of ‘Occupy Central’ are unhappy about.
So who are Occupy Central? The movement was initiated by an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong called Benny Tai Yiu-ting, in early 2013, when he proposed an act of civil disobedience in the Central, the finance district of Hong Kong. The movement has included large consultations with citizens about Hong Kong’s democratic development, and has been slowly gathering support throughout 2014. It’s important to recognise that not everyone is unhappy about the Chinese decision, nor does everyone support Occupy Central: some polls have suggested that only around 50% believe Hong Kong should reject Beijing’s proposals. It’s an eclectic movement made up of academics, students and a number of other groups, the full name of which is ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’. Occupy Central have been warning Beijing that protests would ensue if it’s election proposals did not meet the standards they expect, and so after the decision on August 31st protests have been gathering support, with huge numbers turning out over the weekend and into today.
China has made it clear that Hong Kong is still ultimately under Chinese rule, despite the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model, and have so far signalled that they have no intention of budging on their decision. Earlier in the weekend, the army responded to the protests with tear gas, but yesterday and today protests have continued, calling for the resignation of the Chief Executive for pandering to China. Today (Wednesday) more people are expected to join: many are off work as 1 October is a national holiday, celebrating the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. Tensions are set to rise as protesters use the day to bolster support.
The protests taking over 1 October celebrations is likely to be particularly testing. At this point, no one knows how China will deal with the situation, but those with any influence should be emphasising restraint. A military response would lose China any international and domestic support, but the lack of military intervention since Sunday is a good sign: let’s hope the protests open the space for conversation about Hong Kong’s electoral system, instead of bloodshed.
With the real possibility of a yes vote in just over a week, it goes without saying that the referendum would only be the beginning of the long and complex task of turning Scotland into an independent country. Most discussions of ‘the day after’ have considered the nature of the negotiating process and how to divide up the assets of the UK. But further ahead would be the more profound task of creating the constitution of an independent Scotland. This would not only mean writing a legal document, but also deciding, among other things, the structure of the Scottish state, government and parliament…
Last week, news broke that China is sending troops to South Sudan to protect its oil interests in the troubled region. The troops will join the UN’s peacekeeping force in the area later this year. The original Wall Street Journal article notes that ‘while Beijing’s troops will operate under UN command, their posting to South Sudan marks a sharp escalation of China’s efforts to ensure the safety of its workers and assets in Africa and guarantee a steady flow of energy for domestic consumption’. It also marks China’s first commitment to send a battalion to a UN peacekeeping force, though they have contributed smaller numbers of peacekeepers to other missions.
Reuters also note China’s unusually active diplomatic role in the conflict: ‘Chinese officials have been in regular contact with Western diplomats to help African mediators push for a halt to fighting in the country. China has also pushed rival factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to talk’. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), one of China’s ‘big three’ state-owned energy companies, has big investments in South Sudan – both in oil fields and a 1000-mile long oil pipeline to the coast.
Military interventions to protect foreign energy supplies are hardly new, and the role of energy in foreign policy is well-documented, as are concerns over China’s international energy policy. However, these troops mark a big change both in China’s behaviour internationally and its approach to energy security. China’s international energy policy or expansion has so far been limited largely to investments in actual energy deposits, such as oil fields, or infrastructure. While the current mission is only mandated to protect civilians and workers rather than oil fields or infrastructure, it marks China’s biggest international military secondment in recent years – and is hardly unrelated to the country’s significant economic interests in the area.
It’s difficult know how much impact this will have on Chinese policy in the longer term, but it is definitely one to watch – especially given China’s increasing international energy investments in volatile regions. It may indicate a further shift in Chinese perceptions of energy security, towards viewing energy as a military security issue. If it sets a precedent for Chinese intervention to defend its energy interests abroad we’re likely to see much more focus on this in the future.
Eric Talmadge is the Pyongyang Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, and runs this fascinating instagram account with photos from North Korea.
A study has found empirical support for the idea that the Harry Potter stories have shaped the political culture of a generation. The articles raises some interesting points about the impact and role of popular culture in politics. In the Harry Potter study, he found that ‘reading the books correlated with greater levels of acceptance for out-groups, higher political tolerance, less predisposition to authoritarianism, greater support for equality, and greater opposition to the use of violence and torture’.
Earlier this week I discovered this (and this) comparison website: really useful if you’re working on an article and have a feeling you might have written something similar elsewhere. Word can do compare documents using the compare feature, but it focuses on differences rather than similarities – which pretty useless if you have two documents which are (hopefully) completely different and want to look for overlap or similarities. These websites allow you to copy two different texts into boxes and then compares them for you.
IR/security research is often by its very nature international, and can involve empirical work in any number of different places and/or languages. When your research is done in one language and has to be written up in another one (in Western academia, usually English), translation is an essential part of the research and writing up process. However, when I began my PhD I found there was very little advice available on the issues surrounding translation, and most of what I learned before my fieldwork came from informal talks with colleagues and supervisors. So, I thought it might be useful to write a blog-post about some of the problems and pitfalls of translation during research, many of which I have first-hand experience with, followed by some ideas on how to solve them, or at least minimise their impact.
As anyone who has carried out research involving translation will know, it is rarely straightforward or clear-cut. There are no clear rules for how to approach it, but while there is no ‘right way’ to do it, there are many bad ways to go about it. Some of the key issues to think about are listed below, but beware: these come largely from my own experience and what worked for me may not work for you. Likewise, you may disagree with some of the opinions I’ve formed based on my experience, which is fine (of course) – the main point of this is to get you thinking about the big issues, and to find your own solution to them.
There often seems to be an endless list of problems with translating, but without some form of translation we would struggle to understand the world outside of our own little corner. When something is translated, another layer of interpretation is added to the original, and some meanings, nuances or details may be lost. Translation is never neutral: it necessarily involves inserting the translator into the data and transforming it. The translator is cannot be extracted from the translation process: s/he has a lot of power as a meaning-clarifier and maker. Personally, my research has a discursive focus, which has influenced both my thinking on and my approach to translation. Looking at ‘discourse’, particularly if you’re planning to use discourse analysis (either in a language other than your native one or in your native language which then has to be translated into another language during your writing-up) poses some further problems (more on this later). Below I cover some common issues countered during translation, divided into ‘practical’ and ‘linguistic/cultural’ problems, and then suggest some strategies to avoid these.
Firstly and most important of all: are your language skills good enough? Here you need to bear in mind that the skill set needed depends very much on the type of research you’re doing. Do you need to do interviews? Archival/documentary research? The type of data you’re using will affect the skills that you need, and will help you target your language learning: think about whether speaking/listening may be the most important for you, or whether perhaps reading comprehension is more important. Ethnographic research will of course require much more extensive language skills than other forms, but also has more literature providing guidance on this.
Will you be or have you considered using a translator or interpreter? (More on that below)
This is slightly controversial, but I don’t think you have to be fluent, or a native speaker to research in another language. But you do have to be good enough for what you need to do, and that requires some reflexive thinking and self-awareness.
If you’re not a native speaker, it’s important to be open and disclose your language skills (and limitations) in the research outputs.
The time factor: if you’re not a native speaker, translations can take a lot of time. This is particularly true if your research involves processing a large number of documents.
Things don’t always translate well – not everything has an equivalent in another language. Some texts, words or expressions will therefore not have a direct translation, and you need to have a strategy for dealing with these.
On top of this, some terms or words can have multiple meanings in the original language, which can be either lost in translation or mistranslated. This was a big concern for me, doing research in Chinese – and one of the many reasons I decided to conduct my interviews in English. Many words have multiple meanings (particularly in Mandarin), and your interviewee may be purposefully vague. If so, your translation may put words in her or his mouth that s/he would not have said, by giving their words a more specific meaning in the translation. It’s worth noting that this is a problem for native speakers too (in cases where they have to translate during the writing-up process).
Knowing a language, even to a fluent or native standard, does not automatically mean that it will be easy to carry out research interviews in that language. In practice, ‘research language’ is very different to usual language skills. Official discourse is often very different to everyday talk and in many cases uses a different vocabulary, which can make it tricky even if you’re a native speaker used to ‘everyday talk’.
Lastly, cultural knowledge is an important part of understanding a language. When something is translated, it is taken out of its discursive and cultural context, and in the process it can lose some of the meaning, or things can appear significant when they are not (and vice versa). A couple of examples: this article is by a Russian speaker who researches North Korea, and explains how some things translate much better from North Korean into Russian than they translate into English, because North Korea and Russia have a shared communist history and many North Korean expressions are borrowed from Soviet Russian. Translated into English, this context is lost. During my own research on energy security in China, I found a lot of discourse around China’s ‘scientific’ outlook and approach to energy security. It was only during a conversation with a fellow (non-Chinese) China-researcher that I began to view this more as a Marxist trope common in Chinese official discourse than something with more significance to China’s approach to energy security specifically. It’s easy to overlook or miss things, but it’s worth remembering that it can be just as easy for native speakers (who sometimes get home blindness). It does mean it’s important to be extra careful, however.
Strategy 1: Don’t translate
While this strategy may sound counterintuitive, in many instances translation can be avoided. For example, if you’re studying official discourse, it’s often possible to access official translations of key documents in English. Using this strategy, you need to be aware that the texts are prepared with a foreign audience in mind (which has important implications). Personally, I decided to avoid translating where possible. I conducted my interviews in English, which limited number of interviewees (not ideal, but I decided it would be better than the risk of misrepresenting my interviewees). In my case, this was less of a problem as my research relied primarily on documentary material. Many of my key documents were available in official translations, though I had to translate others. By translating documents where no official translation was available I also avoided limiting analysis to documents ‘pre-approved’ (and, therefore selected for translation) by the Chinese government. In the case of some particularly important documents I also checked official translations against their original (Chinese language) versions. This was important as official translations can at times exclude particular (often potentially controversial) sentences or sections of documents when produced for a foreign audience.
Strategy 2: Use a native speaker
If you don’t speak the language you are translating from to a native standard, get your translations checked over by a native speaker. If possible, do this anyway as a second pair of (bi or multilingual) eyes can only help.
Strategy 3: Use a translator/interpreter
Using a translator or interpreter can save a lot of time and hassle, but can also be problematic (and expensive!). There’s no such thing as a perfect translation between two different languages: your translator/interpreter is using their own knowledge and skills to filter, manage and transform the information given by your interviewee/document into a language that you understand. This can add extra layers of meaning to your data, so the usefulness depends very much on the focus of your work. It can be particularly problematic if you’re using discourse analysis, as you’re no longer analysing the discourse of your original source but translated version. If you do decide to use a translator or interpreter, make sure that you are clear with them about exactly what you need them to do – if you need as close to a perfect translation as possible, make sure that they know this. If you’re conducting an interview, go through the questions and your interview strategy with your interpreter beforehand – the wording of your questions may not actually make sense if they are translated literally.
4: Online translation engines
When processing a lot of information, online translation engines like Google Translate can be helpful to filter your material. While they are largely useless when it comes to actually translating articles and documents, they can help you identify what’s actually worth translating or spending more time on. If you have a lot of material, this can be a helpful strategy to narrow down your focus.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect translation. Translation is not a science, and your skills will get better with experience.
Ps. If anyone can recommend any useful resources about using translations and translating during research, please either add it in the comments section below or email me, and I’ll add them at the end of this post!
Hot off the press: Critical Security Methods, by Claudia Aradau, Jef Huysmans, Andrew Neal and Nadine Voelkner. I’ve just ordered my own copy, and can’t wait to read it – it’s always nice to see research methods taken seriously.
In the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, here is an interesting article on how it would have been covered had it occurred in a country other than the US. Includes: ‘Chinese and Russian officials are warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in the restive American province of Missouri, where ancient communal tensions have boiled over into full-blown violence. “We must use all means at our disposal to end the violence and restore calm to the region,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments to an emergency United Nations Security Council session on the America crisis’.
Professors’ pet peeves. Includes beauties like: don’t be too cool for school, don’t fudge your formatting to make your essay look longer (I’m not an idiot), and don’t ask the professor if you missed anything important during your absence (‘Of course you missed something important! We’re college professors! Thinking everything we do is important is an occupational hazard. Here’s an alternative way to phrase it: “I’m so sorry I missed class. I’m sure it was awesome.”‘). Seriously considering printing this list out as a handout for start of term.
Ten grammar rules it’s ok to break (sometimes): including recognition that ‘Many prescriptive rules originated for screwball reasons, impede clear and graceful prose, and have been flouted by the best writers for centuries’.
This week, there’s been a debate over the relevance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to the ongoing situation in Gaza. One of the central ideas underlying the R2P concept is the argument that as part of sovereignty, states have a responsibility to protect their civilian populations, and in turn the international community also have some responsibility to both assist the state in this endeavour and to (potentially) intervene if the state fails in its responsibility to protect.
The status of Gaza is a key factor in this debate: if it’s considered to be part of the state of Palestine, R2P does not apply as it focuses on intra-state violence, not inter-state conflict. If, however, Gaza is considered to be occupied by Israel (as many argue), R2P may well be applicable.
The lack of international action, whether justified through the Responsibility to Protect, Security Council resolution/s, or any other means, shows the continuing weakness of current frameworks when it comes to actually tackling violence. The eyes of the world are on Gaza, and the international community appears powerless. Whether or not R2P is used, something clearly needs to be done. On Monday, the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire, but beyond this little seems to be happening.
In one of the pieces above, Rieff argues that the lack of international community is part of the problem, as action is difficult when there is no international moral consensus. However, while there is never likely to be complete consensus Israel seems to be rapidly losing support and suggesting there is no international community overlooks growing international outrage. Action is not simple, as Bellamy’s piece clearly shows. It is, however, necessary, whatever form it may take.
How Google moves international borders discusses conflict zones which leave Google ‘in-the-middle’ of border disputes. As a result of legal pressure, Google maps actually show different borders depending on the domain name you use to search (so Google.com.hk (China) gives different results to Google.co.in (India), for example). To give an example from the article: ‘If you look at Arunachal Pradesh, one of India’s 29 states, from the Indian version of the website you will see the border that its government believes to be correct. View the same region from within China and it appears as “South Tibet” under Chinese control. From within the UK you see both borders marked with a dotted line to indicate that there is a local dispute’. The article has great graphics where you can drag a marker to view disputed maps side by side.
Here is an interesting collection of writings on writing by social scientists, from the University of Durham
Another article on writing, this time on writing in the 21st Century – interesting thoughts on using the passive voice and split infinitives (which recent conversations have taught me seems to be something that many people struggle with)
Some interesting things we’ve come across this week:
America’s hip-hop foreign policy: an interesting read from the Atlantic discussing the role of rap in the war on terror. Apparently America is dealing with ‘jihadi rap’ by sponsoring ‘good muslim hip-hop’. The discussion of how rap has been used both to radicalise and in turn as a tool of diplomacy is particularly interesting.
Yugoslavia as science fiction: discusses art from the former Yugoslavia and the way in which it’s being viewed today, with a fascinating discussion of what this implies about the post-Yugoslav space today.