The Only Thing Worth Globalizing Is Dissent: Translation and the Many Languages of Resistance

A three-day conference to be held in Cairo, 6-8 March 2015

Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, UK

Organized by Mona BakerYasmin El Rifae, and Mada Masr

Activists from various regions and countries connect with and influence one another through practices involving various types of translation, including video subtitling, written translation, and oral interpretation. The Egyptian Revolution and the activists and collectives who have worked to move it forward have been highly visible to other protest movements in large part through such practices. This conference aims to explore themes related to translation and its role in creating a global image for protest movements, and in connecting different movements to one another.

Held in Cairo, the conference will engage extensively with the Egyptian Revolution and the values and practices that Egyptian activist groups have shared with other groups around the world. It will also accommodate contributions relating to other protest movements insofar as they shed light on some of the ways in which global networks of solidarity are enabled and mediated by different types of translational practice. The event is ultimately intended to highlight the political import of translation and to provide a space for local, regional and international activists to reflect on the processes of mediation that allow them to connect with other movements and publics.

Translation is understood here in both its narrow and broad senses. In its narrow sense, translation involves rendering fully articulated stretches of textual material from one national language into another, and encompasses various modalities such as written translation, subtitling and oral interpreting. This type of translation is part of the fabric of practically all oppositional groups in Egypt – from the written translation of statements and campaigns by groups such as No to Military Trials to the subtitling of videos by collectives such as Mosireen and Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution. As Rizk (2013)* explains, it is translation that allows activists involved in a group such as Mosireen to connect with protest movements elsewhere and to see themselves “within a broader struggle and not an atomized battle against local dictatorship”. In its broad sense, translation involves the mediation of diffuse symbols, narratives and linguistic signs of varying lengths across modalities (e.g. words into image), levels of language (e.g. fusha and ‘amiyya) and cultural spaces, the latter without necessarily crossing a language boundary. As such it also encompasses the use of languages other than Arabic in writings and discussions about the Egyptian Revolution, the use of (forms of) Arabic in addressing regional audiences, as well as the journey of visual and musical artefacts across social and national boundaries.

Themes to be addressed include but are not limited to the following:

  • Forms of mutual solidarity that are enabled and enhanced by various acts of translation;
  • Video activism and the role of subtitling in negotiating the shift from representation to narration;
  • Critical appraisals of the internet savvy middle class in Egypt as translators and interpreters of the Revolution;
  • The role of translation in situating the Egyptian Revolution within broader struggles, especially in the global south (Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, etc.);
  • Case studies of the contribution of translation to specific activist projects connected with the Egyptian Revolution or with similar movements elsewhere (Turkey, Greece, Argentina, etc.);
  • The political import of creative strategies of translation, in its narrow and broad senses, in the context of protest movements;
  • The extent to which new technologies and software support or restrict the subversive potential of translation;
  • The interaction between textual and visual media, and between different languages, in sites of protest such as graffiti and street performance.

Speakers include Khalid Abdalla, Samah Selim, Leil Zahra-Mortada, Cristina Flesher Fominaya, Brandon Jourdan, Vicente Rafael and Magid Shihade

Abstracts of keynote speakers are available here