Laura Kunreuther

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Bard College

Grant number

Gr. 9680

Approve Date

May 3, 2018

Project Title

Kunreuther, Dr. Laura E., Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, NY - To aid research on 'Translating Voices, Interpreting the Field: On the Labor of UN Interpreters'

Preliminary abstract: Translating Voices, Interpreting the Field is a book-length project that investigates the work of UN field interpreters, whose labor is typically invisible, but essential to global organizations. Translators and interpreters are, after all, what make international relations possible (Roland 1999). Unlike professional interpreters at the UN headquarters, field interpreters describe constant movement through dangerous territory, little or no training – conditions of work that unsettle their own sense of humanity. What is entailed, materially and affectively, in standing between the UN field officer and the local source, speaking two voices at once – neither of which is ‘one’s own’? What happens when the medium for circulating the voices of so-called ‘global citizens’ is another human being whose labor is often imagined as the output of a machine? Rather than assume that the voice is the locus of subjectivity and authentic desire, interpreters might be better thought of as conduits of voice. Their labor resembles the work of stenographers or voice-over artists, and shares qualities with technologies like radio or recorders. At the same time, field interpreters are witnesses to traumatic testimonies, which they translate in the first person to UN officials. These testimonies become transparent ‘information’, which circulate in UN documents. Translating Voices will explore the tensions between being both a witness and a seemingly neutral conduit of voice, two opposed positions that unite in the body and labor of a field interpreter. At its broadest level, Translating Voice explores historical and cultural connections between the invisibility of UN interpreters’ labor and the bureaucratic ideals of transparency and global citizenship, asking how these ideals are embodied, or not, in the day-to-day work of UN missions.