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'

LAURA KUNREAUTHER, Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, New York, received funding in May 2018 to aid research on ‘Translating Voices, Interpreting the Field: On the Labor of U.N. Interpreters.’ This research explores the work of field interpreters for U.N. missions, whose labor is typically invisible but essential to global organizations. Unlike professional interpreters at U.N. headquarters, field interpreters describe constant movement through dangerous territory to translate often deeply traumatic testimony, with little or no training — conditions that unsettle their own sense of humanity. What is entailed, materially and affectively, in standing between the U.N. 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? Drawing on research in Nepal, Geneva, and among refugee interpreters from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, this analysis centers around two competing ethical positions that remain in tension and structure interpreters’ work in the field. Interpreters must become neutral conduits of voice who translate information faithfully in the first person, in a seemingly transparent fashion. At the same time, interpreters become ear-witnesses, who listen and bear an ethical responsibility to convey difficult testimonies in ways that play out in and through interpreters’ bodies. At its broadest level, this project explores historical and cultural connections between the invisibility of U.N. 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 U.N. missions.