Cris Shore


This article explores the politics of translation in the context of the European Union and, more specifically, the 2004 EU Constitutional Treaty. The argument is in two parts. The first examines the broader theoretical and conceptual debates in anthropology that have been waged around the idea of ‘cultural translation’. Drawing on the work of Asad (986), Pálsson (1993) and others, I assess the utility of metaphors of domination and appropriation for understanding the politics of translation. I ask, ‘does translation necessarily entail asymmetrical relations of power and betrayal, or is it more appropriately conceived as a reciprocal and hermeneutic process of ‘empathy’ and ‘conversation’? I also reflect on some of the problems with the idea of translation as cross-cultural understanding. Using these ideas as an analytical framework, Part Two turns to consider the EU Constitutional Treaty and the contrasting
ways that this text was interpreted by European leaders. I suggest that what was presented to the peoples of Europe for ratification was in fact a constitution disguised as a treaty, and one that contained a number of contradictory political agendas. I conclude with two points. First, that where legal texts are concerned, ‘translation’ is hard to separate from the politics of interpretation. Secondly, that anthropological approaches to translation require a far more expansive definition of what ‘cultural translation’ actually entails; one that recognizes the complex layers of meaning surrounding this elusive idea and what translation means as institutional practice.

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