Translation as Material Practice: Case Studies in Production, Circulation, and Reception (ACLA 2020)

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Whitney DeVos/University of California, Santa Cruz
contact email: 

Call for Abstracts

ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) 2020

Conference Dates: March 19th-22nd 2020, Chicago

Abstract submission deadline: Sept 23, 2019 (9 a.m. EST)


"Translation as Material Practice: Case Studies in Production, Circulation, and Reception"


Organizers: Whitney DeVos (UC Santa Cruz) & Matthew Harrington (Temple University)

Weare currently seeking paper proposals for a proposed seminar, "Translation as Material Practice: Case Studies in Production, Circulation, and Reception", for the 2020 ACLA annual gathering to be held in Chicago, March 19-22. Please see the seminar description below:


Lawrence Venuti’s work has long been concerned with ending instrumentalism: a model of translation which essentializes form, meaning, or effects as unchanging qualities contained in source texts that can be lost in translation. His latest, Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic, crystallizes the “hermeneutic model” with which he proposes to replace this “instrumentalist” one, arguing we conceive of “translation as an interpretive act that inevitably varies source-text form, meaning, and effect according to intelligibilities in the receiving culture.” Newly illuminating are the case studies, ranging from scholarship to political movements, proverbs, and subtitles, which Venuti employs to demonstrate how such an approach provides a more comprehensive and insightful account of translation.

This seminar applies hermeneutic methodologies to read instances of translation and the effects they produce within receiving cultures. As opposed to considerations of how the assumption of this model impacts academic fields, we seek case studies that apply it to specific textual practices and their impacts on social life.

Vicente L. Rafael, for example, examines Noah Webster’s “Americanization” of English in his 1828 dictionary, revealing a double process of intralingual translation: Webster both transformed British English, perceived as old and tired, and suppressed regional and vernacular linguistic differences. Once this nationalization of English was secure, American English could be thought of as exceptional in the process of imperial expansion—as a universal, hegemonic lingua franca through which an assimilationist strategy of interlingual translation was practiced. Similarly, Susan Gillman’s reading of Alexander Von Humboldt’s Relation historique, part of a thirty-volume travel narrative recording observations of the Gulf-Caribbean basin, including its peoples and languages, provides evidence of the “translational link between language and worldview”: Humboldt at once inscribes native terminology with European notions of race and place and embeds moments when his worldview is brought into crisis.

How do such examinations of historical practices open up uses of the past for study of the present? What insights are generated when we analyze the creative aspects of translators negotiating social and cultural differences? How does translation drive the current geopolitical economy?

We welcome investigations of how translators transform the meaning of a text by applying, consciously or unconsciously, what Venuti calls interpretants: interpretive filters, such as genre (formal) or ideology (thematic), mediating source language and culture, and receiving language and culture. Papers might consider: film subtitling/dubbing; translation supporting or expanding a political movement; court or war interpreting; speeches or social media posts rendered in a foreign press; cookbooks or travel narratives; literary translations and their cultural work.


ACLA Annual Gathering: Logistics

Like most academic conferences, ACLA features presentations of 15-20 minutes. However, rather than the usual panel format, ACLA follows a system orgsanized around "seminars", in which each seminar meets for two hours a day for either 2 or 3 days of the conference.

Please note this is a proposed seminar, pending approval by the ACLA. All abstracts must be received by the ACLA submission system before 9 AM EST on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Submissions will then be reviewed and provisionally accepted or declined by Monday, September 30, at 9 a.m. EST. Following this, the ACLA Program Committee will review all seminar proposals during October and notify seminar organizers of acceptance or rejection during the first week of November 2019.

In order to submit your abstract to ACLA's online system, you'll need to create a login/account (i.e. register with ACLA), but you do not yet need to be a member of the organization. After the seminar proposal has been accepted, ACLA requires you to join the organization in order to present at the conference. 

As a participant, you agree to:

  • Be current in ACLA membership and registered for the Annual Meeting by 9 a.m. EST on Monday, January 20th, 2020.
  • Reply promptly to all requests for information from the seminar organizer and the ACLA Secretariat, including requests for final program copy.
  • Attend all sessions of the seminar.
  • Notify the Secretariat immediately if you are unable to attend the conference.
  • Communicate all special requests to seminar organizer and the Secretariat so as to ensure that they are considered.
  • Add to your list of "safe senders" in your email account, ensuring that email communications will be delivered.

Please feel free to contact Whitney ( or Matthew ( with queries, questions, or paper ideas.