Call for Papers

Call for Papers: Tangible translation: Migrants and refugees at the interface of translation and materiality

Guest Editors: Andrea Ciribuco and Anne O’Connor (National University of Ireland Galway)

2022 Special Issue of Translation and Interpreting Studies. The Journal of the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association

The coexistence of people in super-diverse spaces (Vertovec 2007) brings together not only different languages and cultures, but also objects: from food to clothing, from technology to books, from work tools to musical instruments. Wang (2016) notes that “the divide between people and things is perhaps the biggest ‘blind spot’ that prevents us from seeing the full picture and complexity of migration trajectories and pursuit”. Migrant objects, in fact, can take on meaning that goes well beyond their appearance and purpose: they have the power to link immediately to other parts of the world, becoming tangible proofs of the trajectories that bring people and goods around the globe. In this special issue, we intend to study the material dimension of migration, using the lens of translation to capture the role of objects in the relationship between migrants, refugees and the host community: as tools that make translation possible, as products of translation, or even as catalysts of translation.

In recent years, linguists have increasingly focused on the interaction between languages and the material contexts of interaction: studies on the ‘linguistic landscape’ have flourished (Landry and Bourhis 1997; Gorter 2013), and a growing area of research asserts the need to consider language, objects, and spaces together as a “semiotic assemblage” (Pennycook 2017; Zhu, Otsuji, and Pennycook 2017). In translation studies, the topic has received less attention, even though Littau has sparked a discussion with her 2016 paper in Translation Studies that called for greater attention to the material forms of communication and translation. The availability of specific media can influence translators, and have a concrete impact on the creation, circulation and reception of translations (Littau 2016; O’Connor 2019, 2020). The material dimensions of translation are a compelling issue for the field of translation studies as it seeks to understand not just the interaction between ‘carrier’ and translation practice, but also the interaction between humans and objects such as translation devices. The importance of translation devices for migrants is especially significant (Mandair 2019; Baynham and Lee 2019), and a growing number of studies underlines the importance of the smartphone as a machine translation device for asylum seekers (Vollmer 2018; Ciribuco 2020). For this publication, we ask scholars to engage with the study of translation tools in migratory contexts; but we also encourage them to expand their scope and think of all possible objects that constitute the tangible traces of translation:

- Tools for translation: from dictionaries to smartphones, what objects enable translation and help migrants or refugees negotiate the conditions of hospitality (see Inghilleri 2017)? How does the absence or unavailability of these tools hinder translation?
- Catalysts for translation: some objects (clothes, foods, and other artefacts) that were unmarked everyday objects in the migrants’ countries of origin can become catalysts for translation in the host community, due to features that make them unfamiliar in the new context. How are objects translated in the language and practices of the host country? Does that help them find purpose and legitimacy in the new context?
- Products of translation: this category includes not only translated books, magazines, and videos, but any object whose meaning has changed. In passing from one setting to another, the composition, purpose and functioning of an object may change, to adapt to new needs and possibly appeal to the host community. What is lost and what is gained in the process? Do objects retain their capability to mean the place where they come from?

The boundaries between these categories are obviously not clear-cut, which is why we ask all authors to reflect creatively on how their objects of choice fall within the categories. The goal is to blur the distinction between the human and the non-human, analyzing translation as a force impacting the concrete worlds that migrants and refugees inhabit. In doing so, we aim for methodological innovation, and will give precedence to works that are innovative and transformative in combining the theoretical framework of translation and interpreting studies with other disciplines such as: material culture, social semiotics, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, intercultural communication, linguistic anthropology, visual arts, biosemiotics.

Submission Guidelines

Authors interested in contributing to this special issue should submit an abstract (around 500 words) to both guest editors: Andrea Ciribuco ( and Anne O’Connor ( by December 1, 2020. Please include a brief biographical note about the authors and their university affiliation in a separate file. All abstracts and manuscripts should adhere to the Translation and Interpreting Studies style guide ( 

Authors of abstracts that are accepted for consideration will be invited to submit a full manuscript that is 6000–7500 words in length (exclusive of bibliography) by 1 March 2021. Every manuscript will be submitted to two rounds of double-blind peer review.
Publication is envisioned for early 2022.