TM2: Irem Ayan

Interpreters at the focal point: What can photographs reveal about their role in conflict scenarios?

Irem Ayan
State University of New York, Binghamton

Abstract: Despite an increasing awareness of the role of interpreters in conflict situations, more studies putting the experience of interpreters at the spotlight are needed. To this end, I believe that photographs from several historical periods and contexts of conflict are fruitful means for understanding not only the experience of interpreters behind their physical visibilities but also the immediacy of the social relationship shaped by power imbalances in which they participate. What could photographs of interpreters working in conflict scenarios tell us about their profile, status and identity? In what form does the interpreter appear? Does the way they are portrayed in press photos underpin or deconstruct existing norms which have regulated their role throughout history? Photographs provide a rich source of epistemic access to what they are of. What we see, understand and experience by analyzing the pictures could shed light on the role of interpreters in situ. What I mean by ‘experience’ here is what interpreter-viewers of the photos experience while depicting the social setting and subjects in the photos. Interpreters, as other bodies/subjects in a specific context are in constant communication with other bodies/subjects and energies existing around them. In light of these considerations, I suggest that investigating the figure of interpreters at work in conflict zones and scenarios by using tools from sociology and phenomenology allows us to capture and communicate their experience without reducing the description of their roles to one of social determinism where their role is merely inscribed by external forces, lacking agency. By means of all these focal and vantage points, this paper aims to shed more light on the representation and experience of interpreters working in conflict situations.

Keywords: interpreters in conflict situations, visual representation of interpreters, interpreters and society, status and identity of interpreters.

Bio: Irem Ayan is pursuing her Ph.D. Degree in Translation Studies as a Fulbright Scholar at SUNY Binghamton where she is also teaching French, Spanish and consecutive interpretation. Her Ph.D. research is focused on the body and/in translation and fictional interpreters. She has majored in French Language and Literature at Hacettepe University (Ankara, Turkey), mastered in Conference Interpretation at Institut libre Marie Haps (Brussels, Belgium). She is also working as a freelance interpreter for Turkish for the UN in New York.