On Making Knowledge Mobile

Literary Translation theory and Database composition


In this essay I attempt to exploit the theory on literary translation to review our approaches and overall capacities to 'making knowledge mobile'. The term of 'knowledge mobilisation' in this treatise refers to any transactions of intangible assets, as well as efforts to establish inventories of knowledge. This includes tasks as simple as the reading of a collection of journal articles or compiling a global database on endangered species. Both are attempts to convey complex information to an end user via an abstract vehicle (the database or journal articles, respectively).

These vehicles, like any tool in knowledge production entail biases.
This treatise suggests a first draft of a theory that universally describes the different step by step motions that take place in the compilation of knowledge mobilisation projects (i.e. databases, museums, knowledge repositories and the like).
Using theories of literary translation, I attempt to a) provide evidence for my claim that literary theory can find employment in this process and b) delineate a blueprint of how these different theories can be aligned to produce a comprehensive systems-theory based model. The aim of this to render the entangled, subtle and intransparent motions during database composition more tangible and thus easier to dissect and analyse.

In the same way that translators are burdened with the tasks of negotiation with 1) different stakeholders (actors) as well as 2) non-human disrupters in the translation process (source text, target text, language specificities, varying conceptions of truth and best practice etc; cf Lawian concepts of 'networks'), database curators (translators) face similar hurdles in their respective efforts. Whereas translation theory has developed awealth of scholarship and expertise in dealing with these issues, they are new territory for the discipline of STS.

This paper tries to bring both fields together by illustrating potential analogies between the two aforementioned fields of research, translation theory and database curation.

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