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Venuti, Lawrence — Translation as a Social Practice: Or, the Violence of Translation

Venuti, Lawrence. “Translation as a Social Practice: Or, the Violence of Translation.” Translation Perspectives 9 (1996): 195-213.

Lawrence Venuti begins the article defining translation as an act of violence: “it is the forcible replacement of the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text with a text that will be intelligible to the target-language culture” which will therefore “assimilate into [the target-language culture’s] positions of intelligibility, its canons and taboos, its codes and ideologies” associated with the foreign language’s origin.  At the beginning, the aim of translation was to make the culture considered an “other” recognizable or familiar within the target culture, but as a result, he explains that translation serves as an “an imperialist appropriation of foreign cultures for domestic agendas.” As a result, the translation domesticates the foreign text rather than preserving its true meaning.

Venuti discusses the various kinds of power translation has. Translation has a lot of power in shaping the national identities of foreign cultures to the world; it has some power in alleviating racial or ethnic conflicts; and it also has power in the maintenance of “literary canons” by the target language that continues to facilitate its cultural dominance over the foreign language (196). Regardless of these powers, Venuti ultimately believes that the violence of translation is inherent in its processes, making such violence partially inevitable, and that this violence can emerge at any time during the production of a translated text, depending on the specific cultural or social movements that might be occurring.  Therefore, whether this potential is considered depends solely on the translator, who will always have “a choice concerning the degree and direction of the violence at work in his practice” (197).  Venuti references Schleirmacher, who describes the two choices which translators can make: “to leave the author in peace as much as possible and move the reader towards the author, or leave the author in peace and move the author towards [the translator].”

Venuti takes this idea, and separates these two notions into differing methods: domestication (the ethnocentric form of translation) and foreignization (which sends the reader abroad and points out the linguistic cultural differences of the foreign text).  By the turn of the 19th century, foreignization was the important staple of translators to promote linguistic and cultural difference, yet the “offside of foreignizing a text is an effort that makes the native target language country have an alien reading experience” (197). Furthermore, from the very beginning, English language translation has always pushed towards domestication. This is because they (those who fell under this method) do not think domestication is violent towards the foreign text or its country. In fact, the majority believed (and still believe) that domestication was the better way to get the real version of a reading in order to make the most impact on the target language and its culture (200).  Therefore, it was the “responsibility of the translator to understand and adequately translate the foreign text […] to such an extent that they can understand how the original receptors must have understood the original text” (204).  Venuti argues that foreignization does not mean doing away with a target language’s political agenda, for “such an advocacy is itself an agenda” (205). Instead, foreignization is meant to allow translators to “develop a theory and practice of translation that resists dominant target-language cultural values” which would ultimately “differentiate the cultural and linguistic differences of the foreign language” (205).

Ultimately, Venuti wants to argue that translation is a “locus of difference,” and that a translator’s job is not to preserve the foreignness of a text, but to gather resistance against ethnocentrism, racism, cultural narcissism, and imperialism while understanding the power of translation in the geopolitical world (211).

According to Venuti, translation is inevitably violent. This is an extremely provocative idea. Taking a foreign text and rearranging its words to fit into a different paradigm will never truly understand the meaning behind these words due to the differing cultural context in which they are created. Reworking a text for a new paradigm is definitely a violent action, for it seems to disregard the cultural differences of a text in order to make it more understandable (somewhat) in a place that technically would otherwise not understand it.

But in such cases, the “translation” would mean nothing; it would be a pseudo-translation, and the power within this translation is frightening. A translator could choose to translate the text in a way that could continue to support the perspective of the target language’s population towards that foreign language’s culture, which could be good or bad, depending on the opinion of the translator. The foreign language loses any chance of changing perspectives, and in return, will continue to hold the same image within that target language. Such a scenario fits well with Galtung’s definition of violence being anything that prevents a person from reaching his or her full human potential, because it allows no possibility for the foreign language to be considered important and imperative to human life in the target culture.

Translation does seem to create difference, which could be considered both good and bad, but it’s the choice of the translator that ultimately decides how violent those differences can be. The two methods that translators use also seem violent; domesticating or foreignizing a text seem to forget the importance of individualization and demoralizes personal interpretation, a concept we use on a daily basis. Are there other ways a translator can approach a reading that does not seem to create a hierarchy of power, but instead simply read and create understanding? Maybe simply learning the other language is a better option? This article makes me question whether translation could be considered a structural form of violence. This is something I would like to look into further, to determine to what degree translation is inevitably a form of institutionalized, structural violence.  Must translation be inevitably violent?

–Madiera Dennison



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Ballif, Michelle. — Re/Dressing Histories; Or, On Re/Covering Figures Who Have Been Laid Bare By Our Gaze

Ballif, Michelle. “Re/Dressing Histories; Or, On Re/Covering Figures Who Have Been Laid Bare By Our Gaze.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 22.1 (1992): 91-98.

In this essay, Ballif argues that attempts to rewrite women into histories of rhetoric reinforces the patriarchal, logocentric ideologies that silenced them in the first place (91-92). She argues the “traditional narrative paradigms – namely the Aristotelian Narrative of Linearity and the Freudian Narrative of Triangularity – are used to construct histories which are essentially patronymic and phallogocentric” (Ballif 92). For example, Aristotle requires unified, logical, and ordered narratives with hierarchies (Ballif 92-93). It is easy to see how such a system selects (a few great males) and omits (females in general) in a way that forces a narrative onto the many discontinuous events of history in a way mirroring Hayden White’s process of emplotment. In addition, this process insinuates hypotaxis (Baliff 93) or hierarchies by privileging some information while ignoring other information (otherwise the latter would be considered noteworthy). Freud’s psychoanalysis follows a similar need for unity and wholeness, or triangular shape (Ballif 94).

The metonymy required to construct such logical wholes enables the wholesale exclusion of women, even as some are included in history. When women are permitted into the canon, it is only by forcing them to conform to the violence of what Spivak calls the “tyranny of the proper” by which women are only considered valuable if they conform to the patriarchy (Baliff 92).

She points out the pervasiveness of these ‘good’ stories which are linear, progressive, and involve the ‘curing’ of an ailing protagonist (Ballif 94). This quest for a “unified self” follows the tradition of liberal humanism (Ballif 94-95). She argues that these narrative traditions are not natural but rather support patriarchal, hierarchical ideologies (Ballif 95). Therefore, attempting to write women into these histories is essentially unproductive because it does not challenge this “phallogocentric economy” that oppresses them (Ballif 95).

Her solution to this problem seems to be histories that tell of difference and follows Foucault’s example: they need to be told “genealogically […] local discontinuous, and illegitimate knowledges” in his words (Ballif 95). She argues that these “little narratives constructed moment by kairotic moment” could “unthank the Aristotelian and Freudian Grand Narratives of history” (Ballif 96). Rather than adding women to these monolithic histories, which would force them to conform to the patriarchy, we should revise the entire narrative structure (Ballif 96). She says it well when she claims, “Adding women to history is not synonymous with adding women’s history” (Ballif 96). Rather than revisionary histories or embarking on recovery efforts, we need “alternative paradigms, […] new idioms, by paralogical and paratactical and, thus, illegitimate discourses” (Ballif 96). Ballif argues that the subject can’t be “coherent, unified, and whole” without outright arguing against the individual as Beisecker does (96).

This essay helps us rethink how histories are constructed, acknowledging the violence required to create monolithic, unified accounts of the past. Our current paradigms require the exclusion and subsequent silencing of marginalized groups. This erasure of particular histories from the public memory is not always innocent, but rather privileges particular members of society. Her work helps us reconsider such acts of exclusion as a form of insidious, epistemic violence. Ballif’s revelation requires us to reconsider everything from how history textbooks are written, to what types of stories make the news.

In addition, her “tyranny of the proper” resists neoliberal beliefs that all humans, regardless of their socioeconomic conditions, can overcome systems of oppression if they simply work hard enough. Instead, it acknowledges that power structures often sponsor particular marginalized individuals if their inclusion in history conforms to cultural narratives that ultimately support the status quo. For example, celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. foster a sense of racial progressiveness in the U.S., even as many systems of oppression remain in place.

– Ashley Hughes

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Giroux, Henry A. — Neoliberalism’s War Against Teachers in Dark Times

Giroux, Henry A. “Neoliberalism’s War Against Teachers in Dark Times.” Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies. 13.6 (2013): 458-468. Web.

In this article, Giroux explores the way in which the public teaching career is disparaged within a neoliberal society, claiming that “the current crisis in education cannot be separated from the rise and pernicious influence of neoliberal capitalist and market-driven power relations, both of which work in the interest of disempowering teachers, dismantling teacher unions, and privatizing public schools” (461). He asserts that this disparagement is actually violent, dubbing it a “war against teachers.” He describes his article as “one small contribution” toward the effort to “rethink not merely the relationship between education and democracy but also the very nature of teaching, the role of teachers as engaged citizens and public intellectuals” (459). Giroux begins with an investigation of the “media’s brief celebration of teachers as defenders of youth” after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He maintains that “[i]t is indeed ironic, in the unfolding nightmare in Newtown, that only in the midst of such shocking tragedy are teachers celebrated in ways that justly acknowledge—albeit briefly and inadequately—the vital role they play every day in both protecting and educating our children” (458). He uses this example to lead into his major claim that teachers have actually “been under vicious and sustained attack” since the 1980s via educational reform.

Giroux spends the rest of the article delving into what he calls neoliberalism’s war against teachers. He draws comparisons between the education and the military, saying that the “increasing militarization of reason and growing expansion of forms of militarized discipline” are evident within pedagogy which “uses education to win consent, produce consumer-based notions of agency, and militarize reason in the service of war, profits, power, and violence” (459). Underlying his educational “war” imagery is his assertion that “America is obsessed with violence and death” and thus “celebrate[s] militarism, hypermasculinity, extreme competition, and a survival of the fittest ethic, while exhibiting disdain for any form of shared bonds, dependency, and compassion for others” (466). Because a discourse of individualism and competition prevails, public education is conceptualized as a “private right” as opposed to a “public good” (460). Furthermore, many public institutions—such as education—are denigrated as antithetical to a pervasive individualistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps discourse, and public employees—such as teachers—are depicted as the “the new class of government dependent moochers” (459).

He claims that neoliberalism’s “threat [to teachers and students] comes in the form of a series of educational reforms that display little confidence in the ability of public school teachers to provide intellectual and moral leadership for our youth” (460). As a result of these reforms, “reason is gutted of its critical potential and reduced to a deadening pedagogy of memorization, teaching to the test, and classroom practices that celebrate mindless repetition and conformity” (459). Thus, teachers are reduced to “high-level technicians carrying out the dictates and objectives decided by experts far removed from the everyday realities of classroom life”; he calls this “the deskilling and commodification of teacher work” (461). He also cites accountability as a “pedagogy of repression” to which students and teachers have been subjected. Teachers, Giroux’s focus in the article, are forced to repress their creativity and intellect while functioning under these reforms and pedagogies. Lastly, he argues that a way to “restructure the nature of teacher work is to view teachers as public intellectuals,” which will encourage lawmakers to “rethink and reform the traditions and conditions that have prevented teachers from assuming their full potential as active, reflective scholars and practitioners” (462). He asserts that a teacher who is a public intellectual is able to “give students an active voice in their learning experiences” as well as “give students the opportunity to become critical and engaged citizens” (464). He ends his article with the question: “How does the violence against teachers and students destroy the connective tissue that makes the shared bonds of trust, compassion, and justice possible not only in our schools but also in a democracy?” (466).

Giroux’s description of the systemic violence enacted on students and teachers through educational reforms is elucidating for me. I am particularly interested in the creation of this image of teacher as “welfare queen” and “deskilled technician.”  He describes the rhetoric of neoliberalism in violent, militaristic terms and deems it hypermasculine.  On the contrary, he describes the teaching profession as altruistic and giving of “sanctuary to [students’] dreams and aspirations for a future of hope dignity, and justice” but does not specifically gender it (459). This divide makes me consider public institutions that are deemed acceptable and necessary, such as the military which is characterized by violence and also dominated by men. Giroux’s description of neoliberalism versus teaching is also significant considering that teaching has been a historically feminized profession and as such has been historically denigrated. Throughout the nineteenth century, women were considered to be perfect for teaching as they exhibited characteristics deemed necessary for the profession, such being altruistic, caring, and nurturing.  Though he does not extensively delve into gender in his article, I think that would be appropriate to explore. Questions I have after this reading include the following: What specific educational reforms pose the threat Giroux describes and how do they do this? What cultural discourses (other than educational and political) contribute to this violence against public teachers and students? How does the rhetoric of accountability and other pedagogy enact violence on teachers and students? How does this violence trickle down into day-to-day classroom instruction? And in what ways are teachers attempting to combat this?  

–Katie Garahan

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Cohen, Raymond — Language and Conflict Resolution: The Limits of English

Cohen, Raymond.  “Language and Conflict Resolution: The Limits of English.”  International Studies Review 3.1 (2001): 25-51. Web.

This essay analyzes the effects of differing linguistic paradigms on conflict resolution between people of different cultures. Central to Raymond Cohen’s essay is the idea that, “As a complex, interconnected chain of nonverbal and verbal messages and moves, conciliation can advance only when there is synchronized and consecutive understanding at every stage of the process” (27). Because people who grow up speaking different languages invariably learn to see the world in different ways, linguistic and cultural obstacles arise which obscure understanding and inhibit productive dialogue. “A comparative study of conciliation vocabularies reveals that concepts that seem self-evident and straightforward to the native English speaker may weigh significantly differently in other languages or not exist at all” (26). Cohen says, for example, “To negotiate peace, rivals must agree on what it is to ‘negotiate’ and what ‘peace’ is” (27). He notes, “When paradigms of conflict resolution clash, conceptual and technical contradictions have to be addressed if they are to be overcome” (26).

Indeed, it would seem that the first step in successful mediation is the acknowledgement that technical lingual variations will inevitably serve to obstruct progressive discourse. Cohen proceeds to discuss in detail the roots of differing linguistic paradigms. “Since English is now widely used as a global lingua franca, the preferred language of international organizations, science, and the Internet, many English speakers tend to assume that it is free of idiosyncrasy and cultural bias […] When the global language is also the tongue of a culturally omnipresent, ideologically evangelical power, that view gains added credence” (31). Because of the dominance of English in international discourse, the dominant themes inherent to those languages will come to determine the ways in which mediation is approached. According to Cohen, “English displays four dominant (albeit overlapping) themes and metaphors – industrial relations, engineering, Christian theology, and sports and games” (31). These themes promote certain ways of approaching conflict resolution that are completely nonexistent in other languages, like Arabic, in which the dominant themes are “honor” and Islamic terminology. For example, because of rapid industrial development in the western English-speaking world, much of the terminology for mediating conflict stems from the industry-worker relationship, which has not superimposed itself over other lingual paradigms in nearly the same way. According to Cohen, there has been positive development in the struggle for solution-oriented problem solving. He says, “Ethics aside, there is a growing acceptance that disagreements are rarely handled effectively by a preoccupation with relative gain at others’ expense, mindless intransigence, or violence.” (28)

Certainly there is a natural reluctance to accept doctrines that conflict with our worldview. Our egos make it difficult to acknowledge and address cultural differences that might challenge our familiar paradigms. Once we acknowledge that language is the vessel through which we express our consciousness, it would seem obvious that differing languages yield differing worldviews. It is worrisome to realize that there is no apparent effort among diplomats, the foremost mediaries between our country and others, to overcome linguistic and cultural obstacles in the struggle for conflict resolution.

Indeed, more productive means of discourse would endorse the idea that those we are in conflict with are not so different than ourselves; for western nations, which have relied violence and exploitation, this is a dangerous thing. This solution-based approach to conflict poses a threat to both mainstream media (i.e. Fox News) and western political systems, which, generally, strive to focus on cultural differences and exacerbate bias and stereotypes. If we are going to fight that tradition and promote less violent and exploitative discourse, an approach that seeks to help us transcend cultural and linguistic barriers seems like the first logical step.

–Zach VeShancey

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Stuckey, Elspeth J. — The Violence of Literacy

Stuckey, Elspeth J. The Violence of Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/ Cook, 1991. Print.

In this annotation I will focus on chapter one, “Literacy and Social Class,” of Stuckey’s book. The thesis of the chapter can be summarized by the following: “[s]hould English teachers wish to change English teaching, they will have to understand the interrelationships of English teaching to American work” (12). She begins this chapter by asserting that the lauded American notion of having as a classless society is fallacious. She contends that America’s propensity to deny class is rooted in American individualism in which “citizens get what they achieve” (3). Citing sociologist Frank Parkin, Stuckey argues that this notion of individualism actually promotes “rifts in economic opportunity” because in reality “citizens make their lives according to an economy; they live in commerce, not in isolation. Despite the sociomythology to the contrary, any life demands a social network, not rugged individualism.”  Furthermore, in order “[t]o understand the American class system [one must…] understand American work” as “occupation is the salient marker of class” (11).

Most importantly, Stuckey argues that “today, the link between decisions about capital and decisions about social, economic intercourse is literacy. Literacy is the language of profit; in America, profit begs text” (19). Thus, literacy is a harbinger of both class and occupation. She contends that in the information revolution of the late 20th century information equates to literacy. As information replaces industrialization, those who have access to and often control of information (i.e. literacy) have control of capital. Therefore, knowledge—literacy—is a form of capital; it is a potentially oppressive tool to be owned by a dominant group. Stuckey further explains:

This is to say that literacy is a function of culture, social experience, and sanction. Literacy education begins in the ideas of the socially and economically dominant class and it takes the forms of socially acceptable subjects, stylistically permissible forms, ranges of difference or deviance, baselines of gratification. Becoming literate signifies in large part the ability to conform or, at least, to appear conformist. The teaching of literacy, in turn, is a regulation of access. (19)

In this way, “[i]t is possible that a system of ownership built on the ownership of literacy is more violent than past systems of indenture, slavery, industrialism, and the exploitation of immigrant or migrant labor” (18).

This chapter in Stuckey’s book presents a salient—perhaps even shocking—depiction of literacy. The goal of her book, as stated in the introduction, is to demolish the American myth of literacy as the great equalizer, the equitable ticket to economic and social opportunity. She faces the daunting task of debunking powerful notions ingrained in the American cultural narrative: equal opportunity through literacy, classless society, and individualism.  She begins that demolition by explaining how literacy is inextricably bound to class and work. Work—among other markers—determines class, and class determines a person’s access to literacy. The intended audience of her book is English teachers who she, unfortunately at times, potentially alienates with her critical tone. From the very beginning of the book, she warns English teachers about being unintentional gatekeepers through literacy instruction. Her intention in this chapter is to reveal the reason for this unintentional gatekeeping.   

The main takeaway from this chapter for me is the notion that literacy is built as an unbiased, impartial, classless, raceless, genderless norm in the American cultural narrative. However, literacy standards and education are impacted with dominant ideology pertaining to class, race, and gender. Thus, I plan to explore the ways the creators of the Common Core (CC) tout their literacy standards as the former. Then I will approach my data set (CC English 9-10 standards and CC state test) with the following question in mind: Who is allowed to be literate and who is denied?

-Katie Garahan


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Donnelly, Tom — Popular Constitutionalism, Civic Education, and the Stories We Tell Our Children.

Donnelly, Tom. “Popular Constitutionalism, Civic Education, and the Stories We Tell Our Children.” Yale Law Journal 118 (2009): 948-1001.

Donnelly dreads how we teach students Judicial Supremacy with resistance to the Court linked to “the actions of self-interested politicians, at best, and historical villains, at worst.” Similarly, Donnelly notes that our schools’ “textbooks are especially critical of blunt institutional checks on the Court (like judicial impeachment and ‘court-packing), but are sometimes receptive to subtler, longer-term checks (like social mobilization and judicial nominations)” (948). He describes constitutional storytelling as an imaginative process (951). Donnelly stresses that “It is through these stories that we come to understand the promises guaranteed by our Constitution as commitments realized over time—commitments to the proper scope of religious freedom, property rights, free expression, and equal protection, among others” (952). “Although important studies have been conducted on the portrayal of race and gender in our school curricula, little attention has been paid to the broader constitutional stories we tell our schoolchildren—stories that shape their early conception of the proper role of government in their lives and the relative balance of power between the constitutive branches.” Donnelly poses the question: “Do these stories frame judicial review as part of our dynamic system of checks and balances, or do they advocate outright acquiescence by Congress, the President, and the People in the face of an assertive Court?” (953). Donnelly highlights that “Normatively, critics of the Court argue that the common sense of the American people is being consistently overturned by a handful of insulated, elite lawyers in robes, and that the American people (either consciously or unconsciously) have acquiesced to this practice. Historically, critics further argue that this was not always the case.” Donnelly affirms that “throughout American history the democratically elected branches and the People have often challenged the Court’s authority and asserted their right to interpret the Constitution” (957). Our “key constitutional dialogues are being threatened by the rise of an increasingly aggressive Court, especially in the context of Congress’s enforcement power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment” and this is a concern of Donnelly’s and popular constitutionalists in general (960). A sort of anonymous and questionably democratic Court has sustained public support even in unpopular decisions due to a process described by Donnelly as support being generated and regenerated over time (961-962). Donnelly writes “Unlike other institutions, which are often the topic of public (and private) conversations, the only sustained exposure many citizens get to information about the Court and its role in our constitutional system is in our schools, through civic education” (963).

Donnelly reminds us that “From the earliest years of American public education, one of its key goals has been to prepare young Americans for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. Our history and government courses have played an outsized role in working to achieve that goal” (964-965). Donnelly contends that the goal of civics classes is “connecting young Americans to our Constitution, telling them our stories, teaching them about our institutions, and preparing them for our political system.” Donnelly notes that “political scientists concluded in the 1960s and 1970s that other factors outstripped the importance of civic education in shaping Americans’ views about their government. What followed was a dormant period of scholarship on civic education and political socialization—a period that has only recently come to an end.” Political scientists could not differentiate impacts of civic education from education more generally or from the influence of other institutions altogether, which Donnelly notes as a challenge for his research (966). Donnelly references evidence that political stances shaped during teenage years remain during adulthood (967). Donnelly elaborates by asserting that the “evidence suggests that schooling importantly shapes foundational civic knowledge—knowledge about the structure of our government, the animating values of our political system, and the canonical stories of our political tradition” (968). “Because the People rarely focus on the Court, they are often left with the perceptions that were formed during (perhaps) the only time in their lives when they gave much sustained though to the Court—during their school years…people may treat judicial supremacy as a fact and not an opinion—a key structural element of our constitutional system and not a contestable view about judicial power,” according to Donnelly. In order for new information to change our beliefs, it has to be received, understood, clearly relevant to evaluating policies, discrepant with past beliefs, and credible (969). Since information about the Court is rarely actually received by the American public, Donnelly writes that its activities rarely alter public perception. Donnelly argues that even if the Court writes a controversial opinion and it catches media attention, the outrage does not last long which allows the Court to sustain strong support (970). Commerce plays a role in textbook content but Donnelly also mentions: “textbook content is shaped by local and state governments through their respective textbook adoption processes. Roughly half the states adopt textbooks at the state level, while the balance of the states leave those decisions to local school districts” (973). Donnelly continues: “Fewer than half of high school history teachers majored or minored in history. The result is that these poorly trained instructors must lean heavily on the textbook—especially as novices” (974). Education in “contemporary constitutional culture…will shape the citizens of tomorrow—their trust in government, their understanding of its institutions, and their self-conception as citizens. If constructed properly, Donnelly contends that the official narratives taught in public schools could capture the constitutional imagination of America’s schoolchildren and entrench the important process of citizen formation (975).

Donnelly states that “The three race cases—Dred Scott, Plessy, and Brown—provide a redemptive narrative arc, as the Court moves from reinforcing slavery and racism in American society to pioneering equal rights for African Americans” (978). He continues: “This story often begins with an extensive discussion of Dred Scott, portraying the Court as complicit in the sin of slavery and focusing on the role the Court played in precipitating the outbreak of the Civil War” (979). Donnelly maintains “Dred Scott did not emerge as a clear-cut case of constitutional evil until more critical accounts arose in the 1960s and the 1970s, when Abraham Lincoln emerged as an anti-Dred Scott crusader and the decision was denounced as ‘sensational.’ Today, Dred Scott is portrayed as the Court’s original sin” (980). “Again, Plessy only emerges as a constitutional sin over time. In the 1940s and 1950s, Plessy was not even mentioned in the textbooks… the 1960s, textbooks began to mention Plessy, but excused this act of constitutional evil.” Donnelly continues “Today, Plessy is the Court’s second great sin, and the specific sin that is redeemed by the Warren Court in Brown.” On Brown, Donnelly writes “the case becomes the canonical example of the Court overcoming the odds to triumph over evil” (981). “Throughout our contemporary textbooks, a moderate form of judicial supremacy often masquerades as judicial review. Some textbooks simply conflate judicial supremacy and judicial review.” There are, according to Donnelly, “even textbooks that note the devices at Congress’s disposal to challenge the Court present them as outside the mainstream of typical constitutional actions” (982).

Donnelly asserts that “Today’s textbooks consistently describe the Court as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Although this finding tracks with the expectations of popular constitutionalists like Larry Kramer, it may also be regarded as stating the obvious, that the Court often speaks last in many (perhaps most) constitutional disputes.” Donnelly cites Justice Jackson: “’We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final’” (984). Donnelly suggests“There is scant mention of President Jefferson’s more aggressive challenges to the Court, though one contemporary textbook mentions the impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase. Only two contemporary textbooks consider President Lincoln’s defiance of Chief Justice Taney during the Civil War. No contemporary textbook focuses on congressional challenges to the Court, pre- or post-Civil War, or on Theodore Roosevelt’s support for judicial recalls” (985-986). On Worcester v. Georgia, Donnelly asserts that “this episode depicts a powerful President staring down a powerless Court for an evil purpose. Although one contemporary textbook directly questions the legitimacy of President Jackson’s action from a constitutional perspective, most textbooks use this episode to stress the limits of the Court’s enforcement power. They convey the message that the Court would do the right thing, but it was powerless to do so. This constitutional narrative has not changed much since the 1950s, except insofar as accounts become more sympathetic to the displaced Native Americans in the 1960s and, especially, the 1970s. Again, the Court emerges as a heroic, if limited, institution” (988-989). Donnelly continues: “In the end, Chief Justice Marshall emerges as a defender of human rights, and the popular constitutionalist is allied with a power-hungry scoundrel and violent mob defiantly silencing the press and sending thousands of Native Americans to their deaths” (989).

With regard to President Jackson’s veto of the Second Bank of the United States, Donnelly suggests that a “strong constitutional account of Jackson’s veto is either altogether lost or (at least) underemphasized in our contemporary textbooks.” But out of the accounts that exist, Donnelly contends that “Some accounts do focus on Jackson’s constitutional claims, but the dominant theme is that he was attacking Eastern elites and defending ordinary citizens. Importantly, this tendency to focus on Jackson’s personal reasons for opposing the bank has been evident in every wave of textbooks analyzed for this study, from accounts of Jackson as ‘the professed foe of monopoly and privilege’ in the 1940s to later accounts focused on ‘Jackson’s monopoly and privilege’” (990). Frighteningly for Donnelly, “it is striking that these well-developed constitutional rationales only emerge in one widely used textbook in the 1960s and 1970s. This portrait is weakened in the 1980s edition of the textbook and disappears in all contemporary accounts.” With regard to FDR’s Court Packing, Donnelly suggests that “Roosevelt mostly emerges from this episode as an overly political President, attempting to subvert the independence of the Court.” Additionally, Donnelly writes that “several contemporary textbooks draw parallels between President Roosevelt’s actions and early twentieth century totalitarianism. The most striking feature of these accounts is the degree to which they dwell on the law/politics distinction and laud judicial independence (and supremacy) in the face of a resounding electoral mandate and a powerful President.” Donnelly notes that “early accounts also included criticisms of Roosevelt, but overall, they offered a more nuanced narrative of this constitutional showdown.” The “contemporary accounts delegitimize efforts by the executive and Congress to check the Court through the manipulation of the Court’s size—a power that the popularly elected branches had employed in the past and a potentially potent method of challenging a Court aligned against overwhelming public opinion,” according to Donnelly (993). “Contemporary high school textbooks are filled with passages that reinforce at least a moderate form of judicial supremacy through their (implicitly) critical accounts of powerful Presidents challenging either menacing, virtuous, or recalcitrant Courts. In the context of blunt institutional checks on the Court, popular constitutionalism is tied either to illegitimate acts by otherwise legitimate leaders (like Presidents Jefferson and Roosevelt) or immoral acts by historical villains (like President Jackson in Worcester)” (993-994).

With respect to Lincoln-Douglas debates in textbooks, Donnelly writes “they tend to discuss them in a manner that underemphasizes Lincoln’s constitutional attacks on Dred Scott and focus instead on the broader theme of slavery” (994). The effect of the focus never being on Lincoln in these texts, according to Donnelly, “significantly underemphasizes key constitutional exchanges between Lincoln and Douglas and ignores a key opportunity to teach students about legitimate constitutional interpretation outside of the Court through the actions of one of America’s acknowledged heroes—Abraham Lincoln” (995). Moreover, Donnelly suggests that “the judicial nomination process itself emerges as an essential focal point of social mobilization, with judicial nominations presented as key opportunities to bring about non-Article V constitutional change without resorting to blunt institutional checks. The portrayal of President Reagan appears to legitimate the judicial nomination process as a proper forum for shaping judicial outcomes and advancing non-Article V constitutional change.” Surprisingly for Donnelly, “our contemporary textbooks remain ambivalent about subtle checks on the Court through norm contestation” (997).

Donnelly concludes “The stories we tell our schoolchildren matter. They help set the terms of our constitutional culture—defining the proper scope of action for each constitutional actor, the underlying trust citizens place in each institution of government, and the acceptable modes of constitutional argumentation and adjudication. Today our public schools present a Court that is authoritative, if not omnipotent—mostly just, if not perpetually perfect. These stories help reinforce a constitutional culture that is largely deferential to the Court, limiting references to popular resistance to the Court and often linking such popular resistance to the Court and often linking such popular resistance to the actions of self-interested politicians, at best, and historical villains, at worst. Our textbooks are especially critical of blunt institutional checks on the Court (like judicial impeachment and ‘court-packing’), but are sometimes receptive to subtler, longer-term checks (like social mobilization and judicial nominations)” (999).

The biggest question I take away from Donnelly is this: why do we like including stories of subtle change with regard to the Court in our students’ textbooks? It seems like we have to explain our Constitutional history in this incremental way in order to dissuade any action that is “too sudden” because of some sort of fear that the Constitution could not withstand it. Favoring subtle change over blunt institutional challenges to the court preserves the Court’s insulated, perfect, stable function. There is this imaginative aspect of Constitutional storytelling which teaches us all the proper scope of our rights and where we stand in relation to our government. Being subjective about these stories is necessary; however, being subjective allows opportunity to abuse the responsibility of teaching individuals their rights. Telling these stories incorrectly or in a way which exalts the Court is a type of violence in Galtung’s sense of the term, “the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, between what could have been and what is” (168). Students who are taught that the bottom line is that the Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution are cut off from participating in government in the way that our Founders expected them to and in a way that is considered engaged citizenship. These intentionally asymmetrical stories, this miseducation in civics classes, are the cause of the difference between what could have been and what is.

Donnelly notes that scholarship has just recently reopened on civics curricula and that we are not teaching a nuanced dynamic of judicial review. I was not even aware that I had not received a nuanced version until I was well into my undergraduate coursework in Political Science, which was when I did get a more comprehensive version for the first time. It does not seem as bold as a conspiracy to claim that the real effects of civics classes have created disincentives to actively participate as citizens to our fullest capacity. Civics classes that I took in middle school and high school described civic duties but never outlined politically creative ways that Constitutional change takes place outside of Article V procedures. My civics classes kept government shrouded in a certain amount of mystery by keeping it distant and flat. Knowing how much power the People actually have should not have been something that I was first introduced to at the university level, especially since university students outside of political science departments will still not be introduced to this truth. An attitude of judicial supremacy is taught in such a way that it seems factual, which sticks with students for their entire lives, when in reality judicial supremacy is merely an opinion. Textbooks which promote opinions as facts are violent to students—many of whom will not consider civic issues, especially with respect to the Court, once they graduate. So many conditions must be met to change our beliefs so the initial impression of the Supreme Court in civics classes is drastically important since the conditions for this change are minimally probable.

Is it moral that commerce has such an influence on the textbooks that will shape our students’ self-conception as citizens? I certainly do not think that business interests should be valued above our citizens’ sense of self. Is it violent to have such a reliance on textbooks since most civics teachers are not familiar enough with the material not to rely on them? Why is the Supreme Court portrayed as the ultimate moral institution of our government? We have so much trust in an institution that we do not know much about. Being so separated from the Court and being told centuries-worth of stories about the Court standing as a moral-safeguard and protector have gotten into our collective conscience. Since the accounts have changed over time from more nuanced to including a heavy focus on judicial supremacy, it is not like the textbook companies do not know about popular constitutionalism. The material that was once in textbooks has been removed over the years. Many of the textbooks implicitly delegitimize the legally-granted pathways for Congress to challenge the Court. Is the Court final or infallible? When a President is opposed to the Court, textbooks scrutinize his personal motives since he is a politician and the Court is politically insulated (in theory).

What is the danger in teaching our students the more comprehensive stories of the Constitution, beyond the strict legal understanding? Lawyers and the legal elite would be held more accountable and might not be so elite anymore. Law would be more accessible and there would be much work to be done. We might have to buy more textbooks or teach our teachers better. Maybe we would have to pay our teachers more. Do we fear a generation that is empowered enough to participate? I certainly hope not. Despite the faults of our civic education, citizen participation is fundamental in legitimizing our government. Do we fear political creativity and extralegal pathways to create change in our law? Why are we editing out the important dynamics? Maybe we have lost sight of our goal. The goal of civics classes is to embolden our students and call them to participate but we seem to be doing the exact opposite by painting the picture of a perfect Court which makes all of the final calls. FDR’s court-packing plan is criticized as overly political and even totalitarian. Blunt checks on the Court like this one are always portrayed as either illegitimate or immoral. Even our indisputable American hero, Abraham Lincoln, participated in challenging the Court during the Lincoln-Douglas debates but this is washed-over in our textbooks. Perfect chances like this one to show that everyone does not have to be and is not supposed to be deferential to the Court are passed up or have been erased and it is hurting the quality of our citizens.

–Katie Stegmuller


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Phillips, Joshua Daniel — Engaging Men and Boys in Conversations About Gender Violence: Voice Male Magazine Using Vernacular Rhetoric as Social Resistance

Phillips, Joshua Daniel. “Engaging Men and Boys in Conversations About Gender Violence: Voice Male Magazine Using Vernacular Rhetoric as Social Resistance.” Journal of Men’s Studies 20.3 (2012): 259-273. Web.

Voice Male magazine publishes content that calls for an end to gender violence, “provid[ing] men with a model for working against gender oppression from within a privileged body” (Phillips 260). Phillips’ aim is to study how Voice Male uses “vernacular rhetoric as social resistance and challenges dominant discourses.” He begins his analysis with an overview of gender violence, defining it as “child abuse, child sexual abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, sexual intrusion, rape, murder and/or domestic violence” (260). Phillips identifies the cultures of patriarchy and the myths that sponsor such violence. In particular, he stresses that “myths about gender violence trivialize men’s violence against women and suggest that women: lie about being harmed; ask for it/deserve to be abused; enjoy being victimized; exaggerate their injuries; could escape if they wanted to.” These myths also suggest “that only certain types of women (e.g. poor women, women of color) are abused” (Phillips 261).

Phillips argues that Voice Male “invites men to discover the ways they may have internalized problematic gender norms through gendered socialization without attacking the male gender as inherently oppressive.” He draws from Judith Butler to demonstrate how gender hierarchies are performative rather than biological (261). In addition, Phillips examines how popular culture and education perpetuate gender violence. For example, he notes that many institutions provide an educational experience that “is customarily limited to teaching young women how to protect themselves and fails to address how young men might change their behavior,” which “places the burden of gender violence solely on women and provides no framework for holding men accountable” (262). According to Phillips, Voice Male helps subvert these notions by encouraging men to participate in ending sexism, challenging dominant constructions of masculinity, and encouraging the reconsideration of gendered interactions through open dialogue (266). Ultimately, he notes, this magazine encourages more than simply increased awareness of gender violence; it calls for action against this malady (267). Phillips concludes that Voice Male uses popular culture and education to its advantage to “[hold] men accountable by challenging the ways men think and respond to gender violence” (270).

Phillips’ definition of gender violence offers some entry points for understanding images and language as forms of violence. For example, his classification of sexual intrusion as gender violence enables us to reconceptualize the leaking of nude photographs or videotapes of sexual acts (several female celebrities come to mind) as forms of violence. In like manner, his definition enables us to view forms of sexual harassment such as catcalling as an enactment of gender violence. His focus on Voice Male’s activist stance also raises questions about the violence of inactivity: by failing to intervene in the perpetration of gender violence, is one complicit in that violence?

Ashley Hughes


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Butler, Judith — Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy

Butler, Judith. “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy.” Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. 17-40.  Print.

Butler writes, “I would like to start, and to end, with the question of the human, of who counts as human, and the related question of whose lives count as lives, and with a question that has preoccupied many of us for years: what makes for a grievable life?” (17-18). In elaborating on grief, she says, “Many people think grief is privatizing, […] but I think it exposes the constitutive sociality of the self, a basis for thinking a political community of a complex order” (19). Grief, she writes, “contains within it the possibility of apprehending the fundamental sociality of embodied life, the ways in which we are from the start, and by virtue of being a bodily being, already given over, beyond ourselves, implicated in lives that are not our own.” She suggests that grief as our bodily implication in others’ lives can be used in political spaces to enact physical nonviolence: “the fact that our lives are dependent on others can become the basis of claims for nonmilitaristic political solutions” (22). To make grief a resource for politics is to reduce othering the “enemy,” and to recognize the vulnerability and suffering of one’s opponents.” Butler thus pursues “a more general conception of the human at work […], one in which we are, from the start, even prior to individuation itself, and by virtue of our embodiment, given over to an other: this makes us vulnerable to violence, but also to another range of touch, a range that includes the eradication of our being at the one end, and the physical support for our lives, at the other (23). From this position, Butler contends that humans depend on a recognition of humanity from other humans, that is, they must be intelligible to one another. She elaborates on this concept, and extends it to discursive spaces:

So what is the relation between violence and what is “unreal,” between violence and unreality that attends to those who become the victims of violence, and where does the notion of the ungrievable life come in? On the level of discourse, certain lives are not considered lives at all, they cannot be humanized; they fit no dominant frame for the human, and their dehumanization occurs first, at this level. This level then gives rise to a physical violence that in some sense delivers the message of dehumanization which is already at work in the culture. (25)

Later, Butler promotes a disruption of what it is to be an acceptable body (28). She asserts that new modes of reality can emerge at the scene of embodiment:

These practices of instituting new modes of reality take place in part through the scene of embodiment, where the body is not understood as a static and accomplished fact, but as an aging process, a mode of becoming that, in becoming otherwise, exceeds the norm, reworks the norm, and makes us see how realities to which we thought we were confined are not written in stone. (29)

In short, Butler says, “norms of recongnition function to produce and to deproduce the notion of the human” (32). In the face of non-binaried sexual identities, through which Butler produces her argument, there can be two reactions: violent and nonviolent. The violent reaction does not ask questions and just seeks to reproduce what it already knows to be “true” about the identity of the Other. “The nonviolent response,” Butler writes, “lives with its unknowingness about the Other in the face of the Other, since sustaining the bond that the question opens is finally more valuable than knowing in advance what holds us in common” (35).

What intrigues me most about Butler’s piece is this notion of grief as a way of recognizing the embodiment of the other. In The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry argues that the self cannot know what pain is or means to the Other, except in some abstract way. While intense emotional pain such as grief may come symptomatically close to physical pain, it is more accessible. Scarry argues that acute physical pain destroys the potential for language. Merging Scarry’s argument with Butler’s might point to a kind of expressible grief that results from physical pain in one’s own body or the Other’s.

But to even begin to grieve another being, one must recognize the humanity in the Other (I mean to use humanity broadly here, and for that term to cross special boundaries). In public discursive spaces, certain bodies are not recognized or are codified to be recognized only under certain circumstances. What, then, can one do when the violence being enacted happens through a lack of language? How can we recognize those previously excluded bodies as human? Could that tension produce new knowledge? How does one define what it means to be human or to have humanity?

—Alexis Priestley

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Ortega y Gasset, José, Carl R. Shirley, and Ciriaco Morrón-Arroyo — The Misery and Splendor of Translation.

Ortega y Gasset, José, Carl R. Shirley, and Ciriaco Morrón-Arroyo. “The Misery and Splendor of Translation.” Translation Review, 13 (1983): 18-30. Print.

Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset argues that translation is an impossible utopian theory.  In fact, he states that “all man does is utopian,” including writing or making decisions, yet “men are always melancholic, queer and frenetic, abused by all those diseases Hippocrates called divine.”  In this regard, Gasset argues that translation is a rebellion against the framework in which man is submersed, that it takes a certain “radical courage.” He then shifts the conversation to consider the degree to which the translator (who Gasset describes as a timid person confronted with “the enormous, mysterious apparatus that is grammar and common usage” will likely be rebellious with the text. Gasset argues that the translator will likely fall to his/her cowardliness, and instead of violating the grammatical constraints of the text, he/she will place the piece into the “normal language, placing the translated author in prison” (19). He discusses a language as a “system of verbal signs, by means of which individuals can understand one another without previous agreement” (20), but he notes that languages differ linguistically and culturally, describing their incongruity as natural. Therefore, hew writes, it would be “utopian to believe that two words belonging to two languages refer exactly to the same objects “ (21).  This idea allows Gasset to describe translation as a “permanent literary flou” which will make a translated author seem foolish in a translator’s interpretation and different language.  He explains that translation is not and should not try to be a duplicate of an original text, but instead a genre which displays a way to work without becoming the work (29). In order to translate a piece properly, it is important that we “divide the work and to make different translations of the text according to the salient angles of it that we wish to translate with precision” (30). It is necessary for the reader to know beforehand that when he reads a translation, he is not going to read a text that is beautiful in a literary sense, that the translator is going to “employ a somewhat annoying apparatus” (30).  Finally, Gasset ends by emphasizing that translation should not assimilate a work to the present but instead emphasize the “exotic and distant character” of the work, therefore making it intelligible (30).

Ortega’s translation theory is mentioned frequently in Papuvac’s chapter on the violence of translation within language rights advocacy and language governance. Ortega makes a point of noting that it is within the power of the translator to decide how a piece will be interpreted, that place a great deal of trust in translators to work properly with a foreign text. This trust assumes that a translator is an unbiased expert of his craft who only hopes to transfer the essence of the original into another language, but this is usually not the case. Translators, as all humans, are naturally biased, and there is no way to create a translation that does not express the opinions of the one who created it. This applies to all translations, even translating thoughts to words: translation might be impossible, but it is also vital to human nature.

Gasset portrays the violence of translation very differently from other theorists I have read; he argues that translators should be able to interpret the texts whatever ways they want, and that the translation should therefore not be considered a version of the original text, but an entirely separate work. In this light, when we consider nonviolence in language and writing, as well as translation, it is important to distinguish that the display of bias within a language is not necessarily violent; it is a natural part of being human. However, bias can also push translators to disregard differences in linguistic and cultural contexts and instead assimilate the original to the target-language’s paradigm, robbing it of its unique and exotic nature. This kind of biased translation is violent because it both undermines the original author’s identity and diminishes target-language readers’ possible understanding, both of which take away from their full potential.

—Madiera Dennison

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DeTurk, Sara — Intercultural Empathy: Myth, Competency, Or Possibility For Alliance Building?

DeTurk, Sara. “Intercultural Empathy: Myth, Competency, Or Possibility For Alliance Building?” Communication Education 50.4 (2001): 374. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

This article explicates the role of empathy in intercultural communication, the debate of empathy’s importance within these encounters to promote tolerance rather than ethnocentrism, and whether the concept of intercultural empathy is plausible in unequal instances of power or in fighting oppression. DeTurk begins by discussing the difficulty one might face (especially in the United States) in realizing that “other societies [have] valid worldviews and important wisdom,” that it will “take a special kind of attention to take in and understand there are other ways of seeing the world.” This special attention interculturists seek to cultivate has led to the identification of specific traits learners must grasp in order to lead to successful intercultural exchange. Empathy, in particular, is seen as a “key competency”; however, DeTurk discusses the ambiguity of the concept’s definition across multiple scholarly disciplines, as well as its questionable role in intercultural understanding of power relations. (374).  She presents empathy as a paradox: “Is it a trait, a learned skill, or a contextually emergent relational state?” She notes that the most influential definitions arise from a psychological approach, which is problematic because it expects “perceptual accuracy in communication across cultures.”  Other definitions are equally troublesome, as defining empathy as “the ability to replicate what one perceives,” which makes it only an intrapersonal phenomenon, “a technique for self-actualization rather than […] understanding” (375).  The creation of understanding is at the forefront of intercultural communication, which empathy should promote.

DeTurk defines empathy as something that “builds a shared meaning”; but she notes that it difficult to understand others across different levels of power. The idea of empathy as a cultural universal is clearly suspect, she suggests, since the more dominant groups who have greater social power will “universalize” their own experiences, silencing the minority (377).  Those who choose to “challenge or express anger at this injustice […] are rebuked as overly emotional, angry, or violent, and are accordingly controlled through ridicule or punishment” (378). As a result, DeTurk says, the submissive learn that communication amongst themselves is the less dangerous choice, and empathy will likely include conflict. However, this dynamic can actually build common ground since “everyone has experiences some type of oppression or marginalization over the course of our lives, and thus has the potential for this type of understanding” (381).

DeTurk’s discussion of empathy in intercultural communication and resolving intercultural conflicts speaks directly to nonviolent communication and whether empathy is innate or can be learned. She highlights questions I have concerning the role of cultural imperialism in promoting violence, which at the very basic level deals with language. Because empathy is built on “shared meaning,” it suggests people of opposing cultures might communicate effectively and in a nonviolent way. This brings up the idea of having a monolingual society, a concept pushed by ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism. Is a single language really the only way to create empathy amongst a diverse group of people? Would it be better to learn all languages and cultural differences? In like manner, is empathy required to nonviolently communicate or resolve conflict? A monolingual society might be less violent, but only through various kinds of oppression, it seems.

DeTurk spends a good portion of the article discussing the role power dynamics have in promoting conflict rather than empathy. In particular, a dominant group in a society might impose their own experiences as the ostensible truth. This would make the minority experiences oppositional and subordinate, and a shared meaning would not likely be reached if their own experiences are not considered as truths as well. [This is directly related to how Western perspective critically denounces the treatment of gender or religion in non-Western cultures, or even simply individualism versus collectivism; I immediately consider the Malala incident in Pakistan.] DeTurk questions whether empathy can be something truly understood in the more “superior” culture. Are the intentions of the superior group to create a shared meaning an oppressive way of resolution, or is it the only logical step the group can take? And if it is considered oppressive, does the subordinate group choose to acknowledge the shared meaning in order to simply move on? Can they actually resist it? In this regard, I hope to examine how language, transcribed by media, can create the characteristics needed for nonviolent communication and a kind of intercultural exchange in which superior groups take into consideration of other notions of meaning beyond their own, beyond what they assume is shared.

—Madiera Dennison



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