Navegação – Mapa do site

InícioTerra Brasilis (Nova Série)15EditoriaisThe politics and geopolitics of t...


The politics and geopolitics of translation. The multilingual circulation of knowledge and transnational histories of geography: an Anglophone perspective

Archie Davies

Texto integral

1The dossier which we introduce here is, as Laura and Guilherme’s introductions reflect, the product of an attempt to speak about translation across linguistic and national fields of the history of geography. Between us, the three co-editors share an interest in working across the anglophone, germanophone, francophone and lusophone worlds. The dossier, the fruit of Guilherme’s passion for translation and the history of geography, seeks to navigate between these languages, and to juxtapose them in ways which we hope are both fruitful and open-ended.

2Guilherme invited Laura and I to contribute as editors not only for the different perspectives we bring on the history of geography, but for our shared interest in the dynamics, practice and politics of translation. As the nature of such dossiers, what we present here is only an opening into the plural connections to be made between the history of geography and the question of translation. Yet, with its portmanteau qualities and eclectic combinations, it is an accurate reflection, in its way, of many of the processes of translation which weave through the multi-lingual and multi-national histories of geography. These translational histories are often marked – as, for example, Laura’s own paper on Humboldt here shows, and, in a different way, the paper on Black and African scholarship in Brazil – less by schematic and agential decisions than by the impromptu and the cobbled together. This manifests itself in my own translational work. For instance, I am part of a current emergence of translations of Milton Santos’ work in English, as my translation of For a New Geography will appearing this year. This follows a few years after a set of translations of Santos’ work by Lucas Melgaço and Carolyn Prouse (Melgaço and Prouse, 2017; Santos, 2017). My translation appears in the same year as another book of Santos’, The Nature of Space, is being released by another publisher and another translator, Brenda Baletti. These projects are not connected to one another, but their happy co-incidence should cumulatively shift understanding of Milton Santos’ work in anglophone geography. The very fact that they are all happening at the same time, but not in collaboration, however, speaks not only to the importance, but to the contingencies and missed connections of translation in the development and movement of geographical knowledges.

3For my part, then, I come to the question of translation both through an interest in its historicity, and in its practice. I am interested in analysing the history and geography of geographical knowledge through what has and has not been translated, how, by whom, to what ends and in what contexts. But I am also interested in the textures and depths of translation itself as a practice involved in the construction of geographical knowledge. That is to say, in asking what kind of a geographical methodology translation might be, and what kind of geographers we are when we translate. Translation remains a key vector in the academic division of labor, that functions both within and beyond broader disciplinary imperatives. Guilherme’s paper in the dossier reflects on closely related questions, and his coining of the term ‘geotranslators’ is a provocative contribution here in relation to Brazilian geography, particularly alongside the interview with Leonardo Arantes and Rogério Haesbaert. In this context, it is worth reflecting on the mutually supportive role of translation and editing between scholars across different contexts; my own relationships with Brazilian colleagues are often fed by a mutual exchange of translation, editing and informal language pedagogy across our respective first languages – not least in my work with my friend and colleague Katielle Susane do Nascimento Silva, who has elegantly translated Esson, Noxolo, Baxter, Daley and Byron’s essay on decolonising geography into Portuguese here.

4Analysing, critiquing and discussing the role of translation in the production and history of geographical knowledge is vital for anglophone scholars of the history of geography. The unthinking centrality of English to much intellectual debate in the anglophone world is pervasive, and many anglophone scholars are rarely pressed with the need to learn other languages, or to engage with the question of translation. In my own context, of the United Kingdom, this problem is part of a broader diminution of foreign language learning, that stretches into the education system through ongoing cuts to language learning at school. (Paul Claval’s reflections in the dossier on the importance of his own linguistic education for his geographical practice put that particular conjuncture in a sad intellectual light.) Nevertheless, ‘the relative hegemony of anglophone Geography’ (Jazeel, 2015: 659) shifts according to perspective. For instance, to take an example from my own research on the history of geography from the Northeast of Brazil, while Northeastern thought is often characterized as having a subaltern position even in Brazil, its geographical tradition is not cowed by a hegemonic anglophone geography. On the contrary, it draws on elements from that geography, while also having access to a wide range of other theoretical and empirical work, particularly in Portuguese and French, as well as other autochthonous knowledges (Ferretti, 2019).

5The majority of anglophone academia is conducted in one language, with non-anglophone texts made available in English in uneven and untimely ways. We could point to the upsurge of work on Lefebvre or Gramsci in English while significant portions of their work remain un-translated and un-edited (see Hancock, 2016). It is worth noting that this monolingualism applies just as much to the conservative as to the radical ends of the discipline. For instance, the most interesting and vibrant parts of critical geographical scholarship in English, for instance in the field of Black geographies, can still operate with an anglophone set of assumptions, and without a direct and sustained interest in translation and problems of language (Bledsoe and Wright, 2019).

6Yet critiques of anglophone geography’s hegemony should not overstate it. We can recall, for instance, Belina, Best and Naumann’s argument that in the German context, ‘power structures within the (nationally organized) discipline are far more significant for the concrete situation of critical geography in any particular country than the international relations within critical geography’ (2009). This is echoed in Claudio Minca and Juliet Fall’s work on Giuseppe Dematteis who, they note, was ‘more preoccupied with the possibility of transforming Italian geography than with linking his work [to debates on postmodernism in English-language geography]’ (2013). Certainly, there are unequal power relations between the languages of academic work, and certainly the role of English is to be debated and challenged, but there are clear benefits for practitioners who work in other languages but can also speak and read English, alongside third and fourth languages, as Paul Claval’s autobiographical essay attests, versus monolingual anglophones. Rogério Haesbaert’s reflection, in the interview published here, on Doreen Massey’s linguistic gifts, is one of many exceptions to this rule. Multilingual scholars can deploy a more eclectic range of theorizing, not only within the language-disciplines of their national or regional contexts, but also to flows of theory-making that pertain both in the international sphere and, somewhat distinctly, in English speaking countries.

7For its own purposes, therefore, internally fracturing anglophone hegemony through translation is crucial, in order to open the world of anglophone geography beyond its linguistic confines. Yet the politics of translating into English are not fixed. As Laura discusses in her introduction, English has a notably privileged position in global flows of knowledge and reinforcing that through translating into English can be seen another brick in the wall of anglophone hegemony. Yet it can also be a deliberate practice that opens and broadens the worlds of geographical knowledge available not only to anglophone scholars, but for multilingual scholars for whom English is a means to access other languages that they do not speak. This mediating role is a crucial dimension of the widespread knowledge of English, and was debated extensively some decades ago in the pages of anglophone geography journals (Garcia-Ramon, 2003; Rodríguez-Pose, 2004; Desbiens and Ruddick, 2006; Minca, 2000). If we consider that international and transnational connections are important to the growth of geographical knowledge, then English continues to have an important, though compromised, role as a second-, third- and fourth- language. By making English, here, only one of three languages placed alongside one another, we aim to at least condition and unsettle an assumption of anglophone literacy, while not disavowing English’s own particular role in intellectual exchange across languages. There is some irony in a multilingual dossier on translation, but hopefully the opacity of these juxtapositions can serve to highlight, again, the contingencies and partialities that seeing through the lens of translation reveals.

8This leads me to the broader question of translation as a linguistic act, and a project of the imagination. Translation reveals again the importance of the humanities and creativity to geographical scholarship. It also reminds us of a deeper need to attend to language itself, forms of writing, style, and poetics in our construction of knowledge. As much as we need to consider, for instance, how and whether works of geographical scholarship have been translated, how they have moved through different language worlds and so on, we need to also address their own sticky literariness. Translation is a heightened form of reading, a heightened attention to language. This is why Laura’s paper is an important contribution here, from a historical perspective, because it opens out onto the question of literary analysis itself.

9Tariq Jazeel argues that ‘the poetic image does not fare so well in the Social Sciences today. In fact, in a knowledge context that privileges the frequency, visibility and verifiability of ‘data’, the poetic is too often pathologized’ (Jazeel, 2017). Jazeel emphasizes the power of the story, of the literary, turning to the vision of the singular as a fundamentally poetic image. The literary and poetic imagination can see the singular before the distorting general of the social scientific imagination gets to it. Jazeel’s argument is a crucial corrective to geographical methodology, and can start to answer the question of what kind of a geographical methodology translation is. To translate is to attend to the specific and the singular, to become fixated with the smallest component parts of ideas – the sentence, the word, the inflection – in order to pass them across, from one place to another and so from one world to another. And yet this generative and generous vision of translation as a methodology remains a necessarily innocent tool: the political intent of translation is not inherent but willed.

10I would take a strong position, therefore, in favour of the idea that translation is a powerful refracting lens for the history of ideas. This suggests the need for concerted engagement by geographers with the worlds of the humanities and creative writing which house huge expertise and potential for social scientific thinking on these questions. Yet I would equally argue that translation itself remains at best an ambivalent tool. We should caution against a self-congratulatory tone among translators, and among multilingual scholars. This may be an odd position for a translator to take, and indeed for an editor of a special issue drawing attention to the importance of translation, but translation, as a mechanism and as a means of curation, is necessarily bent to the ends of its practitioners and their networks. As the reflections here on Keighren, Abrahmsson and della Dora’s paper serve to remind us, the creation and defence of canons can take place through translation, just as much as their destabilization and re-orchestration. Here we should take a measure of what this dossier itself has raised, and its limits. We allowed the open call, published in three languages and across various kinds of networks, to do its work, and the outcome has been put together with a small number of commissioned pieces by us as editors. Two factors emerge for self-critique and reflection. Firstly, in what we have gathered there is little discussion, throughout this dossier of any language which is not europhone. This speaks to the hierarchical status of European languages in ‘international’ scholarly contexts. If the dossier does in various ways address anglophone hegemony, it does not address a europhone hegemony of great potency in the intellectual context of Brazil and Latin America. Secondly, the interviews, translations and essays here, and their curation, raise questions about the relationship between patriarchal forms of knowledge production, and the disciplinarity of geography. To the extent that this dossier is a small part of reflecting the tapestry of geography’s multilingual and translated canons, we have not fared well in addressing Avril Maddrell’s critiques that ‘women’s geographical work seems to have fared particularly badly in these sieving processes that result in our collective remembering and honouring of our disciplinary inheritance’ (Maddrell, 2012). Donna Haraway wrote in 1988 that ‘feminism loves another science: the sciences and politics of interpretation, translation, stuttering and the partly understood’ (Haraway, 1998: 589), but this dossier has not revealed or explored translation’s feminist potentialities for geography.

11If our intention is to produce emancipatory and diverse geographical knowledges there is nothing inherently useful about translation. What matters is how the tools of translation, interpretation and multilingualism are used, and to what ends (Desbiens and Ruddick, 2006). Translation can be a way of shoring up unequal relations of power and knowledge, or it can challenge and destabilize those relations. If it is to help us in expanding critical geographical praxis and pluralizing our histories of geographical knowledge production, our deployment of translation must be considered and deliberate.

Topo da página


Belina, Bernd; Best, Ulrich; Naumann, Mathias. Critical Geography in Germany: From Exclusion to Inclusion via Internationalisation. Social Geography, v. 4, n. 1, 2009, p. 47-58.

Bledsoe, Adam; Wright, Willie Jamaal. The Pluralities of Black Geographies. Antipode, v. 51, n. 2, 2019, p. 419-37.

Desbiens, Caroline; Ruddick, Sue. Speaking of Geography: Language, Power, and the Spaces of Anglo-Saxon “Hegemony”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v. 24, n. 1, p. 1-8.

Fall, Juliet J.; Minca, Claudio. Not a Geography of What Doesn’t Exist, but a Counter-Geography of What Does: Rereading Giuseppe Dematteis’ Le Metafore Della Terra. Progress in Human Geography, v. 37, n. 4, 2013, p. 542-563.

Ferretti, Federico. Decolonizing the Northeast: Brazilian Subalterns, Non-European Heritages, and Radical Geography in Pernambuco. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 109, n. 5, 2019, p. 1632-1650.

Garcia-Ramon, Maria-Dolores. Globalization and International Geography: The Questions of Languages and Scholarly Traditions. Progress in Human Geography, v. 27, n. 1, 2003, p. 1-5.

Hancock, Claire. 2016. Traduttore Traditore, The Translator as Traitor. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, v. 15, n. 1, 2016, p. 15-35.

Haraway, Donna. Situated Knowledge: The Science Question in Feminism as a Site of Discourse on the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, v. 14, 1998, p. 575-599.

Jazeel, Tariq. Between Area and Discipline: Progress, Knowledge Production and the Geographies of Geography. Progress in Human Geography, October 2015, 649-667.

Jazeel, Tariq. Singularity. A Manifesto for Incomparable Geographies. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, v. 40, n. 1, 2017, p. 5-21.

Maddrell, Avril. Treasuring Classic Texts, Engagement and the Gender Gap in the Geographical Canon. Dialogues in Human Geography, v. 2, n. 3, 2012, p. 324-27.

Melgaço, Lucas; Prouse, Carolyn. Milton Santos: A Pioneer in Critical Geography from the Global South. Vol. 11. Springer, 2017.

Minca, Claudio. Venetian Geographical Praxis. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v. 18, n. 3, 2000, p. 285-89.

Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés. On English as a Vehicle to Preserve Geographical Diversity. Progress in Human Geography, v. 28, n. 1, 2004, p. 1-4.

Santos, Milton. Toward an Other Globalization: From the Single Thought to Universal Conscience. Vol. 12. Springer, 2017.

Topo da página

Para citar este artigo

Referência eletrónica

Archie Davies, « The politics and geopolitics of translation. The multilingual circulation of knowledge and transnational histories of geography: an Anglophone perspective », Terra Brasilis (Nova Série) [Online], 15 | 2021, posto online no dia 31 julho 2021, consultado o 10 agosto 2022. URL : ; DOI :

Topo da página


Archie Davies

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield. E-mail:

Artigos do mesmo autor

Topo da página

Direitos de autor

© Rede Brasileira de História da Geografia e Geografia Histórica

Topo da página
  • OpenEdition Journals
Pesquisar OpenEdition Search

Você sera redirecionado para OpenEdition Search