There’s an interesting discussion about how to translate Bourdieu from French to English at the Scatterplot blog. In English at least (I don’t read French), the translations of Bourdieu often seem circular and confusing. What Steve Valsey seems to be asking is, is this really necessary? His answer is no, and he offers a translation of Bourdieu’s definition of habitus in more “standard” English. As one of he commenters on the blog notes, similar questions can be asked of Bible translators. Is the English Bible best rendered in King James English, or modern English? To me, the answer depends on the intended audience, i.e. who do the writer/translator want to communicate with? Every translation needs to ask (and answer) this question, whether you are the translator of Bourdieu, The Bible, or anything else.
For what it is worth, I much prefer Valsey’s modern translation of Bourdieu which while probably not a literal translation of the French, is still more pleasing and understandable to my English-reading sensibilities. Is something of Bourdieu’s French meaning lost by this more general translation? Perhaps. But then something is lost too when readers skip too rapidly over a translation that does not resonate well with their pre-existing sensibilities.
I have of course thought a great deal about translation issues, since my wife and I finished translating Max Weber’s essays in our book Weber’s Rationalism, which was published last April. These translations come as close to the standard Valsey advocates, while still respecting the meaning of Weber’s original German.
Here are links to blogs about our Weber translation which I think bring out his sense of humor. Could there perhaps be some humor in Bourdieu’s French which was lost in translation?
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.