Situated cognition and the ethnographic study of translation processes: Translation scholars as outsiders, consultants and passionate participants


  • Jelena Milošević University of Vienna
  • Hanna Risku University of Vienna



Ethnography, enquirer posture, situated cognition, translation process research, workplace research


Whereas traditional methods of translation process research aim predominantly at fulfilling the requirements for controlled scientific experiments, shifts towards embodiment and situatedness at a conceptual level require methodological innovations for the analysis of cognitive processes as embedded in their relevant environments. In this article, we concentrate on one of the main challenges in the ethnographic study of translation processes in the translation workplace: the relationship between the researchers and the participants. Drawing on data from a multiple case study, we investigate the perceived role of the researchers and the mutual expectations of both the observers and the observed. In doing so, we examine the attitudes of translators and translation project managers towards researchers in a series of different work settings. Our results indicate that the enquirer posture imposed on the researchers by some participants corresponds with the formers’ planned methodological and epistemological approaches, as do their expected trade-offs. Others, in turn, differ substantially from the researchers in their expectations. Based on our own experience and subsequent reflections, we argue that fostering connections between translation scholars and practitioners may contribute to overcoming some of the methodological challenges of ethnographic research in Translation Studies.


Abdallah, K. (2011). Quality problems in AVT production networks: Reconstructing an actor‐network in the subtitling industry. In A. Şerban, A. Matamala, & J.‐M. Lavaur (Eds.), Audiovisual translation in close‐up: Practical and theoretical approaches (pp. 173–186). Peter Lang.

Agre, P. E., & Chapman, D. (1991). What are plans for? In P. Maes (Ed.), Designing autonomous agents: Theory and practice from biology to engineering and back (pp. 17–34). MIT Press.

Angelone, E., Ehrensberger-Dow, M., & Massey, G. (2016). Cognitive processes. In C. V. Angelelli & B. J. Baer (Eds.), Researching translation and interpreting (pp. 43–57). Routledge.

Asare, E. K. (2011). An ethnographic study of the use of translation tools in a translation agency: Implications for translation tool design [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Kent State University.

Borg, C. (2017). A literary translation in the making: An in-depth investigation into the process of a literary translation from French into Maltese [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Aston University.

Brannan, M., Pearson, G., & Worthington, F. (2007). Ethnographies of work and the work of ethnography. Ethnography, 8(4), 395–402.

Brooks, R. A. (1991). Intelligence Without Reason. In Mylopoulos J. & R. Reiter (Eds.), Proceedings of 12th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (pp. 569–595). Sydney: Morgan Kaufmann.

Buzelin, H. (2006). Independent publisher in the networks of translation. TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction, 19(1), 135–173.

Buzelin, H. (2007). Translations “in the making.” In M. Wolf & A. Fukari (Eds.), Constructing a sociology of translation (pp. 135–169). John Benjamins.

Christensen, T. P. (2011). Studies on the mental processes in translation memory‐assisted translation: The state of the art. Trans‐kom, 4(2), 137–160.

Clark, A. (1996). Being there: Putting brain, body and world together again. The MIT Press.

Delamont, S., & Atkinson, P. (2018). The ethics of ethnography. In R. Iphofen & M. Tolich (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research ethics (pp. 119–132). SAGE.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). Preface. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. ix–xix). SAGE.

Duflou, V. (2016). Be(com)ing a conference interpreter: An ethnography of EU interpreters as a professional ommunity. John Benjamins.

Duranti, A. (1997). Linguistic anthropology. Cambridge University Press.

Ehrensberger‐Dow, M. (2014). Challenges of translation process research at the workplace. MonTI Special Issue – Minding Translation, 7(Special Issue 1), 355–383.

Ehrensberger-Dow, M., & Hunziker Heeb, A. (2016). Investigating the ergonomics of a technologized translation workplace. In R. Muñoz Martín (Ed.), Reembedding translation process research (pp. 69–87). John Benjamins.

Ehrensberger-Dow, M., & Massey, G. (2019). Socio-technical issues in professional translation practice. In H. Risku, R. Rogl, & J. Milošević (Eds.), Translation practice in the field: Current research on socio-cognitive processes (pp. 105–122). John Benjamins.

Emerson R. M., Fretz R. I., & Shaw L. L. (1995). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. University of Chicago Press.

Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (2007). Participant observation and fieldnotes. In P. Atkinson, A. Coffey, S. Delamont, J. Lofland, & L. Lofland (Eds.), Handbook of ethnography (pp. 352–368). SAGE.

Eriksson, P., Henttonen, E., & Meriläinen, S. (2012). Ethnographic field notes and reflexivity. In L. Naidoo (Ed.), An ethnography of global landscapes and corridors (pp. 9–22). InTechOpen.

Fahim, H. (1982). Indigenous anthropology in non-western countries. Carolina Academic Press.

Fetterman, D. M. (2010). Ethnography: Step-by-step. SAGE.

Fine, G. A. (2010). Ten lies of ethnography: Moral dilemmas of field research. In P. Atkinson & S. Delamont (Eds.), SAGE qualitative research methods (pp. 251–272). SAGE.

Flick, U. (2017). Qualitative Sozialforschung: Eine Einführung (8th ed.). Rowohlt.

Flynn, P. (2004). Skopos theory: An ethnographic enquiry. Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice, 12(4), 270–285.

Gläser, J., & Laudel, G. (2010). Experteninterviews und qualitative Inhaltsanalyse: Als Instrumente rekonstruierender Untersuchungen. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Gold, R. L. (1958). Roles in sociological field observation. Social Forces, 36(3), 217–223.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.,pp. 191–215). SAGE.

Hakola, M. (2007). Tekstien tanssi: Intertekstuaalisuuden kääntäminen Michael Kunzen musikaalilibretossa Tanz der Vampire [Unpublished master’s thesis]. University of Tampere.

Halverson, S. L., & Muñoz Martín, R. (2020). The times, they are a’changin: Multilingual mediated communication and cognition. In R. Munõz Martín & S. L. Halverson (Eds.), Multilingual mediated communication and cognition (IATIS Yearbook series). Routledge.

Heath, C., Knoblauch, H., & Luff, P. (2000). Technology and social interaction: The emergence of ‘workplace studies’. The British Journal of Sociology, 51(2), 299–320.

Hokkanen, S. (2013). Tulkki keskellä hengellistä kokemusta: Simultaanitulkkaus Tampereen helluntaiseurakunnan kokouksessa. In K. Koskinen (Ed.), Tulkattu Tampere (pp. 273–294). Tampere University Press.

Hubscher‐Davidson, S. (2011). A discussion of ethnographic research methods and their relevance for translation process research. Across Languages and Cultures, 12(1), 1–18.

Iphofen, R. (2013). Research ethics in ethnography/anthropology. DG Research and Innovation, European Commission.

Jakobsen, A. L. (2017). Translation process research. In J. W. Schwieter & A. Ferreira (Eds.), The handbook of translation and cognition (pp. 21–49). Wiley-Blackwell.

Kastberg, P. (2009). Zur Ontogenese einer Instruktion: Erarbeitung eines Methodengerüsts und erste Erfahrungen. In M. G. Ditlevsen, P. Kastberg, & C. Andersen (Eds.), Sind Gebrauchsanleitungen zu

gebrauchen?: Linguistische und kommunikativ pragmatische Studien zu skandinavischen und deutschen Instruktionstexten (Europäische Studien zur Textlinguistik, 6, pp. 38–68). Narr.

Katz, J. (2019). On becoming an ethnographer. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 48(1), 16–50.

Kinnunen, T. (2010). Agency, activity and court interpreting. In T. Kinnunen & K. Koskinen (Eds.), Translators’ agency (pp. 126–164). Tampere Studies in Language, Translation and Culture, Series B 4. Tampere University Press.

Knoblauch, H., & Heath, C. (2006). Die Workplace Studies. In W. Rammert & C. Schubert (Eds.), Technografie. Zur Mikrosoziologie der Technik (pp. 141–161). Campus.

Kolb, W. (2011). The making of literary translations: Repetition and ambiguity in a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Across Languages and Cultures, 12(2), 259–274.

Koskinen, K. (2008). Translating institutions: An ethnographic study of EU translation. Routledge.

Kuznik, A., & Verd, J. M. (2010). Investigating real work situations in translation agencies: Work content and its components. Hermes, 44, 25–43.

LeBlanc, M. (2013). Translators on translation memory (TM): Results of an ethnographic study in three translation services and agencies. Translation and Interpreting Studies, 5(2), 1–13.

Marinetti, C., & Rose, M. (2013). Process, practice and landscapes of reception: An ethnographic study of theatre translation. Translation Studies, 6(2), 166–182.

Massey, G., & Ehrensberger‐Dow, M. (2011). Technical and instrumental competence in the translator’s workplace: Using process research to identify educational and ergonomic needs. ILCEA Revue, 14, 1–14.

Meyer, C. (2013). Ethnography: Body, communication and cultural practices. In C. Müller, A. Cienki, E. Fricke, S. H. Ladewig, D. McNeill, & S. Tessendorf (Eds.), Body—Language—Communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (pp. 227–239). De Gruyter Mouton.

Mullamaa, K. (2006). Towards a dynamic role conception of liaison interpreters: An ethnographic study of self‐descriptions of practicing liaison interpreters in Estonia. Dissertationes Philologiae Anglicae Universitatis Tartuensis 1. Tartu University Press.

Muñoz Martín, R. (2010) Leave no stone unturned: On the development of cognitive translatology. Translation and Interpreting Studies, 5(2), 145–162.

Muñoz Martín, R. (2016) Reembedding translation process research: An introduction. In R. Muñoz Martín (Ed.), Reembedding translation process research (pp. 1–20). John Benjamins.

Muñoz Martín, R. (2017). Looking toward the future of Cognitive Translation Studies. In J. W. Schwieter & A. Ferreira (Eds.), The handbook of translation and cognition (pp. 555–571). Wiley-Blackwell.

Murphy, E., & Dingwall, R. (2007). The ethics of ethnography. In P. Atkinson, A. Coffey, S. Delamont, J. Lofland, & L. Lofland (Eds.), Handbook of ethnography (pp. 339–351). SAGE.

Ohnuki‐Tierney, E. (1984). Native anthropologists. American Ethnologist, 11(3), 584–586.

Olohan, M. (2019). Knowing in translation practice: A practice-theoretical perspective. In H. Risku, R. Rogl, & J. Milosevic (Eds.), Translation practice in the field: Current research on socio-cognitive processes (pp. 161–182). John Benjamins.

Olohan, M., & Davitti, E. (2017). Dynamics of trusting in translation project management: Leaps of faith and balancing acts. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 46(4), 391–416.

Pike, K. L. (1967). Language in relation to a unified theory of structure of human behavior (2nd ed.). Mouton.

Pole, C., & Hillyard, S. (2016). Doing fieldwork. SAGE.

Risku, H. (2014). Translation process research as interaction research: From mental to socio-cognitive processes. MonTI. Monografías De Traducción E Interpretación, 2014(1), 331–353.

Risku, H. (2016). Translationsmanagement: Interkulturelle Fachkommunikation im Informationszeitalter (3rd ed.). Narr.

Risku, H. (2017). Ethnographies of translation and situated cognition. In J. W. Schwieter & A. Ferreira (Eds.), The handbook of translation and cognition (pp. 290–310). Wiley-Blackwell.

Risku, H., Hirvonen, M., Rogl, R., & Milošević, J. (forthcoming). Ethnographic research. In F. Zanettin & C. Rundle (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of translation and methodology. Routledge.

Risku, H., Milošević, J., & Pein-Weber, C. (2016). Writing vs. translating: Dimensions of text production in comparison. In R. Muñoz Martín (Ed.), Reembedding translation process research (pp. 47–68). John Benjamins.

Risku, H., Rogl R., & Milošević, J. (2019). Translation research in the field: Current research on socio-cognitive processes. In H. Risku, R. Rogl, & J. Milošević (Eds.), Translation practice in the field: Current research on socio-cognitive processes (pp. 1–24). John Benjamins.

Risku, H., Rogl, R., & Milošević, J. (2020). Researching workplaces. In E. Angelone, M. Ehrensberger-Dow, & G. Massey (Eds.), The Bloomsbury companion to language industry studies (pp. 37–62). Bloomsbury Publishing.

Risku, H., & Windhager, F. (2015). Extended translation: A sociocognitive research agenda. In M. Ehrensberger-Dow, S. Göpferich, & S. O'Brien (Eds.), Interdisciplinarity in translation and interpreting process research (pp. 35–47). John Benjamins.

Robben, A. C. G. M., & Sluka, J. A. (2015). Ethnography. In J. D. Wright. (Ed.), International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (2nd ed., pp. 178–183). Elsevier.

Selting, M., Auer, P., Barden, B., Bergmann, B., Couper-Kuhlen, E., Günther, S., Meier, C., Quasthoff, U., Schlobinski, P., & Uhmann, S. (2011). A system for transcribing talk-in-interaction: GAT 2 (Translated and adapted for English by E. Couper-Kuhlen & D. Barth-Weingarten). Gesprächsforschung - Online Zeitschrift zur verbalen Interaktion, 12, 1–51.

Shapiro, L. A. (2019). Embodied cognition (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Simmons, M. (2007). Insider ethnography: Tinker, tailor, researcher or spy? Nurse Researcher, 14(4), 7–14.

Simovska, V., Colding Lagermann, L., Salah A. H., Lerche M. L., & Kousholt, D. (2019). Inside out: What we (don’t) talk about when we talk about research. Qualitative Research, 19(2), 113–130.

Smith, V. (2007). Ethnographies of work and the work of ethnographers. In P. Atkinson, A. Coffey, S. Delamont, J. Lofland, & L. Lofland (Eds.), Handbook of ethnography (pp. 220–231). SAGE.

Suchman, L. (2007). Human machine configurations: Plans and situated actions (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Sun, S. (2014). Rethinking translation studies. Translation Spaces, 3(1), 167–191.

Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. The MIT Press.

Walter, S. (2014). Kognition. Reclam.

Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9(4), 625–636.




How to Cite

Milošević, J., & Risku, H. (2021). Situated cognition and the ethnographic study of translation processes: Translation scholars as outsiders, consultants and passionate participants. Linguistica Antverpiensia, New Series – Themes in Translation Studies, 19.