Call for abstracts – The complexity of socio-cultural emergence: biosemiotics, semiotics and translation studies


Kobus Marais, University of the Free State
Reine Meylaerts, KU Leuven
Maud Gonne, UNamur/ UCLouvain

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Biosemiotics – Terrence Deacon (University of California, Berkeley)
Semiotics – Frederik Stjernfelt (Aalborg University, Copenhagen)
Translation studies – Michael Cronin (Trinity College Dublin)

Conference date: 26-28 August 2021

Place: KU Leuven, Belgium

Since the emergence of complexity thinking, scholars from the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities are renewing efforts to construct a unified framework that would unite all scholarly activity. The work of Terrence Deacon (2013), at the interface of (at least) physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, cognitive science, semiotics, anthropology and philosophy, is a great, though not the only, example of this kind of work. It is becoming clear that this paradigm of complex relational and process thinking means, among others, that the relationships between fields of study are more important than the differences between them. Deacon’s contribution, for instance, lies not (only) in original findings in any of the fields in which he works but (also) in the ways in which he relates bodies of knowledge to one another. An example would be his links between a theory of work (physics) and a theory of information (cybernetics) by means of a theory of meaning (semiotics).

This line of thinking indeed situates semiotics and biosemiotics in the centre of the abovementioned debate (also see Hoffmeyer, 2008; Kauffman, 2012).

In semiotics, Susan Petrilli’s (2003) thought-provoking collection covers a wide variety of chapters focused on translation, which she conceptualizes as semiotic process. Her work made it possible to link biosemiotics and semiotics through the notion of “translation”, which is what we aim to explore further in this conference.

Michael Cronin’s work in translation studies links up with the above through his use of the notion of “ecology”. To apprehend interconnectedness and vulnerability in the age of the Anthropocene, his work challenges text-oriented and linear approaches while engaging in eco-translational thinking. He calls tradosphere all translation systems on the planet, all the ways in which information circulates between living and non-living organisms and is translated into a language or a code that can be processed or understood by the receiving entity (Cronin, 2017, p. 71). The aptness of Cronin’s work on ecology finds a partner in that of Bruno Latour, whose development of a sociology of translation (2005) responds to the need to reconnect the social and natural worlds and to account for the multiple connections that make what he calls the ‘social’.

In an effort further to work out the implications of this new way of thinking, Marais (2019, p. 120) conceptualized translation in terms of “negentropic semiotic work performed by the application of constraints on the semiotic process” (see also Kress 2013). Building on Peirce, namely that the meaning of a sign is its translation into another sign, translation is defined as a process that entails semiotic work done by constraining semiotic possibilities. This conceptualization allows for the study of all forms of meaning-making, i.e. translation, under a single conceptual framework, but it also allows for a unified ecological view for both the sciences and the humanities. “The long standing distinction between the human and social sciences and the natural and physical sciences is no longer tenable in a world where we cannot remain indifferent to the more than human” (Cronin, 2017, p. 3).

These kind of approaches open ample possibilities for a dialogue between Translation Studies, Semiotics and Biosemiotics, exploring translation not only in linguistic and anthropocentric terms, but as a semiotic process that can take place in and between all (living) organisms – human and non-human organic and inorganic, material and immaterial alike. Not only the translation of Hamlet into French, or of oral speech into subtitles, but also communication between dolphins or between a dog and its master, or moving a statue from one place to another, or rewatching a film are translation processes. However, many of the implications of this line of thinking still need to be explored, and if the references to Deacon, Petrilli and Cronin holds, this should be done in an interdisciplinary way that tests, transgresses and transforms scholarly boundaries.

It is for this reason that we call for papers for a conference in which we hope to draw together biosemioticians, semioticians and translation studies scholars to discuss the interdisciplinary relations between these fields and the implications of these relations for the study of social and cultural reality as emerging from both matter and mind. We invite colleagues to submit either theoretical or data-driven or mixed proposals, reflecting on the complexity of social-cultural emergence as a translation process. Some of the topics that colleagues could consider would be the following:

· Is translation, as semiotic work and process, indeed able to link all of the biological world, including humans, with the non-living world in one ecology, and if so how?

· What conceptual constructs in each of the three fields are relevant for the other fields, and how?

· Could the fields learn methodological and epistemological lessons from one another? If so, what would these entail?

· Could collaborative scholarship enhance an understanding of social-cultural emergence, and if so, what would this scholarship entail?

· How, if at all, does entropy and negentropy play out differently in social-cultural systems compared to biological and/or physical systems?

· How does social-cultural emergence differ from biological and even physical emergence? Systems thinking tends to ignore differences like the intentionality of biological agents in contrast to physical agents. Thus, if one were to consider the possibility that intention has causal effect, how does one factor intention into thinking about complex adaptive systems?

We plan an interactive conference. Firstly, we invited three keynote speakers, one from each of the fields involved, to give their views on the relationships between these three fields. Secondly, apart from the normal responses to papers, we would like to end each day of the conference with a session (about one hour) in which the keynote speakers reflect, round-table style, on the papers of the day and in which participants have the opportunity to engage them and one another in open debate style.


Submission of abstracts – 1 December 2020
Notification of acceptance – 1 February 2021
Registration opens – 1 March 2021
Registration closes – 15 July 2021

Please e-mail enquiries and abstracts of around 300 words to one of the following addresses:


Cronin, M., 2017. Eco-translation: Translation and ecology in the age of the anthropocene. New York: Routledge.

Deacon, T. W., 2013. Incomplete nature: How mind emerged from matter. New York: WW Norman & Company.

Hoffmeyer, J., 2008. Biosemiotics: An examination into the signs of life and the life of signs. London: University of Scranton Press.

Kauffman, S., 2012. From physics to semiotics. In: S. Rattasepp & T. Bennet, eds. Biosemiotic gatherings. Tartu: University of Tartu Press, pp. 30-46.

Kress, G., 2013. Multimodal discourse analysis. In: J. P. Gee & M. Handford, eds. The Routledge handbook of discourse analysis. New York: Routledge, pp. 35-50.

Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marais, K., 2019. A (bio)semiotic theory of translation: The emergence of social-cultural reality. New York: Routledge.

Petrilli, S., ed., 2003. Translation Translation. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Job offer : doctoral fellow (UGent, dep. Translation, Interpretation and Communication)

The research group Translation and Culture at Ghent University ( seeks to recruit a PhD fellow (doctoral candidate) for its project on TRANSLATION AND FRANCOISM (2020-2024).

We offer a 4-year grant (2 + 2), on the condition of a positive evaluation after 2 years. The position is available from 1 May 2020, but the starting date is negotiable up to 1 September 2020 at the very latest.


Between 1939 and 1975 Francisco Franco’s administration held a tight control over public discourse in Spain. This project studies the role of translation during Francoism. A site of tension and censorship under Franco, translation throws light on cultural struggle and on the values, practices, and institutions that Francoism—or sectors of the regime—defended and opposed in various times and places. The project is currently looking for a research proposal about translation between Spanish and, preferably, (one of) the following languages: French, English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, or Swedish.

Topics available for research include, but are not limited to:

–a case study on the Francoist reception and translation of a film oeuvre;

–a case study on the Francoist reception and translation of (part of) a literary oeuvre;

–a case study on translation and journalism during Francoism;

–a case study on translation and political discourse during Francoism;

–a study that maps events, networks, and tendencies in one pivotal period of translation censorship (e.g., an important month or year in the Francoist censorship of translated film);

— a study that carries out a longitudinal study of an important agent of translation (e.g., a high-profile translator or an influential Francoist censor of literary or film translations). As a doctoral fellow at Ghent University

you will

– collect and analyze data from relevant archives (especially the Archivo General de la Administración in Alcalá, Madrid);

– present your ongoing research at national and international conferences;

– write a doctoral dissertation within four years;

– prepare individual and joint publications;

– occasionally assist in teaching activities at the department.

Ghent University is a top 100 university and one of the major universities in Belgium. Located in a vibrant historic city, Ghent University is a multilingual working environment and offers great career opportunities.


For more info and application :

Research seminar ‘Translation Studies and Society’ (VUB)

Edition spring 2020: ‘On translation as a task, and (un)translatability’

The aim of this seminar is to exchange critical reflections and to discuss important topics in translation studies (such as (un)translatability; cultural transfer; identity, language and culture; translation and ethics/politics; translation and mother tongue; etc.). Translation theories will be discussed in relation to their significance for the translational applications as well as the other way around, translation practices will be described and examined for their significance in cultural studies and human sciences in general. Translation has become a metaphor in discussions on multiculturalism, globalization, diversity, and politics of recognition: translational experience and phenomena have relevance for culture and politics/society beyond their technical and linguistic aspects, and/or the merely linguistic domain.

In the three starting sessions of this seminar, the focus will be on three founding fathers of translation studies, Roman Jakobson, Walter Benjamin and Antonio Gramsci. From Jakobson we will read ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation’, optionally with some critical comment. From Benjamin we will focus on ‘The Task of the Translator’, with possibly a minor text on translation or a critical comment. In the case of Gramsci, we will read a critical text of Derek Boothman that focusses on the role of Gramsci’s reflections on language, translation and translatability in his entire social and political thought, and if appropriate, we will confront with some other critical text fragments of Peter Ives.

The research seminar is organized as a reading group. Participants will have to read texts (max. 20p.) and prepare in advance of every session. The texts will be provided well in advance, for the first session as soon as the registration is closed.

The seminar is organized by Prof. dr. S. Lavaert (BIAL).

Registration: participation is free of charge, but registration is required. Please send an e-mail to, by February 10th, 2020 at the latest.

Location: all sessions take place at the VUB, campus Etterbeek. The room will be communicated after the registration is closed.

Doctoral students: the research seminar is a part of the Doctoral School Human Sciences (DSh). Doctoral students need to attend every meeting and receive 1 credit per session.

Program: The first session takes place on February 27th, 2020, 16–18h (coffee will be provided), the next sessions on March 19th and April 30th (to be confirmed at the first meeting). Prof. dr. S. Lavaert will deliver a brief introduction of each session, in the first one on Jakobson.

CIRTI – Journée d’étude “Figures du retraducteur”

On Wednesday 11 December the study day “Figures du retraducteur” will take place at the University of Liege (department Translation and Interpretation, rue des Pitteurs).

Programme : Programme Figures du retraducteur

«Alors que les originaux restent éternellement jeunes […], les traductions, elles, “vieillissent”». Cette idée, très répandue, justifierait les entreprises de retraduction, expliquerait que, régulièrement, les textes fassent peau neuve. Néanmoins, nombre d’autres facteurs entrent dans l’équation : aux facteurs textuels s’ajoutent notamment les considérations plus commerciales des stratégies éditoriales. En outre, le rôle des agents individuels (auteurs, traducteurs ou éditeurs, entre autres) est crucial dans le phénomène de la retraduction.

Cette journée d’étude entend mettre en lumière une série de « Figures du retraducteur ». Alors que le traductologue Yves Gambier traitera la question de la retraduction de textes non littéraires, Albert Bensoussan et Josée Kamoun évoqueront leur travail de (re)traducteurs littéraires et se concentreront, respectivement, sur les cas des retraductions de Conversación en La Catedral, de Mario Vargas Llosa, et de 1984, de George Orwell. L’écrivaine Marie Darrieussecq, qui a retraduit Ovide, Virginia Woolf, puis James Baldwin, parlera des liens qu’entretiennent, dans sa pratique personnelle, écriture et traduction. Vivien Féasson se penchera sur les raisons qui poussent à retraduire des œuvres de fantasy telles que La Roue du Temps ou Le Seigneur des Anneaux. Enfin, Patricia Willson et Justine Houyaux s’interrogeront sur la tâche du retraducteur quand texte et image se conjuguent dans des retraductions illustrées.


For registration, follow this link :

Studyday: Avant-Garde Poetry in Translation (UGent)


Ghent University
Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication
12th March, 2020
Ghent, Belgium

Since the 1920s avant-garde poetry has forged an unconventional path that resists categorization and questions mainstream culture. Over the years, the avant-garde has been viewed from different perspectives. It has been studied as a poetic style (Kramer 2009: 3), an aesthetic revolution (Erjavec 2015: 87), a process of experimentation (Chaitas 2017: 74), and a critique of art as it stands at the current time (Watkin 2001: 130). This conference invites us to reflect on the possibility of translating avant-garde poetry. Special focus is given to the aesthetics of the interwar period and to the neo avant-garde poetry that emerged after the Second World War. By adopting a transnational approach to the study of the avant-garde, we encourage participants to focus on any language and linguistic tradition in and outside Europe.

Translation, which can be understood as “a contextual revision of meaning” (Le Blanc 2019: 59), raises questions regarding the timelessness of the literary work and the relevance of the avant-garde not only in its original socio-political context but also to this day. In examining the possibility of translating poetry, we can also consider the different forms that translation has taken within the context of the avant-garde. For instance, poets of the concretist movement in Brasil —under the influence of Ezra Pound, developed a conception of translation that seeks to reproduce the original text without, however, respecting its meaning (de Campos 2004).

In the 1960s, the French journal Change (1968-1983) qualified translation as a transformative practice (Robel 1973). During those years, translation was associated with the notions of “openness”, “extension”, “plurality”, and “multiplication”, that were part of the critical discourse of the time (Brisset 2006: 236). Those who embraced the movement of transformationnisme saw translation as a way to unearth the hidden potential of the original text and rejected translation as an act of communication or equivalence. As seen in Gérard de Cortanze’s “transformation” (1976) of Huidobro’s poem Altazor (1931), different types of translation are possible as long as they highlight the expressiveness of the language (e.g. word-for-word translations, phonetic translations, translation-extraction).

Despite its capacity to challenge the boundaries of poetic language and form, avant-garde poetry remains largely untranslated (Lodge 1998). Indeed, poetry translation attracts little attention and occupies a tenuous position in academic textbooks. As theoreticians have argued, poetry is “the least translated literary genre” (Venuti 2011: 127) and a “disinterested activity par excellence” (Bourdieu 1993: 51).

This conference opens up new lines of inquiry in the field of translation studies, by inviting participants to explore avant-garde poetry and experiment with different translation options. Theoretical reflections and/or practical case studies can focus on one (or more) of the following subjects:

– Translations of avant-garde poetry during the beginning of the 20th century and the interwar period (e.g. Dada, Futurism, Expressionism, Surealism, Constructivism etc.)

– Translations of neo avant-garde poets in post-war Europe (e.g. Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme, Neo-Dada, Fluxus etc.)

– The poetic legitimacy of the translator

– Theoretical and/or methodological difficulties in poetry translation

– Recontextualization of avant-garde poetry in translation: social relevance and impact

– Avant-garde poets as translators

Scholars at any stage of their research are invited to submit their abstracts in English or French (250-300 words) until the 15th of January 2020. Submissions should be sent to the organizers via e-mail: and You will receive a response by the end of January.

Translating Cultural Memory in Fiction and Testimony – Memory Studies and Translation Studies in Dialogue

University of Innsbruck (Austria), 10-11 October 2019


Scientific Organizers: Claudia Jünke (Innsbruck) and Désirée Schyns (Ghent)

In collaboration with:

– Forschungszentrum Kulturen in Kontakt (Innsbruck) and

– Centrum voor literatuur in vertaling (Ghent)



A few years ago Sharon Deane-Cox (2013: 309) observed a “striking absence of dialogue between memory studies and translations studies”, two fields of research which with very rare exceptions (such as Brodzki 2007) did not have much contact with each other. This diagnosis is still valid today and has recently been confirmed by Siobhan Brownlie (2016: 12) who states that “the research concerning translation and memory […] has not been conceptualized as a whole”. The interdisciplinary conference aims at bringing together scholars from cultural memory studies and from translation studies without privileging one of the two disciplinary perspectives. In doing so, it wants to further explore the potential of a new research design that results from the intersections and the interplay of these two areas of study.

The focus of the conference will lie on a particular kind of memory: fictional and testimonial literature’s memories of traumatic pasts, i.e. memories of wars, genocide, dictatorship, colonial oppression, terror and other forms of politically and ethnically motivated violence. We propose to consider literary fictions and testimony that deal with these issues as media of ‘cultural memory’ in the sense of Jan Assmann (1992) and Aleida Assmann (2012), i.e. of collectively shared visions of the past which emerge from historical knowledge stored in and transmitted by cultural objects and practices and which circulate and are negotiated in the (trans)cultural sphere. What happens when texts that represent, perform and negotiate traumatic memories are translated into other languages and therefore into other cultural contexts? What is the importance of particular translation strategies, of paratextual framing, of different horizons of expectation and reception for the transmission of cultural reminiscence? Which role do the translations, the translators and other agents of translation play for memory’s transcultural, cross-border ‘travels’? Is there an ‘ethics of translation’ when it comes to the transfer of memories of past crimes? These are some of the question that the conference wants to address.

The far-reaching absence of dialogue between translation studies scholars and those cultural studies scholars interested in questions of translation seems to be mainly a consequence of the different concepts of ‘translation’ that are at play. On the one hand, cultural studies scholars advocate for a wide-ranging concept that understands ‘translation’ in a broad and metaphorical sense, referring for instance to the transfers between cultures, areas of knowledge or academic disciplines. This is for instance the case in Doris Bachmann-Medick’s work on the ‘translational turn’ in the humanities (see Bachmann-Medick 2009). On the other hand, translation studies scholars tend to criticize this conceptual widening and claim the importance of a more specific and narrow concept of translation that keeps ‘translation proper’ as its point of reference (see Dizdar 2009, Heller 2017). In focusing on memories of traumatic pasts in fictional and testimonial literature and in fostering a dialogue between memory scholars interested in questions of translation and translation scholars interested in questions of memory the conference wants to stimulate productive discussions that transcend the binarity of these two positions and that scrutinize the cross-fertilizations between the two academic disciplines.

The conference will focus both on theoretical and conceptual aspects and on particular case studies (on different genres such as narrative, poetry, drama, graphic novels, testimony, autobiography) that reflect on the intersections of memory and translation and that explicitly tackle the problems, questions and desiderata addressed in this description.

More information :