due to dissertation deadlines this week I am reposting part one of this brilliant translators introduction by By Nate Holdren and Sebastián Touza:
The translation of this significant article, a fundamental piece insofar as it lays bare the values and principles Colectivo Situaciones invoke in their definition of themselves as militants, calls for a reflection on our role as translators. It is our hope that this English version of the article will find resonances among those who practice a politics that is unseparable from thinking in their own situation. But we feel that it is important to share with the reader our urge to dispel any mythical (mis)understanding of the transparency of language. We share with Colectivo Situaciones the conviction that the abstraction involved in the attempt to communicate inevitably impoverishes experience. Translation adds one more layer of abstraction. In this sense, we assume the full significance of the Italian adage traduttore, tradittore. Not because we intend to betray anybody, but because the acknowledgement that every translation is a betrayal is our attempt to keep faith with the concrete situation in which the experience being communicated unfolds.
In this introduction, we would like to go through some of the difficulties we had in doing the translation. We hope that explaining the decisions we made will provide some steps toward bringing the reader closer to the work of Colectivo Situaciones.
We faced our first difficulty when trying to translate the title. We were unsure how to translate the term militancia de investigación. This phrase can be rendered into English as either ‘research militancy’ or ‘militant research’. At the risk of taking words too seriously (always a risk in translation), it may be useful to spend some time on these two possible translations. ‘Militant research’ implies a continuity with other examples of militant research, those presented in other parts of this volume and elsewhere. ‘Research militancy’ may sound strange to the English speaker’s ear and it is less immediately clear what the term means.
The grammatical difference between these two phrases is a matter of which word defines the activity and which word qualifies it, which word will be the predicate of the other. The difference seems to be one of emphasis. Does the Spanish phrase refer to knowledge production which happens to be radical in some way (militant research)? Or does it refer to radical activism which happens to take the form of knowledge production (research militancy)?
Our indecision brought us to ask Colectivo Situaciones which one of the two expressions they felt more comfortable with. To our surprise—or perhaps not—the response was “with both.” “We think of our practice as a double movement: to create ways of being militants that escape the political certainties established a priori and embrace politics as research (in this case, it would be ‘research militancy’), and, at the same time, to invent forms of thinking and producing concepts that reject academic procedures, breaking away from the image of an object to be known and putting at the centre subjective experience (in this case, it would be ‘militant research’).”
Situaciones came together as a collective in the late 1990s. Previously they had been involved in El Mate, a student group notable for creating the Che Guevara Free Lecturership, an experiment oriented to recuperating the memory of the generation of Argentinean and Latin American revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s that began at the faculty of social sciences of the University of Buenos Aires and quickly spread throughout several universities in Argentina and abroad. The Argentinean social landscape in which the men and women of Situaciones forged their ideas was a desert swept by neoliberal winds, in which only a few movements of resistance could stand up by themselves. Those were times in which dilettante postmodern thinkers had come to the conclusion that social change was a relic from the past and in which people involved in politics could only see their activity through rarely questioned models.
Research militancy was the response to the need to rebuild the links between thought and the new forms of political involvement that were rapidly becoming part of the Argentinean reality. In the prologue “On Method” of the book Colectivo Situaciones wrote together with the unemployed workers’ movement of Solano, the authors distinguish research militancy from three other relations to knowledge. On the one hand, academic research inevitably reifies those it constructs as objects. Academics cannot help leaving outside the scope of their investigation the function of attributing meaning, values, interests, and rationalities of the subject who does the research. On the other hand, traditional political activists—those involved in parties or party-like organizations—usually hold that their commitment and involvement makes their relation to knowledge more advanced than the work done by academics. But their activity is not less objectifying, in the sense that it always approaches the struggles from a previously constituted knowledge framework. Struggles are thus regarded not for their value in themselves, but rather in terms of their contribution to something other than themselves—the socialist or communist society awaiting at the end of the road. A third figure, the humanitarian activist, also relates to others in an instrumental fashion—in the justification and funding of NGOs (non-governmental organizations)—and takes the world as static, not subject to being changed radically (thus, the best one can hope for is the alleviation of the worst abuses).
Research militancy does not distinguish between thinking and doing politics. For, insofar as we reserve the notion of thought for the thinking/doing activity that deposes the logic by which existing models acquire meaning, thinking is immediately political. On the other hand, if we reserve the concept of politics for the struggle for freedom and justice, all politics involves thinking, because there are forms of thinking against established models implicit in every radical practice—a thought people carry out with their bodies. ....
of course the easy way to render this term if you're in a rush, is with the more common in English term "activist research" - but what a treat to take the time to think it through like this! by the way, see my previous post about the term militante