Whose Voice? Creative Translation Framework

Empowerment and development inevitably require participation and negotiation of diverse interests and conflicting power positions. The role of creative artists can usefully be seen as that of an intermediary ‘creative translator advocate’ between communities and powerful institutions.

Empowerment and poverty:
community versus external voices?

Why pictorial communication?

Empowerment and poverty are highly contested concepts. Different people within ‘communities’ often perceive realities in very different ways. Outsiders – both development staff within countries as well as people from outside – inevitably base their assumptions and even questions based on their own subjective experiences and opinions as well as what they see and hear from people they talk to.

Much of my professional consultancy work with international development agencies has focused on development of participatory pictorial methodologies to help people in poor and marginalised communities to clarify and analyse their situation, assumptions and behaviour in order to identify strategies for change. The process and outputs of these participatory pictorial processes have proved extremely powerful in terms of facilitating understanding between participants from different communities and development agencies and governments to develop ‘win-win’ agendas for change.

Potential power of pictorial communication
‘A picture is worth a thousand words’

– clarification of complex ideas and concepts
– immediate and memorable communication
– more information conveyed in a much smaller space and  time
– resources accessible to all and more equal communication across inequalities of literacy and power
– reduced need for translation across national and international language barriers.

Details of the GAMEchange participatory visual methodologies I have developed with organisations in different parts of the world can be seen on the GAMEchange Network website.

Community Voices and Context 1:
Empowerment, Pakistan
Community Voices and Context 2:
Poverty, India
Women planning for livelihood development: India

Moreover, the potential for on-line dissemination of these change strategies is likely to significantly increase:

– Rapidly growing numbers of men and women in rural as well as urban communities worldwide, particularly youth, now have smart phones and are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other national social networks.
– Rapid spread of technology and cheap on-line software and apps potentially enable people in communities as well as staff in development organisations to produce visual information for learning and advocacy.
– The COVID pandemic has accelerated use of on-line communication.

Why animation?

However, despite the power of many of the pictorial outputs to clarify concepts and exchange important ideas and experiences for participants, using these drawings to communicate to people who did not participate presents a number of challenges.

But what do the pictures say?
Pictorial communication challenges

‘symbols may be context-specific’ or specific to particular individuals

‘ the medium may not be the message’ : Many of the drawings and role plays are very immediate and expressive – including drawings by people who never held a pen before. But the drawing style and content may be by local availability of particular media (pencils/ biros/ markers, lined/blank/coloured paper, role play props). The participatory workshops are also very time-constrained where the aim is empowerment of participants, not ‘effective’ design. This means that the visual outputs may not do full justice to the messages and meanings they represent.

‘Just pretty pictures by illiterates’: Visual outputs are rarely in a form that is easily communicated to people who were not participating in the process. A lot of the impact of the community-level imagery is lost because lack of visual literacy by people with formal education – ie those in power – mean they often miss the deeper meanings and sophisticated analysis behind the drawings.

Potential power of animation

– to enhance communication of the drawings and reduce the need for text through placing pictures in a narrative context informed by other information.
– to attract attention and increase the visual impact and memory through use of visual design and narrative strategies.
– to increase accessibility across educational, national and international barriers.
– to develop an animation approach that valorises and showcases the voices of those without power or formal education.
– thereby building mutual understanding and respect between those with and without power and education.

Animation is a rapidly expanding and evolving industry, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. There are an increasing number of highly skilled professional animators and animation studios producing high quality animation for advocacy to a global audience. This includes powerful animations on gender equality and empowerment, including popular TV shows. Growth has accelerated as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, and is set to continue to expand.

Global animation inspiration: Pakistan
Global animation inspiration: India
Global animation inspiration: Africa

Why this Research?

However most animation produced by and for development agencies is disconnected from the community level. There is currently a profound social, educational and linguistic gap in development agencies between those who participate in and implement participatory processes on the ground and those employed specifically to design ‘development messages’. This makes these messages seem ‘top down’ and externally imposed – even where people in the community might agree or even be more ‘progressive’. It also means that the large numbers of people, particularly women, who have no formal education and do not speak majority languages are marginalised.

Common limitations of animation for development organisations

Top down ‘professional design’: Many visual materials produced for development agencies on empowerment and other topics are very standardised in appearance and simplistic in their messages. Their top-down (and often rather patronising) approach means that even important information risks being ignored.

Increasing exclusion The most ‘professional’ design relies on written diagrams – often in English or French! Large numbers of the most marginalised people – from minority ethnic groups, poorer backgrounds and many women – who cannot read and write and/or do not speak any of the major international languages. Many also do not speak the main national Asian or African languages.

For analysis of ‘external voices’ from development agencies see:

External Voices:
Gender Equality and Empowerment Animations

My own animation practice, like that of anyone else, will inevitably be at least partly subjective. However people participating in the participatory workshops are better able to understand and respond to a diversity of community points of view. The diversity of community voices can then be placed in the context of experiences elsewhere, questioning and/or reaffirming the analyses and policies of develop agencies and other powerful actors.

Ideally I would have been able to test my visual experimentation directly in communities myself to do in-depth ethnographic/ action/anthropological research. Initially in early 2019 I had envisaged a participatory action research process, designing and testing animations with people from different backgrounds at community level. Then presenting and discussing these with a range of global audiences to test different responses. However due to COVID-19 revisiting communities producing the selected community drawings or conducting a new process for this research were impossible within the timeframe. Feedback networks were also very curtailed as colleagues were very busy with even more challenges in their work.

I therefore changed my research design to focus more on developing my own ‘Zemni animation voice’. I continue to work within a broad framework for Participatory Visual Communication practice, aiming for a detailed understanding of:

– what different people (women, men, rich, poor, those with and without power, with and without formal education, different ethnicities etc) in communities are trying to communicate.
– the ways in which these different messages are likely to be received by those in power.

A key aim of the research is:

Reflective practice: exploring and applying visual communication theories from graphic design/info-graphic theory and wordless narratives to improve my own visual work as creative translator.

I base assessment of my visual experimentation on a ‘creative translation bricolage’ framework of aesthetic and ethical prompts bringing together existing theoretical frameworks. I use this framework to identify, develop and test ‘usefulness’ of multiple experimental ‘creative translations’ as a portfolio of possibilities for future community and audience discussion as and when the contexts are more favourable.

!!Insert section on research approaches: inductive/deductive/abductive and design cycle

Bricolage Approach

The quest for a visual communication practice that can ‘translate’ community voices into powerful voices for advocacy requires research frameworks and methods that correspond to the empowerment aims.

I propose a ‘bricolage’ approach to theory and methodology. ‘Bricolage’ comes from the French ‘bricoler’ which means ‘creatively using materials left over from other projects to construct new artefacts’ (Rogers, 2012 P1).:

Bricolage is a qualitative approach that weaves together threads and ideas from different theoretical frameworks and perspectives into a more informed and multi-faceted research methodology for understanding of an issue.

Bricoleur: someone who brings together ideas about ways of working with different local materials as a means for physical as well as digital dissemination of images. Bricolage is potentially an open, playful, mixed media methodology for ‘translations’, ‘cobbling together’ different styles and cheap local materials for image making and combines these into interactive narrative information graphics. Aiming for a ‘multicoloured cloth’ a that people from different backgrounds and perspectives can unite around.

It is an approach to theoretical and qualitative methodological enquiry based on the understandings that:
reality is complex and multidimensional, particularly social reality. It and therefore cannot be adequately understood through any one pre-determined theoretical framework.
all research is political: knowledge and power are intimately linked so the only way to gain rigour and depth of understanding is to include the perspectives of those normally excluded from ‘dominant knowledge construction’.
research methodologies therefore need to be eclectic, non-linear and emergent, bringing together multiple and potentially competing voices. Linking back to the meaning of ‘bricolage’ in visual research this includes working with cheap local materials and in multiple styles, particularly those that can facilitate inclusion of people normally marginalised by gender, race, class and other dimensions of inequality.

The bricolage approach means a very eclectic and contingent gathering of sources of inspiration:
– Analysis of the community drawings is the primary driver as valued primary sources – and what is needed for their ‘creative translation’ for advocacy.
Selection of work from other illustrators, animators and graphic designers from a range of cultural traditions based on contingent serendipity from openness to new influences as they arise.
Reflective practice: exploring and applying visual communication theories from graphic design/info-graphic theory and wordless narratives to improve my own visual work as creative translator.

Cognitive Map: Translation Bricolage questions
Interactive Infographic: Creative Translation Bricolage questions

Who should speak for whom?
Translation Theory

‘Foreignizing translation’ vs ‘abusive fidelity’? (Venuti ref)

How does one write about or represent another culture in one’s own language and terms without those very terms and conceptions altering that which is being represented? How do one’s conceptual notions color what one see and reports? (Niranjan ref)

The Western scholar/translator can partially access the subaltern condition, not through what is specifically said…but by reading that which is not said – reading the gaps, the silences, and the contradictions symptomatically…it is necessary to ‘unlearn’ in order to allow the mute [sic] to speak (Spivak Ref)

Spivak (!!full ref)

Translation theory is concerned with the processes of ‘carrying over’ meanings from one ‘text’ in one form or language to another ‘text’ in another form or language. (my definition). It borrows concepts and approaches from a range of disciplines including: comparative literature, computer science, history,  linguistics,  philology,  philosophy,  semiotics, and terminology.

Texts may take many forms: spoken, written, visual, digital, musical and the ‘carrying over’ may be within or between these forms, or even ‘updating’ within the same form. Translation theory is concerned with issues such as:

analysis of source texts and meanings eg is there only one or many meanings in a text? how can meaning be derived?
analysis of target text and audience understandings of meaning eg how far does the purpose and audience require adaptation and change in the final form?
the nature of ‘equivalence’ and role of the translator in transforming source texts into target texts eg are translators ‘faithful messengers’ or also creative authors of the target text?

Of particular relevance for empowerment and participatory approaches are linkages that have been made between translation theory and post-colonial and subaltern theory by authors such as Tejaswini Niranjan and Gayatri Spivak. They are concerned particularly with:

power relations between translators, those producing the source texts and those consuming the target texts: which voices and texts are chosen for translation? can the translator (Western or post-colonial academics in the global South) really understand and translate the voices of ‘oppressed’ and ‘subaltern’ marginalised from dominant cultures? is the role of the translator to replace one ‘word’ in the source text with another ‘formally equivalent’ word in the target text as the risk of either ‘abusive fidelity’ or ‘exotic stereotypical foreignization’? or is the role to be creative in producing texts that ‘free, transform and multiply meaning’ (Quebec feminists ref?!?)

KEY QUESTIONS

  • What practical and ethical issues are involved in ‘creative visual translation’ of community voices by external actors?
  • What visual communication strategies do women and men in different communities use to represent empowerment and gender inequality? How far do the drawings speak for themselves? What needs translating, why and for whom?
  • What different visual, animation and narrative approaches used by graphic artists, animators and film-makers from different cultures could be used to help address these limitations?
  • What are the limitations of visual communication where text is needed? For whom?
  • What are the implications for a participatory protocol for creatively translating community voices for a wider global audiences?
Cognitive Map: Translation Theory
Interactive Infographic: Translation Theory !! Insert Interactive pdf

Who is saying what?
Post-structuralist semiotics

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols in the process of production and communication of meaning (my definition). It provides a framework for investigating meanings of community drawings and diagrams. Looking at the ways in which ‘meanings’ are constructed from visual symbols, focusing on relationships and elements in a conceptual system but (following postmodernism) exploring the challenges of potential plurality and instability of pictorial (as well as verbal) meaning across cultures and contexts.

Semiotics includes the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogy,  allegory,  metonymy,  metaphor,  symbolism, signification, and communication. Some influences have been drawn from phenomenological analysis, cognitive psychology, structuralist, and cognitivist linguistics, and visual anthropology and sociology.

Apart from being a branch of linguistics, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems. The term ‘semiotics’ refers particularly to discussions in the United States where semiotics has been prevalent in discussions of Communication Theory, behavioural science and cybernetics. In Europe the term ‘semiology’ is common, referring to discussions around cultural meanings of signs in everyday life and political discourse, particularly in post-structuralist questioning of modernism, capitalism and universal meanings following the political upheavals in 1968.

Pictorial semiotics

Pictorial semiotics focuses on the properties of pictures in a general sense, and on how the artistic conventions of images can be interpreted through pictorial codes. Pictorial codes are the way in which viewers of pictorial representations seem automatically to decipher the artistic conventions of images by being unconsciously familiar with them.

Semiotics provides a technical language to describe how images are coded and decoded. Amongst other concepts semiotics uses connotation and denotation as a way of describing actual and intended meanings:

Denotation describes the obvious, literal things in an image.
Connotation describes the associations we have with that image. These associations are determined by our social, economic and personal perspectives.

Meanings also reside in visual dynamics:

– which images are chosen and what they stand for
– connotation of different types of line, shape, colour and texture
– where images are placed and the hierarchy of relationships between each of the signs. Placing something at the front or top of an image will create a different meaning from placing something at the back or bottom.

According to Swedish semiotician Göran Sonesson in (1988). “Methods and Models in Pictorial Semiotics” (1988 pp. 2–98.) pictures can be analysed by three models:

narrative model, which concentrates on the relationship between pictures and time in a chronological manner as in a comic strip;
rhetoric model, which compares pictures with different devices as in a metaphor;
laokoon (or laocoon) model, which considers the limits and constraints of pictorial expressions by comparing textual mediums that use time with visual mediums that use space

Concept Map: Semiotics and Semiology
Interactive Infographic: Semiotics and Semiology !! pdf forthcoming

Key questions for this research include:

Looking at the ways in which ‘meanings’ are constructed from visual symbols, focusing on relationships and elements in a conceptual system but (following postmodernism) exploring the challenges of potential plurality and instability of pictorial (as well as verbal) meaning across cultures and contexts.

Who understands what?
Visual Communication theory

Visual communication theory is concerned with the process by which visual artists design and send encoded messages for particular audiences and the contextual factors influencing that process. It provides a framework for looking at the work of other animators and relationships between animators, audiences and messages, including theories of visual dynamics, narrative theory, systems diagramming and information and interactive design. Different theories have emphasised and elaborated on different elements.

The following interactive animation gives a summary overview of key points.

Click on the image to bring up the interactive animation file and then click on the text.
Based on my notes from: Davis, M., (2012) Graphic Design Theory, London: Thames and Hudson.

Zemni Voice
Creative Translation Practice

DETAILED QUESTIONS

  • What practical and ethical issues are involved in ‘creative visual translation’ of community voices by external actors?
  • What visual communication strategies do women and men in different communities use to represent empowerment and gender inequality? How far do the drawings speak for themselves? What needs translating, why and for whom?
  • What different visual, animation and narrative approaches used by graphic artists, animators and film-makers from different cultures could be used to help address these limitations?
  • What are the limitations of visual communication where text is needed? For whom?
  • What are the implications for a participatory protocol for creatively translating community voices for a wider global audiences?

The role of creative artists can usefully be seen as that of an intermediary ‘creative translator advocate’ between communities and powerful institutions.

The bricolage approach means a very eclectic and contingent gathering of sources of inspiration:

– Analysis of the community drawings is the primary driver as valued primary sources – and what is needed for their ‘creative translation’ for advocacy.

Selection of work from other illustrators, animators and graphic designers from a range of cultural traditions based on contingent serendipity from openness to new influences as they arise – guides my

A key aim of the research is:

Reflective practice: exploring and applying visual communication theories from graphic design/info-graphic theory and wordless narratives to improve my own visual work as creative translator.

Cognitive Map: Participatory VisCom revisited
Animated Infographic 2: Creative translation framework !! interactive pdf to be done
ThinkingAboutTranslatingImages-pdf-image.jpg

Sources consulted

Semiotics
  • Barthes, R., (1967 (French 1964)) Elements of Semiology, New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Barthes, R., (2009 (French 1957)) Mythologies, London: Vintage Books.
  • Barthes, R., (2010 (French 1967)) The Fashion System, London: Vintage Books.
  • Barthes, R., (1977) Image Music Text, London: Fontana Press.
  • Barthes, R., (2000 (French 1980)) Camera Lucida, London: Vintage Books.
  • Cobley, P. & Jansz, L., (2010) Introducing Semiotics: A graphic guide, London: Icon Books Ltd.
  • Collins, J. & Mayblin, B., (2011) Introducing Derrida: A graphic guide, London: Icon Books Ltd.
  • Downs, S., (2012) The Graphic Communication Handbook, London, New York: Routledge.
  • Guiraud, P., (1975 (French 1971)) Semiology, London: Routledge.
  • Hall, S., (2012) This Means This, That Means That: a user’s guide to semiotics, London: Laurence King Publishing.
  • Horrocks, C. & Jevtic, Z., (2011) Introducing Baudrillard: A graphic guide, London: Icon Books.
  • Thody, P. & Piero, (2013) Introducing Barthes: A graphic guide, London: Icon Books Ltd.
  • To get: Sonesson, Göran (1988). “Methods and Models in Pictorial Semiotics”

Also link to literature on linguistics and creative thinking/creativity.

Visual Communication
  • Davis, M., (2012) Graphic Design Theory, London: Thames and Hudson.
Translation Theory
  • !! Berman ref
  • Mahasweta Devi (Author), & Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Translator) (1995) Imaginary Maps, London, New York: Routledge.
  • Eccleshall, B (2019) An Analytic of Making: Translating Berman’s Twelve Deforming Tendencies in Translating Across Sensory and Linguistic Borders: Intersemiotic Journeys Between Media Edited by Ricarda Vidal and Madeleine Campbell 2019, Palgrave Macmillan. Pp269-??
  • Gentzler, E., (2001) Contemporary Translation Theories, Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto, Sydney: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
  • Morton, S., (2003) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, London, New York: Routledge.
  • Munday, J., (2012) Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Application, London, New York: Routledge.
  • Niranjana, T., (1992) Siting Translation: History, post-structuralism and the colonial context, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press.
  • Schulte, R. & Biguenet, J. (eds.) (1992) Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida, Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Spivak, G. C., (1990) The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, New York, London: Routledge.
  • Spivak, G. C., (1998) In Other Worlds, London, New York: Routledge.
Sources Bricolage

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (eds.) (1999) The SAGE Handbook of qualitative research, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Phillimore, J., Humphries, R., Klaas, F. & Knecht, M.,(2016) Bricolage: potential as a conceptual tool for understanding access to welfare in superdiverse neighbourhoods. IRIS Working Paper. Birmingham: Birmingham University. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/social-policy/iris/2016/working-paper-series/IRiS-WP-14-2016UPWEB3.pdf

Rogers, M.,(2012) Contextualising Theories and Practices of Bricolage Research. The Qualitative Report, 17, 1-17. University of New Brunswick, matt.rogers@unb.ca: https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1704&context=tqr

Wibberley, C.(2012) Getting to Grips with Bricolage: A Personal Account. The Qualitative Report, 17, 1-8. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1760&context=tqr

Wibberley, C. (2017) Bricolage Research Methods. In E. A. Glasper & C. Rees (Eds.), Health Care Research: at a glance. Ch 52 pp106-1071. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell:https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307888252_Bricolage_Research_Methods