A narrative account of the Babels vs. Naumann controversy: Competing perspectives on activism in conference interpreting

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38 Citations (Scopus)


This paper focuses on the work of Babels, an international network of volunteer translators and interpreters, and examines a specific controversy surrounding its positioning in relation to volunteer and activist practices of interpreting in the context of the World Social Forum. Adopting a narrative perspective, it first examines some of the stories elaborated by Babels - of itself as a group and of its stance on activist interpreting in the Social Forum. It then offers an analysis of a letter that is highly critical of Babels, written by Peter Naumann, a professional interpreter, and published in AIIC's online journal Communicate!. The study reported here is part of a larger project (Boéri, in progress). Rather than outlining binary and discrete positions, the picture that emerges out of the analysis offered here, and particularly in Boéri (in progress), is one of an open-ended, network-like constellation of positionings that are available to and taken up by members of the conference interpreting community, including members of Babels and AIIC. The paper ultimately argues for further critical reflection on the narratives that circulate among members of the conference interpreting community, especially those relating to issues of volunteering, activism and professionalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-50
Number of pages30
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008



  • Activism
  • Babels
  • Conference interpreting
  • Narrative theory
  • Professional ethics
  • Volunteering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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