Chapter 10: Objectivity
1. The scientific model of a discipline, as well as method and objectives from natural sciences allow Toury not only to gain institutional recognition for the discipline, but also to combat other approaches to translation (see chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4). The important question that arises is to what extent the study of translation is amenable to or capable of ‘scientific rigour’. Are objectivity, replicability, and laws attainable? Are such goals desirable in translation research? Although praising Toury’s empiricism for liberating the study of translation from other approaches, and for opening up new investigative possibilities, Hermans feels that recasting translation studies as an empirical science gives rise to a sometimes positivistic and mechanistic approach in which the roles of hermeneutics and of the human agent, the translator, are overlooked (see chapter 9 para 1) (Hermans 1995, 222). For Hermans, therefore, espousing scientific goals is not desirable insofar as it leads to the neglect of important aspects of the study of translation.
2. At a fundamental level the possibility of ‘objectivity’ must be discussed. Toury’s rigid separation of the descriptive from the prescriptive is premised on that possibility. In current thinking about scientific method it is recognized that there is no such thing as ‘pure observation’ of phenomena or ‘pure induction’ from phenomena, since ‘theory dependence’ (dependence on broad theoretical assumptions) occurs throughout the research process. No theory or theoretical model can claim to be absolutely final or neutrally conceived, since all meaning is the product of changing social and cultural constraints (Arrojo 1998, 39). All research is mediated by situated subjects: interpretation, judgements, premises, selections, and evaluation enter into scientific research at every stage and in a variety of ways (Chalmers 1982, 25-33, Lewins 1992, 9-17). Toury’s model based on a notion of scientific objectivity is thus an idealization of empirical science.
3. At various times in his writing Toury does point towards the intervention of acts of the mind in research: he says that the researcher constructs the object of study, and that comparison of TT and ST is indirect (Toury 1995, 23, 80). In one statement he recognizes a similarity between the prescription of norms and his own kind of descriptive accounts:
[Verbalisations of norms] always embody other interests too, particularly a desire to control behaviour – i.e. dictate norms (e.g. by culture planners) – or account for them in a conscious, systematic way (e.g. by scholars). (Toury 1998a, 16)
However Toury then goes on to say: “if one wishes to expose the bare norms, any given formulation will have to be stripped of the alien interests it has accumulated” (Toury 1998a, 16). This statement seems misconceived, in the same way as is his statement that description must refrain from value judgements in the selection and presentation of material (Toury 1995, 2). How can one get to “bare norms” or produce “bare descriptions”?
4. Any description must be produced within a theoretical framework reflecting a viewpoint; interpretation and values must be involved. As Chesterman writes: “surely no human action is ‘value-free’, so how could translation be?” or translation description – even ‘ideological neutrality’ is itself a value (Chesterman 1998a, 94). Chesterman says that the inevitability of value-ladenness is surely a platitude. Hermans rejoinders that it may be a platitude, but it is one routinely denied by several approaches to the study of translation:
…several linguistic and also descriptive approaches to translation commonly sidestep the issue, whether by focusing exclusively on formal linguistic categories or by claiming that description must exclude evaluation. (Hermans 1998b, 141)
It would seem that the last part of this remark is directed at Toury’s approach.