Over the last decade, this sociological approach to narrative has been introduced into the field of translation and interpreting studies, notably through the work of Mona Baker. Narrative theory provides ‘a framework for examining the discourse and practices of individual translators and interpreters, of civil society, and of professional and scholarly communities in terms of the stories to which an individual or group appears to subscribe’ (Boéri 2008:23). Several translation and interpreting theorists have used the concept of narrative as a tool for exploring questions of agency and ethics, as well as questions of activism and identity, as we will see in Chapter 8.
Like Somers and Gibson and Whitebrook, these theorists have seen the potential of the more flexible approach to identity offered by narrative theory. One advantage of this approach is that it allows for differing strategies to be adopted by translators and interpreters within a particular society or group. Some translation theories – Norm Theory for example – have a tendency to sweep exceptions under the carpet, leaving them out of the analysis in order to make broad statements about the behaviour of a whole society. Narrative theory, on the other hand, embraces these exceptions as evidence that different people within societies subscribe to different narratives, leading to the use of different translation and interpreting strategies.
Furthermore, a narrative approach to identity also explains why a particular translator or interpreter can use more than one strategy – sometime even conflicting strategies – within the same piece of work. A narrative approach would understand this is a case of the translator or interpreter subscribing to many contrasting and even conflicting narratives, leading to different decisions at different moments in the translation or interpreting process.
Finally, a narrative approach to identity can also be used to examine why translators or interpreters choose to accept – or turn down – particular assignments; or, alternatively, to question the behaviour of translators or interpreters who accept assignments which are ethically questionable. This can be examined in terms of the narratives to which a particular linguist subscribes, as we will explore in more detail in chapter 8.