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Gender, Power, and Identity in the Interpreting Classroom: The US-China Anchorage talks as course material


Interpreting pedagogy has traditionally focused on the training of skills to fulfill market needs. Cultural Studies elements—in particular discourse on gender, identity, and power relations—have rarely been foregrounded in the teaching of interpreting, and even less so in conference interpreting programs. It is an industry-oriented pedagogical practice which has, on the more extreme end, fed into the glamorization of a profession which arguably should be more introspective on its complicity in upholding relations of power. With the aim of providing students with a more rounded education in interpreting, this article documents and discusses a preliminary attempt to introduce cultural studies discourse in a consecutive interpreting course conventionally positioned as a technical one, and one where students are commonly evaluated according to the criteria of accuracy, language, and delivery. By analyzing a real-world interpreting event—the US-China Anchorage talks—using the concepts of gender, power, and identity, the instructor attempts to counter institutional marketing claims of the profession being necessarily conducive to “intercultural communication.” Instead the analysis demonstrates that the claim masks what is in effect displays of power driven by domestic interests rather than target audience needs. It is an analytical account based on a cultural studies theoretical framework not meant to prescribe fixed methods or materials for the classroom. Instead it is offered as an example where alternative methods or materials can be introduced to initiate a line of inquiry for culturally-minded instructors who find the instrumentalist framework of accuracy, language, and delivery restrictive in explaining the dynamics between language and power. The role of the interpreter in the process of communication is thus problematized; the supposed agency the interpreter enjoys is also questioned. In fact, the analysis suggests that the higher the level of interpreting (i.e. high-level interpreting) the more the interpreter functions in service of power rather than an idealized notion of the common good, a reality that students deserve to understand.


interpreting pedagogy, cultural studies, gender, identity, power relations



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