Socio-cultural Perspectives on Translation Activities in Saudi Arabia:A Bourdieusean Account

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Abdullah Alkhamis


The main aim of this thesis is to examine translation practices in Saudi Arabia as "socially situated" activities in the second half of the 20th century. Drawing on Bourdieu's sociological model, the study situates the translation activities of academic, private, and literary institutions in their socio-political context of cultural production. Conceptual tools of analysis derived from Bourdieu, such as field, habitus, capital, doxa, and homology, are used to analyse book translation as a set of emerging sub-fields in Saudi Arabia.The study identifies academic institutions and private publishers as the principal agents contributing to the definition of the field of translation. It analyses the positions they occupy in the field(s) of cultural production and types of capital that have value in the context of their struggles. An expanding range of translation practices by faculty members in academic institutions, especially those undertaken in King Saud University, points to an emerging network of translation-specific positions, which can be referred to as the sub-field of academic translation. The dictates of this sub-field are influenced by strong homologous relations with the encompassing academic field. The capital sought by agents is primarily cultural and symbolic, and is readily convertible to economic capital.The thesis also identifies three private publishers who occupy positions in the second emerging sub-field of translation within the publishing field. These agents display different interests in a variety of stakes and types of capital. Jarir's focus on translating self-help books demonstrates a heavy influence of the heteronomous dictates of the local and global markets, i.e. the economic field, situating it within the heteronomous pole of large scale circulation. Translation practices undertaken by Dar al-Mareekh and Obeikan position them nearer to the autonomous pole of small-scale circulation, where agents target smaller groups of readership and prioritise cultural and symbolic forms of capital. A heteronomous influence exercised by the political field is also detected in Obeikan's focus on political works critical of US foreign policy, which situates these products within the heteronomous pole of politics.A translation by Obeikan of Niall Ferguson's 2004 Colossus is examined in detail as a case study to further illuminate translation strategies as sociological phenomena situated within the field of power. Paratextual engagements reflect discourses of anti-Americanism that have circulated in the Saudi social space since US presence in the Kingdom intensified in 1990. The concepts of orthodoxy and heterodoxy are used to analyse a series of textual interventions at the micro level. Typographic signalling of censored sections that undermine the political authorities is found to reflect the agent's positioning in relation to the heterodoxic, pro-American stance in the political field. The publisher's position in this respect aligns with and reflects the orthodoxic stance of the pan-Islamist, religious-cum-nationalist field, whose agents have protested the continued military cooperation between the Kingdom and the US.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Mona Baker (Supervisor)
  • Matthew Philpotts (Supervisor)
Award date1 Aug 2013