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  • Regulatory Translations:Expertise and Affect in Global Legal Fields
  • Ziya Umut Türem (bio) and Andrea Ballestero (bio)

“The biggest chunk of my job involves translation; I am, for all intents and purposes, a translator,” said Arif Asya,1 a Turkish corporate lawyer who was part of a roundtable in the Regulatory Translations workshop we held in Istanbul in May 2013. Being a corporate lawyer and working for foreign clients, as well as local ones, he argued, put him in situations where he had to actively engage in cultural and linguistic translations. At times, he needed to translate the business context and local sensitivities to a foreign client, a process that included, in his words, “selective translations,” which effectively meant nontranslations. Sometimes, he needed to translate local laws to local clients because such laws, having been distilled not only from Ottoman and Turkish history, but also from Roman and German law, contained quite arcane language. Asya’s intervention as a practicing corporate lawyer-translator in an otherwise academic setting was a powerful reminder that as scholars we also, to some extent, are engaged in constant processes of translation. For in the workshop where earlier versions of the papers in this collection were presented, participants not only used the concept of “translation” as an analytic in their respective projects, but also performed constant translation-work, as we all came from rather diverse academic and professional backgrounds, ranging from [End Page 1] law to anthropology, accounting to political science, or nongovernmental organization (NGO) work to corporate law firms.

Building on that experience, the workshop in Istanbul and this special issue attempt to mobilize “translation” as a heuristic to observe, understand, and explain regulatory circulations. Our goal has been to work with translation as a lens through which we can analyze the politics of legal and regulatory change in different parts of the globe at different temporalities. In this introduction, we attempt to show the potential that joining the two concepts, regulation and translation, offers for critical reflection, particularly for those interested in questions of legality, normativity, and “the publics” of such legal-regulatory ordering.

As Asya’s comment so powerfully conveys, translation has become a ubiquitous idiom for legal practitioners, citizens, and academics reflecting on how these actors engage in global relations, legal interactions, and political networks. As a concept that so firmly grasps the imagination and practice of both subjects and objects of social scientific research, translation offers a productive window to analyze the politics of law and regulation and the sharing of technical questions, theoretical resources, and practical concerns between social commentators and practitioners. In a world of burgeoning expert regimes where legal actors are becoming increasingly reflexive about their knowledge practices, translation as a theoretical resource and practical concern poses interesting analytic challenges to socio-legal scholarship. It makes the distinction between legal and nonlegal actors more difficult to maintain, it brings highly technical issues into the framework of the law, and it brings into conversation geographical and cultural differences that in the past seemed difficult to put side by side. In this context of a broad base of legal subjectivities, expanded technical domains, and rediscovered difference, it is necessary to ask what specifically can we gain from utilizing the concept of translation, not just as a means to make sense of global legal flows after the 1980s, but as an enduring analytic category. The papers in this special issue offer their own answers to this question, but in this introduction, you will find a general reflection on what we, the editors, see as the collective contribution the papers make.

Through the historical richness that the authors examine, this collection offers not only powerful examples of how historical and geographical specificity matter for any attempt to adopt or change regulatory instruments, but also provides insights on how such historical differences enact various regulatory ontologies. Here, to state the obvious, we consider translation not merely as an interlingual practice. While that dimension is certainly present in some of the [End Page 2] articles ahead, the authors use the concept of translation in several different senses. Broadly speaking, translation refers to conversions of meanings and practices across different national jurisdictions, regimes...


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