Spotlight on... Lucía Ruiz Rosendo


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Lucía Ruiz Rosendo has been an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting (FTI) since 2015. She specialises in interpreting in conflict and post-conflict zones, the impact of some stressors on the interpreter’s performance in simultaneous interpreting and interpreter training. She is the coordinator of the project AXS. She also coordinates and teaches in the FTI-ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) programme to train ICRC interpreters who work in the field and the FTI-UNOG (United Nations Office at Geneva) course “Interpreting in UN field missions”. In this e-Bulletin she tells us more about her research in interpreting in conflict and post-conflict zones.

Professor Ruiz Rosendo, when did you start your research in this field and why? 

My original interests lay primarily in the area of conference interpreting in the medical field. In fact, my doctoral work dealt with the different aspects that surround simultaneous interpreting in that discipline. Then I came across a couple of references that opened up an entirely new area for me: interpreting in conflict zones. I realised that the profile of interpreters in this context is very different to that of conference interpreters: people who happen to end up interpreting rather than qualified interpreters who happen to work in conflict settings; people who are hired, not because they have received training as interpreters, but because they speak the relevant languages and belong to the relevant cultures. This lack of training entails potential quality issues and has an impact on the interpreter’s status, the delimitation of tasks and the setting of boundaries. The latter aspect is related to the fact that most of the interpreters actually belong to the community in conflict: most of the interpreters who worked for the Western troops in Afghanistan were “locals”, i.e. Afghan citizens. Additionally, some of the interpreters who work with refugees are refugees themselves. This has major ethical implications, principally in terms of impartiality, neutrality, and accuracy. These implications gain increased relevance if we consider how dangerous a flaw in communication can be in these sensitive settings. 

The field of interpreting in conflict zones seems like a very broad area: could you explain what specific topics you are interested in?

Yes, I agree. I consider that it is important to be more specific and avoid the (excessive) use of the widespread term “conflict zone” without further delimitation. Each context presents different characteristics and challenges, and we should not forget that interpreting is a situated practice. For example, interpreting for the military is not the same as interpreting for a humanitarian organisation. I would go even further: interpreting in peacekeeping operations is not the same as interpreting in counterinsurgency operations. 

I have focused my research on interpreting for the armed forces in different scenarios (peacekeeping and counterinsurgency operations), different conflicts (mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East) and organisations (NATO, EU, UN), exploring the interpreter’s positionality as well as the ethical implications of working in those contexts. I have also analysed the role of the affective in interpreting in intractable conflicts, a project I am especially proud of. The role of emotions and their impact on the behaviour of and decisions taken by interpreters who work in conflict settings is an overlooked topic within Interpreting Studies, despite the recognition of the extreme conditions under which these interpreters work. 

What are the challenges of doing research in this field?

Qualitative methods are most widely used in this field. Most of the studies are based on interviews conducted by scholars who do not have direct experience as interpreters or as users in these settings (sometimes not even as interpreters in other contexts). The challenge of applying these methods is gaining access to the field and to the people who actually have the experience. There are only a few publications written by those who have direct experience as interpreters or as users of interpreters in these conflict and post-conflict settings. In this sense, I see research in this field as participatory, in that the researchers need the participants to have access to their stories. Then, there are important ethical implications because the work interpreters carry out is very sensitive, particularly in humanitarian settings. In the case of historical studies, the challenge is having access to the historical sources. Also, scholars are faced with the difficulty of identifying relevant sources of information, because historical references to interpreting are often scattered across sources that are not specifically focused on this activity. 

What are the main conclusions that you have come to?

There is a lack of interdisciplinary studies combining Interpreting Studies with other fields. There also needs to be more joint projects, collaboration among scholars, and between scholars and the users of interpreting services in conflict and post-conflict settings, such as international organisations, NGOs or the armed forces. Such collaboration is extremely important, and I have personally seen how enriching it is to collaborate with them. Also, more thought should be given to the nature of learning and learning dynamics. We need to go beyond the simplistic view that untrained interpreters are not or cannot be professionals. They are actually able to perform their job, so what is interesting is to explore how they do so. Training programmes should bridge and transcend the gaps between formal and informal, individual and collective, and acquisitional and participatory views of learning to encompass different modes of learning that take account of the real challenges in the workplace.

Thank you, Professor Ruiz Rosendo. How do you see the future?

There is a need to carry out more research to inform the development of consistent training programs adapted to the needs of specific contexts, types of interpreters, and service users. Also, I think there are some topics that require further research, such as the psychological implications of working in conflict and the role of emotions. I do not only mean analysing the psychological implications of working in these settings, but also the need to recognise that our emotions have an impact on the decisions that we take, as human beings, in general, and as interpreters, in particular. Consequently, we should embrace the notion of emotional capital as a form of cultural capital that includes the emotion-specific resources that interpreters as individuals embody in certain fields.