The EST colloquium on research skills which took place in Ljubljana in September 2006 was designed with a specific focus. The (interesting) exchanges turned out to be less focused, both because speakers did not necessarily address research skills centrally and because discussions tended to go in other directions. In this brief introduction, I will try to add a few comments. I hope that other colleagues will contribute their own, so as to make the discussion of the issue more comprehensive.
One issue cropped up early in the debate and occupied centre stage for some time. The colloquium had been organized partly on the basis of a central differentiation between two paradigms in TS, the Liberal Arts Paradigm (LAP) and the Empirical Science Paradigm (ESP) (see the other texts devoted to these paradigms in the Research Issues Page of the EST Website). Some colleagues challenged this division and argued for a continuum in which the respective part of data and theories vary. While this conceptual view is legitimate, I am convinced of the usefulness of acknowledging and taking on board important practical differences in the approach, norms and methods of empirical disciplines versus the liberal arts, as illustrated by the first two papers Radegundis Stolze’s and Delia Chiaro’s, as well as by Chesterman’s paper.
My background being ESP, I found Radegundis Stolze’s presentation on LAP particularly instructive and enlightening as it provided explanations to trends I had detected in the approach of some colleagues without understanding their origin. In particular, Stolze stresses the importance of subjectivity, deliberate position-taking (under “opinion”) and argumentation in LAP, one important aim being to challenge previous authors’ statements (presumably to stimulate progress by discussion) and the other to apply existing theories to analyze phenomena. Stolze’s statements are echoed by Andrew Chesterman’s idea that “stronger aims [are] to challenge a previous argument”. In an ESP approach, strong aims would be to explore a phenomenon factually, to develop new theories or test existing theories, mostly through the collection and processing of factual evidence, not to challenge anything by way of argumentation (challenging theories is frequent in ESP as well, but is not an aim per se). This idea also accounted nicely for what I had perceived (with some puzzlement as to their purpose and position in research) as ideological positions and value judgments in the writings of a number of colleagues.
Delia Chiaro’s paper devoted to ESP illustrates this contrast by referring to empirical determinants of research such as feasibility, selection and collection of evidence, operational definitions and data processing methods.
Chiaro refers to technical skills, including statistical know-how. Perhaps it is worthwhile adding that much empirical research can also be done with no inferential statistics and little descriptive statistics. Perhaps underneath this technical know-how, what ESPians (I owe this term, as well as its counterpart LAPians, to our colleague Heike Lamberger-Felber) require fundamentally, in contrast with LAPians, is the ability to apply distant (“clinical”) rigorous logical thinking to the object of study and resist interference from personal positions. This means in particular a clear view of generalizability limitations, of comparability (and non-comparability) of situations, actions and data, of advantages and limitations of technical investigation methods beyond standard recipes and rehearsed procedures, as opposed to argumentative skills and perhaps a fighting spirit more characteristic of LAP.
How skills for both ESP and LAP can be acquired was the topic addressed by Andrew Chesterman. Although his basic approach is clearly LAP and his emphasis is on argumentation, his notes also refer to exercises which would be useful in both paradigms, in particular exercises in critical reading and in citation analysis.
Miriam Shlesinger’s contribution on interdisciplinarity is a generous and optimistic one. She does hint at some difficulties in cooperation between TS scholars and researchers from cognate disciplines (RCDs), but prefers to devote most of her attention to listing interdisciplinary projects.
It may be useful to add that though interdisciplinary research is almost by definition a positive and enriching activity, it is often associated with difficulties and problems such as the following:
1. On the part of the colleagues from the relevant cognate discipline (CCD), a lack of interest in the Translation side of the project, including the Translation-side aims of the study and the relevant TS literature. When guiding TS students, they therefore offer little help in choosing an appropriate topic and/or method suited to Translation-side aims. Many interdisciplinary projects supervised by a CCD end up being “swallowed” by the cognate discipline and are remote from TS interests or potential applications.
2. On the part of TS scholars, there is often incomplete assimilation of the concepts and methods of the relevant discipline, which leads to faulty reasoning which the CCD cannot detect because of his/her lack of familiarity with TS stakes.
3. At the time of evaluation, the quality of the research product may not be assessed realistically: CCDs cannot identify weaknesses with respect to TS, in particular in the formulation of issues and in the presentation and analysis of existing research in the TS literature. As to evaluators on the TS side, not being familiar enough with the concepts and methods of the relevant cognate discipline, they cannot identify weaknesses in that part of the research product. As a result, papers, theses and dissertations involving interdisciplinarity are often rated too highly in the TS community, and not at all in the cognate discipline.
However, when TS scholars have had full training in the cognate discipline and when CCDs take the time to immerse themselves in the world of Translation and TS, interdisciplinary research becomes very fruitful.